We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Read an Extract from Long Live Evil by Sarah Rees Brennan

Long Live Evil by Sarah Rees Brennan extract

Long Live Evil by Sarah Rees Brennan extract



When her whole life collapsed, Rae still had books. Dying, she seizes a second chance at living: a magical bargain that lets her enter the world of her favourite fantasy series.

She wakes in a castle on the edge of a hellish chasm, in a kingdom on the brink of war. Home to dangerous monsters, scheming courtiers and her favourite fictional character: the Once and Forever Emperor. He’s impossibly alluring, as only fiction can be. And in this fantasy world, she discovers she’s not the heroine, but the villainess in the Emperor’s tale.

So be it. The wicked are better dressed, with better one-liners, even if they’re doomed to bad ends. She assembles the wildly disparate villains of the story under her evil leadership, plotting to change their fate. But as the body count rises and the Emperor’s fury increases, it seems Rae and her allies may not survive to see the final page.

This adult epic fantasy debut from Sarah Rees Brennan puts the reader in the villain’s shoes, for an adventure that is both ‘brilliant’ (Holly Black) and ‘supremely satisfying’ (Leigh Bardugo).

Expect a rogue’s gallery of villains including an axe wielding maid, a shining knight with dark moods, a charmingly homicidal bodyguard, and a playboy spymaster with a golden heart and a filthy reputation.

Read on to enjoy the first chapter!



The Villainess Faces Death

Ours is a land of terrible miracles. Here the dead live and lies come true. Beware. Here every fantasy is possible.
Time of Iron, Anonymous

The Emperor broke into the throne room. In one hand he held his sword. In the other, the head of his enemy. He swung the head jauntily, fingers twisted in blood-drenched, tangled hair.

A scarlet trail on the hammered-gold tiles marked the Emperor’s passage. His boots left deep crimson footprints. Even the ice-blue lining inside his black cloak dripped with red. No part of him was left unstained.

He wore the crowned death mask, empty of the jewel that should adorn his brow, and a breastplate of bronze with falling stars wrought in iron. The

red-gleaming metal fingers of his gauntlets tapered into shining claws.

When he lifted the mask, fury and pain had carved his face into new lines. After his time in the sunless place he was pale as winter light, radiance turned so cold it burned. He was a statue with a splash of blood staining his cheek, like a red flower on stone. She barely recognized him.

He was the Once and Forever Emperor, the Corrupt and Divine, the Lost and Found Prince, Master of the Dread Ravine, Commander of the Living and the Dead. None could stop his victory march.

She couldn’t bear to watch him smile, or the shambling dead behind him. Her gaze was drawn by the hungry gleam of his blade. She wished it had stayed broken.

The hilt of the re-forged Sword of Eyam was a coiled snake. On the blade an inscription glittered and flowed as if written on water. The only word visible beneath a slick coat of blood was Longing.

The girl with silver hands trembled, alone in the heart of the palace. The Emperor approached the throne and said—



“You’re not listening!”

“That’s a weird thing for the Emperor to say,” Rae remarked.

Her little sister Alice sat on the end of Rae’s hospital bed, clutching the white-painted steel footrest as if she’d mistaken it for a life raft. Alice was giving a dramatic reading from their favourite book series, and Rae wasn’t taking it seriously.

Life was too short to take things seriously, if you asked Rae. Alice’s rosebud mouth was twisted in judgement. Rosebuds shouldn’t get judgemental.

When Rae was four, her mom promised her a beautiful baby sister.

Alice came to her in springtime. The apple blossoms in their yard were snowy white and tinged with pink, dawn clouds in front of Rae’s window all day. Their parents carried baby Alice over the threshold, wrapped in pink wool and white lace that made her seem another curled blossom. Under Rae’s eager gaze, they drew back a fold of blanket with the reverence of a groom unveiling his bride, and showed the baby’s newborn face.

She wasn’t beautiful. She looked like an angry walnut.

“Hey funnyface,” Rae told Alice throughout their childhood. “Don’t cry. You’re ugly, but I won’t let anybody tease you.”

