Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Book of Bastards by Ransom Stephens - Book Tour + Giveaway


Date Published: January 14, 2021

Publisher: The Intoxicating Page

Welcome to The Gold Piece Inn, where you can drink, gamble, and play!

Or hide.

Cursed on the day the king is assassinated, Dewey Nawton is compelled to protect the widowed queen, but protection means different things to different people (and different curses).

Kings have dictated every role Queen Dafina has ever played. Now, a halfling innkeeper assigns her the role of serving lass. But is The Gold Piece Inn just another tavern? Could it be an orphanage? … surely, it’s not a brothel.

Oh yes, she’s fallen from grace, but will that stop her from leading a handful of pirates and a dozen bastards to avenge her king and rescue Glandaeff’s faeries, elfs, and mermaids (and merbutlers!) from a brutal tyrant?

Dewey has a secret. Dafina has a secret. The Bastards have two secrets.

Is there even a sip of moral justice in all this bawdiness?

Daffy ran down to the wharf with scores of elfs and leprechauns. Baertha helped her board a tender. She took a seat near the stern where she could look back at Crescent Cove. Leprechauns jumped aboard and elfs took their time, stepping from the dock to the little boat in time with the rolling swells. Rustin jumped aboard and lifted her into a tight hug that reminded her of his mother. She told him it was time for her to leave and he accepted that, though he made her promise to visit.

Daffy grew up among ships in the sheltered harbors of Nantesse. Good harbors are calm like lakes, but violent ocean waves threaten the shelter of Crescent Cove. The tender climbed up the front of swells and fell down the back of them. She wondered if she’d ever get to dub Rustin a knight. A deposed queen dubbing the rightful king? No, never. And she wondered what Kaetie would become. The tender finally bounced against Avarice’s bumpers. Baertha boosted her up, and she climbed the rope ladder.

Seagulls swooped over the deck. The smell of wet wood, tar, and dead fish, the sounds of sails flapping in the wind and sailors calling to each other, and the constant roll of the deck brought Daffy face to face with the reality. She was finally going home.

She went below deck to claim a hammock. The elfs stood in separate families, so motionless and silent that they seemed to be in a different world. Daffy put her things in a hammock that stretched from the base of the mizzen mast to a cleat on the underside of the deck where the roll of the ship wouldn’t bother her too much. She followed cackles of laughter to the lower hold and discovered that leprechauns had claimed it. Before she made it to the bottom of the ladder, a lassrechaun, offered to cut her hair. The lassrechaun wore white tights, a green dress, and had apple-red hair. She held up huge scissors that had a transparent quality that convinced Daffy they were an illusion. She declined the haircut, and, in an instant, her short hair assembled itself into braids.

“Better, ma’am?”

Daffy made the mistake of laughing and her fingernails turned a bright shiny purple. A ladrechaun cart-wheeled past and while she was distracted, another ladrechaun reached into her empty purse. She watched a juggler, declined several marriage proposals, and sang along to a ballad about rainbows and pots of gold. By the time she heard the windlass lifting the anchor chain, the leprechauns’ boundless energy had exhausted her.

She climbed back to the deck. The crew stood at their stations, holding their lines, some taut, some slack. She found Baertha and Madog at the helm, a few steps behind the ship’s wheel where the pilot stood. The anchor chains went silent and Baertha issued a command. Her voice bellowed over the wind, the waves, the birds, and the constant chatter of leprechaun pranksters. For a few seconds, the canvas sails clapped in the wind, and then the sails were trimmed, and Avarice pulled forward. Daffy watched little whirlpools form off the port gunwale and saw the wake form at the stern.

When they cleared Crescent Point, Avarice keeled to port under a harsh wind and took off.

“Braided like that, you can really see the black roots, love.” Baertha stood next to her. “Going home then?”

Daffy went cold and silent.

Madog stood on her other side and said, “Hard to believe that a queen has been holding court at The Gold Piece Inn.”

“Harder to believe that she’s been holding court with scurvy muvs the likes of us.”

Daffy stepped away. The pilot’s eyes stuck to her.

Baertha caught the wheel and gave it back to the pilot. “You’re safe here, you have nothing but friends on this ship.”

