The most frustrating thing about they way the Alpennia books fall between genres and between markets is trying to figure out how to bring them to the attention of readers. It will be interesting to see the ways that the StoryBundle promotion that finished up last week will address that question. Of course, not everyone who bought the bundle will read Daughter of Mystery. And not everyone who reads it will love it. But that's true of any path by which a book comes into someone's hands. And the undeniable truth is that the Storybundle has come close to doubling the number of people who have Daughter of Mystery on their e-readers. I've already started to see reviews and mentions trickling in from it. More importantly, this is a far more tightly targetted readership than my publisher's default category "readers of LesFic", many of whom are looking primarily for contemporary romance. I have high hopes. A girl can dream.
My characters have dreams that take off in a lot of different directions. Antuniet will soon turn her dreams to something beyond applying her alchemical talents to the service of the state--or at least, the service of Princess Anna Atillet. One of those services is to devise protective gemstone amulets for Princess Anna's son Efriturik, who is departing to learn something of diplomacy with the Alpennian embassy in France. Jeanne, too, is casting about to find something to turn her hand to. Perhaps something that will refresh her appeal to the leaders of Rotenek society. And the other Anna--Antuniet's apprentice, Anna Monterrez--is beginning to dream beyond her current role...
* * *
[From Mother of Souls, Chapter 6]
The building in which the workshop was located had been surrounded at one time by the old kitchen gardens, but they had fallen into riotous chaos. Only the herb beds were still kept in order as part of the pleasure garden. Now in October the flowers were well past and the weather uncertain, but just for today the afternoon sun still warmed a few small stone benches. There was a delicate wrought-iron table and chairs, not yet taken in for the winter. It served for the moments when Antuniet was able to tear herself away from the work.
Jeanne poured the tea, saying, “Was it only last summer we’d take our picnic to the river wall down on the south bank! How much has changed.”
“How much indeed,” Antuniet echoed. “Have some cake.” She picked up a tiny almond pastry and playfully slipped it into Jeanne’s mouth.
They caught each other’s eyes as she savored it, and when her mouth was free again she said softly, “I still love my bread the best.” But Anna was there and serious flirtation would have to wait for later.
Their visitor’s approach was heralded by Anna’s quick scramble to her feet to curtsey. Jeanne rose with more dignity to greet the bright-uniformed figure who strode along the path toward them.
“Mesner Atilliet,” Antuniet hailed him. “I hadn’t expected you until later. Do you have time to join us or only enough to collect your talismans?”
The cavalry uniform did much to set off the person of Princess Annek’s son, Jeanne thought, as he lifted the hat from his auburn locks and bowed over her hand with that charming Austrian mannerism that he’d chosen not to shed. She approved of the addition of a small moustache. She was not so old or so settled that she couldn’t take pleasure from the attentions of a handsome man.
“A little time, yes,” he said.
Antuniet received the same greeting and then he turned to Anna, bowing over her hand and whispering something that sent her into blushing confusion. Really, he shouldn’t tease the girl, for all that they’d spent long months working side by side last year like brother and sister.
Jeanne said, “Anna, go fetch another teacup if you would.” That would allow her to regain her composure. She returned with alacrity as if unwilling to miss a word.
“Are you back to your regiment for the winter?” Antuniet asked.
“No, my mother sends me off to Paris with Albori. I’m to be apprenticed in diplomacy, it seems, though officially I’ll be nothing more than an aide.”
“Ah, that would explain some of the particular stones she requested.”
Jeanne had been paying only slight attention to the current projects in the workshop, but there had been something about a special commission from Her Grace. The alchemical gems Antuniet created went far beyond the techniques DeBoodt had developed two centuries earlier. Careful layers of enhanced crystals magnified the natural properties of the gems, lending the wearer their strengths. No wonder at all if Annek wanted to send her son off into the world as well protected as possible.
The conversation turned to lighter matters: gossip of the court, the latest sensational novel, the news from France. Jeanne handled the reins without thought, drawing him out, bringing Antuniet out of her habitual taciturnity, allowing Anna her shy silence as she watched the conversation move back and forth, like viewing a play on the stage.
And then, without giving any hint of impatience, Efriturik rose and Anna was sent off to fetch the set of gems. He tucked the case inside the breast of his waistcoat and took his leave with a broad compliment and a wink that encompassed all three of them.
It was no more than a matter of habit for him. In the last year, the attractions that arose from being personable and well-fashioned and a likely heir to the throne had been augmented by leaving behind the brashness of youth and by the cultivation of wit and charm. Efriturik was developing quite a reputation for the careful and gentle breaking of hearts. Some day a bride would be chosen for him, but for now any girl he smiled at could dream. And even a middle-aged widow with no interest in young men could enjoy the game.
It would soon be time to clear away the remains of the tea, but they sat for a while yet after their guest had gone, enjoying the birdsong. Jeanne saw a pensive look settle over Anna’s face. Something softer than the usual moodiness of youth. “What do you want to learn next?” Jeanne asked her.
The question seemed to startle her. “I want—” She glanced over at Antuniet, as if looking for permission.
Without need for explanation, Antuniet nodded in assent. Yes, she understood what it was to wonder if you were allowed to want things.
“Mesnera de Cherdillac, I want to learn to be like you.”