Life turned out ironic so often, fate must have a sense of humour. As Alice grew, the bones in her face clicked into the perfect position, even her skeleton shaped more harmoniously than anybody else’s. She was beautiful. People said Rae was pretty too.

Rae wasn’t pretty any more. Even before, Rae knew pretty wasn’t the same.

Beauty was like a big umbrella, both useful and awkward to handle. Three years ago, the sisters had gone to a convention for fans of Alice’s favourite books.

Time of Iron was a saga of lost gods and old sins, passion and horror, hope and death. Everyone agreed it wasn’t about the romance, but discussed the love triangle incessantly. The books had everything: battles of swords and wits, despair and dances, the hero rising from humble origins to ultimate power, and the peerless beauty who everybody wanted but only he could have. The heroine overcame her rivals, through being pure of heart, to become queen of the land. The hero clawed his way up from the depths to become emperor of everything. The heroine was rewarded for being beautiful and virtuous, the hero for being a good-looking bastard.

Alice attended the convention as the villainess known as the Beauty Dipped In Blood. Rae didn’t understand why Alice wanted to dress up as the heroine’s evil stepsister.

I’m not the one who gets confused between costumes and truth.”

Softening the words, Alice had leaned her newly darkened head against Rae’s shoulder. “The truth is, she looks like you. I can pretend to be brave when I look like you.”

At the time Rae hadn’t read the books, but she wore her cheerleading uniform so they’d both be in costume. A line formed asking Rae to take their picture with Alice. The guy at the end of the line stared, but another guy carrying the First Duke’s double-bitted axe told jokes and made Alice laugh. It was nice to see her shy sister laughing.

When Rae held up the last guy’s phone, his hand strayed to Alice’s ass. Alice was thirteen.

“Hands off!” Rae snapped.

The guy oiled, “Oooh, sorry, m’lady. My hand slipped.”

“It’s fine.” Alice smiled, worried about his feelings even though he hadn’t worried about hers. “Everybody say ‘cheese!’”

Alice was the nice sister. Rae considered the guy’s smirk and his phone.

“Everybody say ‘Fish for it, creep!’”

Rae tossed her ponytail, and tossed the phone into a trash can overflowing with half-eaten hot dogs. Being nice was nice. Being nasty got shit done.

The guy squawked, abandoning underage ass for electronics. Rae winked. “Oooh, sorry, milord. My hand slipped.”

“What are you dressed as, a bitch cheerleader?”

She slung an arm around her sister’s shoulders. “Head bitch cheerleader.”

The guy sneered. “Bet you haven’t even read the books.”

Sadly, he was correct. Sadly for him, Rae was a huge liar, and her sister was obsessed with these books. Rae shot back with one of the Emperor’s lines. “‘Beg for mercy. It amuses me.’”

She strode away, declining to be quizzed further. Usually she remembered every tale Alice told her, but Rae was already worried about how much she was forgetting from classes, conversations, and even stories.

That was the last time Rae could protect her sister. The next week she went to see the doctor about her persistent cough, and the weight and memory loss. She began a battery of tests that ended in biopsy, diagnosis and treatments spanning three years. Part of Rae stayed in that final moment when she could be young, and cruel, and believe her story would end well. Forever seventeen. The rest of her had skipped all the steps from child to old woman, feeling ever so much more than twenty.

Rae was past the time of hoping for magic, but Alice fulfilled every requirement for a heroine. Alice was sixteen, beautiful without knowing it, and cared more about her favourite book series than anything else.

Sitting on Rae’s hospital bed, Alice pushed her glasses up her nose and scowled. “You claim you want a refresher on the story, but you get surprised by key events!”

“I know every song from the musical.”

Alice scoffed. Her sister was a purist. Rae believed if you were lucky your favourite story got told in a dozen different ways, so you could choose your favourite flavour. None of the musical’s stars were hot enough, but nobody could ever be as hot as characters in your imagination. Book characters were dangerously attractive in the safest way. You didn’t even know what they looked like, but you knew you liked it.

