The Darker Carnival

April 28, boys and girls -- that's the day the new Markhat hits the virtual stands!

I'm really stoked about The Darker Carnival. I know I probably say this with every book, but this one is the best in the series.

As you can probably guess from the cover (another beauty by Kanaxa) and the title, this one is set in a traveling carnival. Is it an evil traveling carnival?

Hmm. Maybe.

But there's a lot going on in this book. Markhat's world will never be quite the same -- heck, Markhat will never be quite the same. Life is change, after all, like it or not (and I don't). But evolution is inevitable.

All your old favorites are there, and a couple of new faces get added to the mix as well. I'm eager to hear what people think abut this book. So eager I wish the 28th would hurry up and arrive.

You can pre-order now, if you want, and the book will be delivered to your device within moments of release. The print version will be along in a few months, too, so if you prefer paper don't despair!

Here's just a taste of what to expect, as Markhat wanders the carnival, pretending to be a newspaper man:

I learned a lot about circus folk, that day.
First of all, they drink, and drink hard. Especially the side-show wonders. I met the Man of Bones when he stumbled out of his tent, went down on all fours at my feet, and vomited between my boots. I was amazed at the volume of liquid he expelled, given the emaciated state of his spindly frame.
The circus master kicked the Man of Bones unceremoniously in his gut. "And here we find the Man of Bones, who has terrified audiences from the Sea to the Wastes," said Thorkel, as he sent the scuttling wretch away with a second kick squarely on his backside. "A living skeleton, whose grinning skull will haunt your dreams forever."
I nodded and scribbled in my notebook. It didn't seem polite to point out that the Man of Bones was still entirely covered in skin.
We met the Queen of the Elves next. She wore a moth-eaten flannel gown over her spider-webs. A pair of mis-matched work boots adorned her dainty feet. She puffed on an enormous cigar between swigs of dark brown liquid gulped from a dirty jar.
"Go to Hell," she opined, before sprawling lengthwise on a bench.
"Men have traveled the world to pay homage to the Queen of the Elves," said Thorkel. The Queen responded with a raised middle finger. "Her beauty and charm are unmatched in all the mortal world."
"She wears flannel as only an Elf could," I added. Thorkel's brow furrowed beneath his immaculate top-hat.
"That is to say, her ethereal beauty blinds, so dazzling is she to gaze upon," I said, quickly. Thorkel rewarded me with a humorless jackal's grin.
We passed a stage, upon which a bleary-eyed thin man in an old-fashioned long-tailed coat and fancy high-heeled gentleman's boots waved a short black wand over a yawning young woman.
"Two, three, raise the cloth," said the man. The young lady raised a dirty bed sheet up over her head, and the magician snapped his fingers.
The cloth dropped, revealing an empty stage. I heard a distinct thud from beneath it, and a muffled feminine curse.
"You forgot the damned mat again," shouted the young woman.
The magician cussed and yelled for a runner.
"Here we have Malus the Magnificent, master of magic," said Thorkel, with a flourish. "Prepare to be amazed as he confounds and mystifies!"
A section of the stage floor lifted and the young woman emerged. "Bruised is all I'm getting lately," she said. "Malus needs to lay off the hooch."
"An accomplished illusionist, Malus the Magnificent fills audiences with delight," I said. "Performing perilous feats of magic unseen since the days of the Kingdom."
"I see my coin is not wasted," said Thorkel. He smiled, his perfect white teeth wet and gleaming.
"You do have a remarkable cast of performers," I said. "Not at all what I expected."
We passed Gogor the Troll, who snored peacefully beneath a pile of hay.
"And what were you expecting, Mr. Bustman?" asked Thorkel, idly swinging his cane as we walked.
"Well, the old stories. They described carnivals as more...salacious. Carnal, if you will."
Thorkel nodded. "Dancing girls, side-shows of a decidedly immoral nature? Gambling, fighting, that sort of thing?"
"So the old stories say."
"Perhaps, in the old days, other carnivals catered to a less refined audience. But Dark's Diverse Delights is clean, wholesome enjoyment, for the whole family." Thorkel graced me with another smile. "Especially the children. We love children, you see. Love them."