“We always wondered,” Madog said. “Your accent should have given you up.”

“Serving-lasses don’t read and write seven languages.”

Daffy said, “Are you going to turn me in?”

“Love,” Baertha said, “if we were going to collect your reward, we’d have done that a year ago.”

“Aerrol wanted to, the stupid farqer.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“You don’t know much about Dewey, do you?” Madog said. “People who get on his bad side have a way of, umm, suffering.”

“Naw,” Baertha said. “I’d have not let them take you from me, I love you so.” She let out a big hearty laugh that Daffy could feel through the deck below her feet.

“Did you know then?”

“Well, love, with that much money on your head and not being able to access it without—” Baertha exchanged a sidelong glance with Madog, “what did you call it? Right, suffering—it was easier for me to convince myself that you were just another wayward lass in Dewey’s collection.”

“Until Aerrol drank the usurper’s bilge water.”

Daffy said, “It will be nice to go home and, I assure you, you’ll be welcome in my court anytime.”

“Which reminds me,” Baertha said, “would you prefer to bunk in the mate’s cabin?” She winked. Madog laughed and walked to the bow.

Daffy smiled and batted her lashes. “A hammock among the elfs suits me fine … for tonight.” She curtsied to Baertha and walked to the stern. A cloud accumulated at the knuckles of The Fist of God, and the low-pitched wail of the foghorn reached out. The roll of the ship gave her the first drowsy sign of seasickness. She sat against the gunwale and pictured Dewey sitting in his chair reading tiny messages with his Truth Faery on his shoulder. The roll kept tugging her in different directions. She got up and ran to the poop deck to unleash her last meal.

* * *

Avarice sailed into the wall of fog that accumulated off the coast on summer days. A Compass Faery stood on the wheel pointing due west.

When Avarice emerged from the cloudbank, she headed straight at a gaelleon with the red and black Flying Anvil.

The gaelleon sat in irons, waiting, facing Avarice. Baertha pushed the pilot aside, grabbed and spun the wheel. The rudder groaned under the force. The masts complained and Avarice turned downwind, south.

Avarice rode high on the water, her faer cargo lighter than the freight she usually carried and made the turn in half the distance she normally would have. Baertha gave orders to tighten some sheets, loosen others, and the sails trimmed to the new direction in seconds. They had the advantage of speed and maneuverability but were way behind on preparation. Still, in the time that it would take the gaelleon to raise sails, catch the wind, and come about to give chase, Avarice would be over the horizon.

But there was one thing that they could never have expected, much less prepared for.

Avarice completed the turn less than a quarter mile from the gaelleon, still well out of bowshot or catapult range, now aligned with the gaelleon’s starboard side. The crew cheered and offered the gaelleon a variety of obscene gestures.

Eight large portholes opened along the side of the gaelleon. Seconds later, eight cones of fire blasted out of those portholes.

“Dragons!” The warning screams reached all the way to the poop deck where Daffy emptied her gut into the sea. She caught her breath. Her first thought was confusion—she didn’t believe in dragons. After all, “no one had ever seen a dragon and lived to tell about it.”

The streams of sparks were followed by a great pronouncement of might that echoed from the ship, roaring thunder and a splash off the starboard side of Avarice’s bow. Steaming water blew hundreds of feet in the air. Ten-foot swells rocked Avarice. Seconds later, another jet of flame and sparks, blasts of thunder, and this time the tremendous splash aligned with Avarice’s stern. The splash rained on Daffy.

Seconds accumulated. Avarice rocked but didn’t lose her grip on the wind. And then the thunder returned. Had anyone possessed the wherewithal, they’d have heard eight distinct concussions within the thunderous orchestra.

The destruction came in a small fraction of the time it takes a heart to beat. Daffy heard the crushing sound of a hundred-fifty-foot redwood mast snap like a twig, the rending tear of molten iron balls punching through the hull—two above the surface and one below—the searing blast of boiling iron ripping into the starboard gunwale and exploding the deck in flames, and then a series of three more hits, one after another, cleaving Avarice at midship. Bodies flew, people screamed, faeries swarmed. The bow dove and the broken mast marked its grave. The stern lingered, bobbing on the surface.