“Then tell me the Beauty Dipped In Blood’s name.” When Rae hesitated, Alice accused: “It’s as if you haven’t even read this book!”

That was Rae’s guilty secret.

This was her favourite series, and she hadn’t really read the first book.

Rae and her sister used to have book sleepovers, cuddled together reading a much-anticipated book through the night or telling each other tales. Alice would tell Rae the stories of all the books she was reading. Rae would tell Alice how the stories should have gone. Back then, Rae hadn’t believed Alice when she said Time of Iron was life-changing. Alice was a literary romantic, falling in love with the potential of every story she met. Rae had always been more cynical.

Reading a book was like meeting someone for the first time. You don’t know if you will love them or hate them enough to learn every detail, or skim the surface never to know their depths.

When Rae was diagnosed, Alice finally had a captive audience. During Rae’s first chemo session, Alice opened Time of Iron and started to read aloud what appeared to be a typical fantasy adventure about the damsel in distress getting the guy in a crown. Rae, certain she knew where this was going, listened to the fun parts with blood and gore, but otherwise zoned out. Who cared about saving the damsel? She was astonished by the end, when the Emperor rose to claim his throne.

“Wait, who’s this guy?” Rae had demanded. “I love him.”

Alice stared in disbelief. “He’s the hero.”

Rae devoured the next two books. The sequels were wild. After his queen was murdered, the Emperor visited ruin upon the world, then ruled over a bleak landscape of bones. The books were grim and also dark. The series title might as well be Holy Shit, Basically Everybody Dies.

Under the eerie skies of Eyam, monsters roamed, some in human form. Rae loved monsters and monstrous deeds. She hated books which were like dismal manuals instructing you of the only moral way to behave. Hope without tragedy was hollow. In the strange, fascinating world of these books, with its glorious horror of a hero, pain meant something.

By the time she finished the sequels, reading began to make Rae feel sick, adrift on a sea of words. Even listening to the books led her mind into the fog. She did want to find out the actual events of the first book, so she tricked Alice into reading it aloud as a ‘refresher’. If any voice could hold Rae’s attention, it would be that best-beloved voice.

Except they were now at the end, and Rae had still managed to miss a lot from the first book in the Time of Iron series. She feared her super-fan sister was catching on.

Time to play it cool. Rae said, “How dare you question me?” “You constantly forget characters’ names!”

“The characters all have titles as well as names, which I find greedy. There’s the Golden Cobra, the Beauty Dipped In Blood, the Iron Maid, the Last Hope—”

Alice gave a scream. For a minute, Rae thought she’d seen a mouse. “The Last Hope is the best character in the book!”

Rae lifted her hands in surrender. “If you say so.”

The Last Hope was the losing side of the love triangle, the good guy. If you asked Alice, the flawless guy. Alice’s favourite wasted his time longing for the heroine from afar, too busy brooding to use his awesome supernatural abilities.

The parade of guys professing love for the heroine was a blur that bored Rae. Anybody could say they loved you. When the time came to prove it, most failed.

Alice sniffed. “The Last Hope deserved Lia. The Emperor is a psychopath.”

The idea of deserving someone was wrong-headed. You couldn’t win women on points. Alice must be thinking of video games.

Rae overlooked this to defend her man. “Have you considered the Emperor has great cheekbones? Sorry to the side of good. Evil’s just sexier.”

Rae wanted characters to have tormented backstories, she just wished they wouldn’t be annoying about it. The Emperor was Rae’s favourite character of all time because he never brooded over his dark past. He used his unholy powers and enormous sword to slaughter his enemies, then moved on.

Alice made a face. “The thing with the iron shoes was creepy! If a creep is the true love, what does that teach girls?”

What thing with the iron shoes? Rae decided it wasn’t important. “Stories should be exciting. I don’t need to be preached at, I can do literary analysis.”

Rae was supposed to be valedictorian and get a scholarship. Instead Rae’s and Alice’s college funds were gone. Rae was twenty and never going to college.

They didn’t talk about that.

“If the Emperor were real, he would be horrifying.”

