The first book in Miriam Verbeek’s Si’Empra trilogy tells a compelling tale of Ellen, a feisty young woman battling the predations of her despot half-brother and her own self-doubt. The story is set against the dystopian backdrop of a country riven by corruption and genocide. Ellen is highborn but, nevertheless, an underdog reminiscent of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, with just a dash of Robin Hood. The setting is the fragile and beautiful Antarctic island of Si’Empra. Aboveground, the Skyseeker people rule, belowground live the Crystalmaker people, hunted almost to extinction. Alongside them both live the mysterious Cryptals, ancient creatures who hold the key to the survival of Si’Empra.
This is a well imagined world, with strong characters – particularly the females. The fast-paced dialogue propels the story and will carry the reader to the end, wanting to know when the second book will become available.
(copy-editor) Qld, Australia
Extract: Skyseeker Princess, The Si’Empra Series
She inspected her reflection in a small pocket mirror, noting with satisfaction that her skin had entirely lost its puffy, red look.
“Well, that’s the best I can do,” she murmured and packed her toiletries away.
Well before the appointed time, she positioned herself and Rosa slightly up the hill, where she could see Lian
Ellen waited until the appointed time. “No one else around?” she asked Rosa. The bird stayed relaxed. Ellen rose, tucking a bundle under her arm. “Stay close, Rosa. Tell us if someone comes.”
“Warmth and light, Lian,” Lian
“Warmth and light, Lian
“I am hoping you can return the
“Has Lian Isoldé not told you already? As for the coat, here it is.” She passed him the bundle.
Ellen was unfazed by his annoyance. “Aah. I have been wondering what she saw. She didn’t seem to
“And by whose authority did you do that?”
“By the authority of decency that I was taught as a child, by you, among other people –”
“Is this a private party, or can anyone join in?” the foreigner interrupted.
The Australian sat at a small table, face turned towards the door, elbows on the table, a steaming mug of tea clasped in his hands. At the sight of
“Norm Tucker, may I present Lian Ellen.”
Norm Tucker bowed in a mocking way. “G’day, milady.”
“How do you do,
“Yea. That’s what I’m here for,” he said, his voice slow and distracted. His deep blue eyes flickered in open admiration. His gaze dropped to her feet and began to slowly travel up the length of her body. She bore his inspection by studying him calmly in turn.
He was a lean man, perhaps in his mid-thirties. Long-limbed. Although his speech was uncultured, even bordering on crude, his appearance spoke of vanity. His sandy brown hair, though short, had been neatly trimmed and recently combed back into place, with a part to the left. His face was smoothly shaven. He had a longish face with creases just under the cheekbones running almost to the sides of a sharply defined chin line. You use
Norm Tucker’s eyes met hers. He blinked. His mouth, which had been slightly and loosely open, tightened into a grin, showing carefully aligned teeth – a left eye-tooth capped in gold. For show? Ellen mused.
“Sorry, Princess. Don’t mind me giving you the once-over. I’m just a lowlife sailor. Don’t get to see girls as pretty as you too often. You reckon you got business with me. I’m reckoning you want passage off the island. Gossip’s got it life hasn’t been all roses for you, Princess.”
Gossip? Ellen stepped into the room, not showing any reaction to his words. Interesting. So you have been talking widely, as I guessed you might. She had assessed that Norm Tucker would be a man who aggressively – and probably ruthlessly – sought out
He resumed his seat, sitting sideways on the chair, one elbow on the table, the other across the back of the chair and an ankle resting on a
“Interesting proposition, eh? What would that be, Princess?”
“I have Cryptal cloth and crystal,
“Depends on what you want and how much you got.”
Ellen stepped further into the room, drew several pages from an inside pocket of her coat and handed them to Norm Tucker. Behind her, Lian
Norm Tucker flicked through the pages: a list of provisions to last a long winter.
“This isn’t just a bit,” he said finally, placing the pages on the table beside him. “It’s going to cost plenty and I’m going to be stretched getting this together and carting it here.
Ellen gave a small shrug. She reached for the list. “Then our potential business partnership is over,
“Whoa. Whoa.” Norm brought his large, tanned hand over her small, white one. Ellen covered her involuntary flinch by drawing her eyebrows together to intensify her gaze. Firmly, but unhurriedly, she drew her hand and the pages out from under Norm Tucker’s hand.
“Why don’t you sit down,” he said, fingers tightening for a flash at the edge of the withdrawing pages before letting go. “Let’s talk about this man-to-man. It’s sort of hard to think
“Thank you for your thoughtfulness,
“Well at least
Ellen shifted a chair as if to sit opposite him, but she stayed standing, her hand on the back of the chair.
“You’d better tell me what you need and I’ll see what I can do. And Norm’s my name. Just call me Norm.”
Norm gave a small dismissive huff. “
Good, thought Ellen. Now tell me all about yourself and what you really can do and what your real limitations are. “Perhaps you could reassure me by telling me a little about how you run your enterprise.”
“Yeah, no problem. I got my boat about seven
“In your blood,” Ellen remarked, eyes softening to show her understanding.
Norm Tucker grinned. “You could say that: it’s in my blood.”
With these types of small nudges from Ellen, Norm Tucker settled into telling her about his boat, his adventures and how he delivered cargo all over the world. Ellen settled into the chair she had pulled out, leaning slightly towards him as the story of his exploits unfolded. She took note of every detail, sorting elements into an order that would help her negotiate a good outcome, her questions deliberately feigning randomness, but, in fact, quite targeted.
“I can get stuff to places no other ship can get to, see. I can hove to a bit out of the way and drop a good-and-stable inflatable runabout with the cargo to get it to shore,” he told her, his gold tooth flashing as he grinned.
“You do indeed have a very interesting profession,
“Aw,” Norm scoffed. “Them that’s happened to are plain inexperienced. I’ve been down in these waters when they start getting chewy. You have to know how to keep yourself out of trouble.”
“And do you have work colleagues in other countries?”
“Sure I do. I’ve got the best equipment on board my boat and I can get fellows in Australia and New Zealand – even bottom of Argentina – to help me out if I want to. We help each other out all the time.”
“That affords me a great deal of relief,
Norm’s eyes widened. He stared at her a second then barked out a laugh. “You’ve got a quick mind, Princess. I can see I’ll need to watch my Ps and Qs.”
And so the negotiations began. Ellen showed Norm small samples of the cloth and crystal she could supply but was firm that she would only pay a deposit, reasoning that she did not have the means to carry the amount of crystal and cloth to do more than pay a deposit at this time, and besides, it would be dangerous for him to carry such a large quantity of crystal and cloth into Si’Em City. They talked about
“Jeez, Princess, that only gives hardly more than a month!”
“I am most grateful that you are willing to consider this timeline,
When Ellen was satisfied that she had covered all necessary details, she left the hut to fetch two crystal urns and a bolt of cloth as down payment. Norm took the ornaments from her and inspected them keenly. She guessed that he was comparing them to those Richard had provided, and knew their quality was much higher.
“You don’t have a
“Norm. You should call me Norm, now that we’re business partners.”
Ellen made a non-committal movement with her head. Turning to Lian
“Mum’s the word,” Norm Tucker promised, tapping the side of his nose. “No one’s better than me at keeping secrets.” He grinned again at her, standing when she did and holding out his hand to shake on the deal.
She put her hand in his, forcing herself to return his firm shake, though inwardly she rebelled at the touch. She smiled at him as she took her leave, but her thoughts did not reflect her smile: I do not like you, Norm Tucker. I do not trust you. I would prefer not to deal with you and will cease to do so as soon as I can. Otherwise, I fear, you will do Si’Empra great harm.