In Daffy’s experience, ships had crews that ushered royal passengers to lifeboats in an orderly fashion. Avarice’s tenders doubled as lifeboats, but Daffy had no notion of where to board one.

Baertha and her crew launched the starboard tenders. Madog moved across the remaining deck. He called below, and elfs and leprechauns streamed up. He directed them to starboard where Baertha pushed them into transports. But Avarice was going down fast.

For all his rambunctious ways, his lusty approach to life, Madog respected the code. He knew the risks when he pushed Aerrol overboard and asked the crew to accept him as captain. Searching the failing stern, he pulled mangled crew members from beneath broken masts, and encouraged them to swim with what limbs they had. He didn’t see anyone down in the hold. Water boiled up through the hull and showered down from the deck. He climbed up what should have been flat decking and saw Daffy swept into the sea seconds before the hull shot to the sea floor, minutes too late for her to swim to safety.

Madog, comfortable with his fate, felt a surge of sorrow that he would never again fall into the generous, welcoming arms of that gregarious ginger, Loretta of The Gold Piece Inn.

* * *

Daffy waited on the poop deck for someone to rescue her. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just training. She saw Madog just as a wave pushed her overboard.

She swam for all she was worth but didn’t know where to go. This business of the sinking ship pulling everything down with it didn’t occur to her until she experienced it. The cold knocked the breath from her lungs. The hull reared above her. She pulled herself to the surface and sucked in a big breath.

She could have reached out and touched the rudder. Treading water in that instant of balance when the hull came to a stop, she saw a tender on the horizon. She took another breath and Avarice’s stern came down. She might as well have been tied to the rudder. The vacuum that trailed it sucked her down, ever farther, deeper. Her ears felt like they’d explode. She held that last breath even as she collided with chunks of redwood that had formed gunwales, masts, and decks. A shredded sail caught her foot and flipped her over. Now diving headfirst, she experienced those last lucid thoughts. Rather than memories of joy or regret, she felt raw, unadulterated panic. She kicked and pushed away the flotsam. She held that last breath for nearly two minutes, even as the water pressure tried to collapse her ribcage, she clung to that air.

Something scraped her back. She tried to push off but got caught in it. Something else collapsed around her chest and tugged her down. The bubbles finally exploded from her nose and mouth.

The reflex to breathe overwhelmed her.

Whatever she’d gotten stuck in had a soft side and when she began to inhale seawater, something gentle pushed against her mouth, blocked out the water, and blew air into her lungs.

Daffy tried to push away, to break the grip, but she held on to that new breath. She exhaled a stream of bubbles and that soft warmth covered her mouth again and blew. It blew air into her, and this time she trusted it. She tried to exhale without disconnecting from the source of air, but the source pulled away. She exhaled bubbles and, in time with the rhythm of her lungs, the source blew into her again. It became a dance. She inhaled, exhaled, and soon caught her breath. She was conscious and, as far as she knew, alive.

The depths of the sea are too dark to see. With full lungs, she tried to swim to the surface, but it wouldn’t let go. It pulled her down, ever deeper, providing breath the whole way.

Daffy felt a rhythmic pumping, powerful strokes. She stopped pushing and held on. Something scraped her. She breathed again, and now she recognized it. She ran her hands along the sides of the creature and felt strong shoulders and arms. The forearms had sharp edges from elbow to wrist. She breathed again and put her arms around its neck.

She yielded to the creature and continued deeper. Exhaustion eventually overwhelmed her.

* * *

When she came to, she was accepting another breath, and saw enormous eyes, iridescent as abalone shells, looking back from the distance of a kiss. She held her breath, and the maermaid pulled away. The creature’s skin was green-tinted blue, the color of ocean water at about twenty feet—the very golden-haired miracle who had pulled her out of the Adductor River the day the King died.

She looked around and saw more of them, three maermaids and two maerbutlers. They smiled back and made all sorts of noises. They sounded like dolphins, but their voices were deeper and their clicks and whistles longer, almost like humming a tune.