“Lucky he’s not real,” Rae snapped back. “Everyone who thinks books will make women date assholes underestimates us. If stories hypnotize people, why isn’t everybody terrified movies will turn boys into drag-racing assassins? I don’t want to fix the guy, I want to watch the murder show.”

She refused to have another argument about the Emperor being problematic. Clearly, the Emperor was problematic. When you murdered half the people you met, you had a problem. Stories lived on problems. There was a reason Star Wars wasn’t Star Peace.

After Lia was killed, the Emperor put her corpse on a throne and made her enemies kiss her dead feet. Then he ripped their hearts out. ‘Now you know how it feels,’ he murmured, his face the last thing their fading vision ever saw. Villainous characters had epic highs, epic lows, and epic loves. The Emperor loved like an apocalypse.

In real life, people let you go. That was why people longed for the love from stories, love that felt more real than real love.

Alice’s sigh could have blown a farmhouse away to a magical land. “It’s about troubling patterns in media, not a specific story. Specifically, you’re basic. Everyone likes the Emperor best.”

That was ridiculous. Many appreciated the Last Hope’s chiselled misery, the Golden Cobra’s decadent antics, and the Iron Maid’s cutting sarcasm. Few liked the heroine best. Who could be as good as the perfect woman, and who wanted to be?

Fewer still liked the wicked stepsister. The only thing worse than a woman being too innocent was a woman being too guilty.

Nobody likes the Beauty Dipped In Blood best,” Rae pointed out. “I don’t need to remember her name. That incompetent schemer dies in the first book.”

“Her name is Lady Rahela Domitia.”

“Wow.” Rae smirked. “Might as well call a character Evilla McKinky. No wonder the Emperor liked her.”

“Not the Emperor,” corrected Alice.

Right, the king didn’t become emperor until later. Rae nodded wisely.

Alice continued, “Rahela was the king’s favourite until our heroine came to court. The king was dazzled by Lia, so Lia’s stepsister went mad with jealousy. Rahela and her maid conspired to get Lia executed! Any of this ringing a bell?”

“So many bells. It’s like a cathedral in my brain.”

Her sister’s voice grew clearer in Rae’s memory. Rae always appreciated a big death scene.

The chapter started with Lady Rahela, wearing a signature snow-white dress edged with blood-red, realizing she had been imprisoned in her chamber. The next day the king had Rahela executed before the entire court. Everybody enjoyed seeing the bitch sister get hers.

Rahela’s maid was offered mercy by Lia, who was always saying ‘I know there’s good in them,’ as the people in question cackled and ate the heads off kittens. The heartbroken former servant became an axe murderer known as the remorseless Iron Maid.

All great villains almost got redeemed, but instead plunged deeper into evil. You kept thinking, they might turn back! It’s not too late! The best villains’ death scenes made you cry.

Alice offered, “Want to read more? We need to be prepared for the next book!”

The next book would be the last. Everyone expected an unhappy ending. Rae was dreading one.

Hope without tragedy was hollow. So was tragedy without hope.

Rae had always told her sister this was a story about both. Darkness wouldn’t last for a grim eternity. People wouldn’t keep getting worse until they died. She’d believed the Emperor could resurrect his queen and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but her faith was fading. Fiction should be an escape, but she suspected nobody was getting out of this story alive.

“I’m not ready for an ending.” Rae feigned a dramatic swoon. “Leave me with the Emperor in the throne room.”

Alice turned toward hospital windows that went opaque as mirrors when night drew in. Rae was startled to see a tell-tale gleam in Alice’s eyes, reflecting the shimmer of the glass. This wasn’t worth crying over. None of it was real.

Alice’s voice was low. “Don’t act as if what matters to me is a joke.”

Rae should be able to transform into who she’d once been, for her sister. She should be smart and strong with sympathy to spare. She used to be overflowing. Now she was empty.

Her voice went sharp as guilt. “I have other things to worry about!”

“You’re right, Rae. Even when you get everything wrong, you believe you’re right.”

“It’s just a story.”