I nodded amiably as I scribbled. "Sounds wonderful, Mr. Thorkel. Just what Rannit needs, these days."
He reached into his waistcoat and withdrew a pair of bright red tickets. "Come and see," he said, as I took them. "Bring your wife. Bring a friend. I promise you will never forget your time with us." Someone called his name, and he tipped his hat to me. "I have neglected my duties long enough. Pray wander as you will, speak to whom you would. Good day, sir."
He withdrew.
I wandered as I willed, spoke to whom I would. I saw no signs advertising the presence of a living dead girl. I didn't ask about her by name. If anything the Ordwalds told me was true, asking was more likely to earn me a beating, or worse.
Halfway down the midway, on the right, was a long narrow tent festooned with wind-chimes fashioned from wire and bones. HALL OF HORRORS, read the placard over the entrance. NO ADMITTANCE TO PERSONS OF MEEK CONSTITUTION.
A clown snored by the ticket box. I passed by him, meek constitution and all, and ducked inside.
They hadn't lit the candles. But enough light leaked into reveal two rows of stuffed and mounted monstrosities. A DRAGON, read the first marker to my right. Behind the sign lurked a ten-foot-tall assemblage of bones tied together with wire. The dragon's fore claws were raised in menace, its head hanging over me, its jaws opened wide for a killing bite. It was only after my eyes adjusted to the dark that I saw the cracked plaster holding the beast's spine together and recognized carved wooden bones wired in with the rest.
Even less impressive was the mottled grey cemetery ghoul chained to the wall. Yes, its rotten limbs twitched in a feeble effort to escape, but the loud ticking of the clockwork mechanism behind the body robbed the display of any real menace. Every twenty-two seconds, the ghoul turned its head and extruded its long, slimy tongue before resuming its original posture and starting to twitch all over again.
Maria the Snake Headed Woman might well be a display of a large woman's corpse and a dozen long dead serpents, but none of the various parties had met until an indifferent taxidermist's needle stitched them all together. I daresay Egan the Crocodile Boy and Engorgia, Mistress of the Dark were the products of the same method, if not the same taxidermist. Too, the unfortunate Engorgia's horns were held in place by means of a rather obvious pair of nails.
There was a unicorn. I suspected more than a hint of donkey in its recent lineage. A coiled grey bulk labeled Serpentia, Terror of the Sea floated in a great tub of old beer. Toward the back was a towering thing of coils and wires which claimed to deliver 'Powerfulle Jolts of Life giving Spirit Essence.'
A peek behind the machine revealed a hidden hand-turned crank and a stool for a clown. I gave the crank a whirl, and blue sparks arced from the machine's whirling innards. If they imparted me with any life giving spirit essence, powerful or not, I didn't feel it.
Magog the Were-Bear, Slithins the Snake with a Man's Head, Carabel the Wood Sprite – all bore the same sad signs of being hauled and patched and painted, year after year, mile after hard carnival mile.
I slipped out the Hall or Horrors through the back way, stepping over one of the trunk-like limbs of the Ravenous Cave Hydra, which was bleeding tufts of sooty cotton from a foot-long gash down its mottled side.
I returned to the midway and watched as Malus the Magnificent gobbled down a sandwich. At that, he was surpassingly proficient.
When next I passed the Queen of the Elves, she'd rolled off her bench and was face-down in the hay-covered mud. I paused to spread her tattered robe over her hindquarters and drew a warning growl from a passing Ogre.
"I'll quote you on that," I said, and then I hurried away.

New to the Markhat series? No problem,. Helpful soul that I am, here's a list of the titles, in the order I suggest for reading. Each link takes you to my webpage's book page, and beside each cover there are buttons for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Samhain, so you can pick whatever format you prefer (Samhain provides EVERYTHING).

Dead Man's Rain

The Cadaver Client

The Mister Trophy

The Markhat Files (print only, contains Dead Man's Rain, The Cadaver Client, and The Mister Trophy)

Hold the Dark

The Banshee's Walk

The Broken Bell

Brown River Queen

The Five Faces

The Darker Carnival

(coming soon -- Way Out West)