“Yeah,” Alice snapped. “It’s just imagined out of nothing, into something thousands love. It just makes me feel understood when nobody in my life understands me. It’s just a story.”

Rae’s eyes narrowed. “Has it never crossed your mind why I might not want to reach the end of these books about everybody dying?”

Alice launched to her feet like a furious rocket, spitting sparks as she rose. “You don’t even realize why the scene when the Flower of Life and Death blooms is my favourite!”

Rae was speechless, with no idea what happened in that scene.

In this hospital, doors had metal loops set in the white doors. You could grab onto the loops if you were feeling unsteady, and ease the door open. The door swung behind Alice with a force that made the squat water glass beside Rae’s narrow bed shake.

Her sister leaving was no surprise. Rae had already driven everyone else away.

Rae turned her head on the pillow and stared out of the silver-blank window, pressing her lips tight together. Then she heaved herself out of bed like an old woman emerging from a bath. She tottered towards the door on legs skinny as sticks that tried to slide out from under her and skitter across the floor. Sometimes Rae felt it wasn’t her legs betraying her, but a world that no longer wanted her tipping her over the edge.

When Rae opened the door, Alice was standing right outside. She fell into Rae’s arms.

“Hey, ugly,” Rae whispered. “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry,” sobbed Alice. “I shouldn’t make a fuss over a dumb story.”

“It’s our favourite story.”

Rae was the organized sister. She’d colour-coded their schedule at the convention to optimize their experience. She’d helped Alice make her costume. The story was something they did together.

The story wasn’t real, but love made it matter.

Alice pressed her face into Rae’s shoulder. Rae felt the heat of Alice’s cheeks and the tears sliding from under her glasses, leaving wet spots on Rae’s hospital gown.

“Remember how you used to tell me stories?” Alice whispered. Rae used to do a lot of things.

For now, she could hold her sister. It was strange to be skinnier than reed-thin Alice. Rae was withering away to nothing. Alice had grown more real than Rae would ever be again.

She pressed a kiss to her sister’s ruffled hair. “I’ll tell you a story tomorrow.”


“Trust me. This will be the greatest story you ever heard.” She gave her sister an encouraging push.

Alice hesitated. “Mom will come by if she manages to close the deal.”

Their mother was in real estate. She worked long past visiting hours. They both knew she wasn’t coming. Rae did the cheesy pose from their mother’s posters and delivered the slogan. “‘Live in your fantasy home!’”

Alice was almost gone when Rae called, “Funnyface?”

Her sister turned, trembling with dark beseeching eyes. A fawn lost in the hospital.

Rae said, “I love you.”

Alice smiled a heartbreakingly beautiful smile. Rae staggered back to bed, and lay on her face. She hadn’t wanted Alice to see how exhausted she was from simply raising her voice.

She reached for Time of Iron beside her bed. The first grab failed. Rae gritted her teeth and grasped the book, then found her fingers shaking too badly to open it. Rae hid her face in the pillow. She didn’t have the energy to cry long before she passed out, still holding the closed book.



When she woke a strange woman sat by her bedside, Rae’s book in her hands. The woman wasn’t wearing a white coat or a nurse’s uniform, but black leggings and an oversized white T-shirt. Box braids were twined into a bun atop her head, and her gaze on Rae was coolly assessing.

Blurred with sleep, Rae mumbled, “Did you get the wrong room?”

The woman answered, “I hope not. Listen carefully, Rachel Parilla. There is much you don’t know. Let’s talk chemotherapy.”

Shock dragged Rae into wakefulness. There was a lever on the side of her bed that propped it up on a slant. Rae pushed the lever so her mattress jerked upward and she could glare from a better angle.

“What is it you think I don’t know?”

Rae gestured to her head with one chicken-wing arm. She got sweaty in her sleep and knew the sheen of moisture on her bald scalp gleamed in the fluorescent lights.

The woman leaned back as if the hospital chair was comfortable. She traced Time of Iron’s cover with a fingertip, her golden nail polish a glittering contrast to her deep brown skin and the glossy book jacket.

“The tumours in your lymph nodes have grown more aggressive. Your prognosis was always grim, but hope remained. Soon the doctors will tell you hope is gone.”

Rae’s head spun, leaving her sick and out of breath. She wanted to sink to the floor, but she was already lying down.

The woman continued, relentless: “The insurance isn’t enough. Your mother will re-mortgage. She will lose her job. Your family loses their house. They lose everything, and their sacrifice means nothing. You die anyway.”

Rae’s breath was a storm shaking the wreck of her body. She scrab- bled for any emotion that wasn’t panic and clutched at anger. She grabbed her water glass and threw it at the woman’s head. The glass smashed onto the floor into a thousand tiny sharp diamonds.

“Do you get a sick thrill from torturing cancer patients? Get out!”

The woman remained composed. “Here’s the last thing you don’t know. Will you save yourself, Rae? Would you go to Eyam?”

Had this lady escaped from the psychiatric ward? Rae hadn’t even known there was a psychiatric ward. She stabbed the button to summon the nurses.

“Great suggestion. I’ll buy a plane ticket to a country that doesn’t exist.”

“Who says Eyam isn’t real?”

“Me,” said Rae. “Bookstores who put Time of Iron on shelves marked fiction.”

She stabbed the button repeatedly. Come save your patient, nurses!

“Consider this. You say ‘I love you’ to someone you don’t know. Is that a lie?”

Rae regarded the woman warily. “Yes.”

The woman’s eyes were still in a way that suggested depth, much happening below the tranquil surface.

“Later you learn the heart of the person you lied to. You say the same words, and ‘I love you’ is a great truth. Is truth stone, or is it water? If enough people walk through a world in their imaginations, a path forms. What’s reality, except something that really affects us? If enough people believe in something, doesn’t it become real?”

“No,” said Rae flatly. “Reality doesn’t require faith. I’m real, all on my own.”

The woman smiled. “Maybe somebody believes in you.” Wow, someone was getting the good drugs.

“It’s a story.”

“Everything is a story. What is evil? What is love? People decide upon them, each taking a jagged shard of belief and piecing the shards together. Enough blood and tears can buy a life. Enough faith can make something true. People invent truth the same way they do everything else: together.”

Once Rae led her cheerleading team. Once her family worked as a team, helping each other, until Rae couldn’t help anyone any longer. Once upon a time was a long time ago.

“What gives a story meaning?” the woman pursued. “What gives your life meaning?”

Nothing. That was the insulting truth of death. The worst thing that had ever happened to Rae didn’t really matter. Her desperate struggle made no difference. The world was moving on without her. These days Rae was all alone with death.

That was the true reason she loved the Emperor. Finding a favour- ite character was discovering a soul made of words that spoke to your own. He never

held back and he never gave up. He was her rage unleashed. She didn’t love the Emperor despite his sins, she loved him for his sins.

At least one of them could fight.

In Greek plays, catharsis was achieved when the audience saw treachery, twisted love, and disaster. They purged through impossible tragedy until their hearts were clean. In a story, you were allowed to be wracked by feelings too terrible for reality to hold. If Rae showed how furious she felt, she would lose the few people she had left. She was powerless, but the Emperor shook the stars from the sky. Rae shook with him, in the confines of her narrow hospital bed. He was company for her there.

Rae refused to be a hopeful fool. “I can’t go to Eyam. Nobody can.”

A real country would have a map, she wanted to argue, then remembered the map of Eyam that took up the best part of Alice’s bedroom wall. Rae had seen the jagged peaks and pencil-thin swoops of the Cliffs Cold as Loneliness, the sprawl of the Valerius family’s great estate, and the palace’s intricate secret passages, grand throne room and greenhouse.

Rae had never been to Eyam. She’d never been to Peru either. She still believed in Peru.

The woman gestured. “I can give you an open door.”

“That door leads to a hospital hallway.”

“Does the door lead, or do you? Walk out of this room and find yourself in Eyam, in the body of the person most suited to you. A body the previous occupant is no longer using. In Eyam, the Flower of Life and Death blooms once a year. You get one chance. Discover how to get into the imperial greenhouse and steal the flower when it blooms. Once you have the flower, a new door will open. Until then, your body sleeps waiting for you. If you get the flower, you wake up, cured. If you don’t get the flower, you don’t wake up.”

“Why are you doing this?” Rae demanded.

There was a serious note in the woman’s voice. “For love.”

“How many people have taken you up on your offer?”

“Too many.” The woman sounded a little sad.

“How many woke up cured?”

“Maybe you’ll be the first.”

The button to summon the nurses was obviously broken. Rae could stick her head out into the passage and yell for help, or stay here getting ranted at.

Rae chose action.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, setting her feet on the floor. Moving through the world when sick took focus. Every step was a decision Rae made while weighing her odds. It was like being on top of the cheerleading pyramid. A wrong move meant a bad fall.

The woman’s voice rang at her back. “When the story takes and twists you, will you beg for mercy?”

Desire flew through Rae sharp and bright as a burning arrow. What if the offer was real? Her lips curved at the wild sweet notion. Imagine a door could open as a book does, right into a story. Imagine a big adventure instead of hospital walls closing in and life narrowing down to nothing. Being not an escape artist but an art escapist, running away to imaginary lands.

Behind a bathroom door while Rae threw up bile and blood, she’d heard a teacherly voice tell her mother, Time to let her go. Rae couldn’t let herself go. She was all she had.

Once she believed her future would be an epic. She hadn’t known she would only get a prologue.

She no longer had a ponytail, but she tossed her head and fired a wink over her shoulder. “By the time I’m done with it, the story will beg me for mercy.”

Rae grabbed the loop of the door handle. She pushed the door open with all her remaining strength.

Light broke like sparkling glass in her eyes, followed by rushing darkness. Rae looked over her shoulder in alarm. Colour drained from the world behind her, leaving her hospital room black and white as ink on a page.


Long Live Evil


Rae took her waking slow. These days she fainted whenever she stood up too fast. She usually regained consciousness eyeballing linoleum. Now Rae found herself drowning in the broken pieces of a world. Fragments blue as the earth seen from space, with cracks running through the blue as if someone had shattered the world then fitted the pieces back together.

She scrambled up to stare at the ground. Blue mosaics depicted a shimmering pool the richly draped bed beside her seemed to float upon.

As Rae gazed incredulously down into the deep blue, rubies winked scarlet eyes up at her. Blood-red jewels, adorning softly rounded hands. Rae’s hands were claws, the hands of an old woman with paper-thin skin stretched over bones. These were the hands of a young woman.

These weren’t Rae’s hands.

This wasn’t Rae’s body. She had been accustomed to suffering so long that pain wasn’t something that happened to her, but was part of her. Now the pain was gone. She spread her fingers before her face, the easy turn of her wrist a wonder. A heavy bracelet in the shape of a snake slid down her arm, red light striking the metal coils like bloodstained revelation.

Someone might kidnap her, but they couldn’t change her body.

She lowered ruby-ringed hands to her sides, and for the first time noticed her clothes. Her skirts poured over the floor, white as snow, the edges dyed deep crimson. As though the immaculate white had been dipped in blood. This was the dress Alice had worn to a convention, the costume she believed made her brave.

Rae bolted from the bedroom into the tiny hall beyond. Walls and floor were white marble, gently shining as if Rae was caught inside a pearl. When she tried the door, it was locked. Through the single stained-glass window she saw a sun sinking into smoky clouds and a moon already reigning over obscured night. The moon was cracked like a mirror that cut reflections in two, broken like the window of a house in which you were not safe.

She knew this sky. She knew this scene. She knew this costume.

A laugh forced its way from the pit of Rae’s stomach, coming out as a cackle. Her beautiful hands clenched for a fight.

She was in the land of Eyam, in the Palace on the Edge.

She was Lady Rahela, the Beauty Dipped In Blood. She was the heroine’s evil stepsister. And she was due to be executed tomorrow.


Long Live Evil by Sarah Rees Brennan