At the end of another breath, before pulling away, the maermaid said, “Welcome to our home!” The words came directly into Daffy’s mind. She tried to reply, but it came out in bubbles and meaningless syllables. The maermaid leaned in and she pulled away on impulse. The maermaid canted her head and smiled. Daffy needed to breathe, so she leaned in and took a breath of fresh air. Fresh might not be the right word. The kiss tasted like the ocean, like fish just caught, but warm and soft, a kiss.

They were in an underground cave, a sort of grotto covered in luminous plants that shed different colors of light that added up to a bluish shade of white. Smooth stones formed benches, sea anemone and starfish attached to the walls, floor, and ceiling. A wave flowed in from somewhere, jostling them about and cooling the water.

The maermaid made a genuine sound through the water, not telepathy. Daffy wrapped her mind around the sound, Zelda, a name. She tried to reply with her own name, but it came out as more bubbles and then she had to pull Zelda close to get another breath.

The maermaids and maerbutlers carried on a conversation. Every ten seconds or so, Zelda would lean over and share a breath. Daffy held out her hands and shook her head in what she hoped was a universal signal for, “What are you talking about?”

Zelda kept her eyes open and her tongue ran across Daffy’s teeth. Daffy heard her say, “When the tide recedes, our grotto will fill with air.”

Zelda pulled away and made sounds in that dolphin song that expressed joy. The next time she gave Daffy a breath, she put words in her mind, “We’ll rest here, sharing air, until the tide ebbs. When you’re all better, I can take you back to the world above the sea, if that is what you desire. Or you’re welcome to stay with us as long as you like.” She tugged Daffy to a giant green anemone, soft as a slick pillow. Daffy tried to sit, but her buoyancy pulled her away with every wave. She felt exhausted and, the next time Zelda gave her a breath, she yawned into Zelda’s mouth.

Zelda pulled her close and carefully matched their lips together. Daffy inhaled and then started dozing, her lips against Zelda’s.

When she awoke, she was still below water, still attached to Zelda like lovers swimming in the rush of affection at the dawn of a new romance. Zelda pulled Daffy up and they broke the surface. A good three feet of air filled the top of the grotto and the tide was still going out.

Daffy took a fresh breath, introduced herself, and asked where they were. Zelda leaned in to kiss her, but Daffy no longer needed help breathing. Zelda laughed—squeaks and dolphin-whistles. This time, Daffy accepted the kiss and, noses touching, eye-to-eye, Zelda conveyed the story: the maer had been dining on a school of tuna when they heard dragons. Other schools of maer had rescued many of the elfs and leprechauns. The elfs demanded to be returned to land, and even the maer didn’t relish bringing leprechauns into their grottos.

Zelda put pictures in Daffy’s mind of the rocky outcroppings that lined the Glomaythean coast and told her of the maer grottos and communities beneath every rocky crag. With another kiss, she said that Daffy was welcome in every one of them.

Early Reviews

The Book of Bastards combines a riveting, intense plot of righteous vengeance with tongue-in-cheek banter that will keep you turning the page with eager anticipation. With settings that make you wish they were real, characters you can't help but cheer for, and twists that keep you guessing, Ransom Stephens has crafted an engaging tale that makes every minute of reading, time well spent. I don't often reread a book, but I think I'll make an exception. Loads of fun. Highly recommended. – Brian D Anderson, million-selling author of The Bard and the Blade

A delightful, detailed tale about morality, being honest with yourself, and self-reflection, even when you don’t like what the glass has to show. A perfect treat for lovers of rich fantasy worldbuilding, gory battles, and the kind of thoughtful, character-driven stories that make your brain whirl, your imagination dance, and your heart surge.” -J.M. Frey, bestselling author of The Accidental Turn Series

About the Author

Ransom Stephens has searched for the Holy Grail in Cornwall and Wales but settled for a cracked coffee mug. He’s won several awards, but they’ve all been named after people he’d never heard of which made for awkward acceptance speeches. The author of four previous novels on simple, non-controversial topics like science vs religion in The God Patent, technology vs environmentalism in The Sensory Deception, oligarchy vs anarchy in The 99% Solution, and love vs money in Too Rich to Die, in his latest, The Book of Bastards, he offers readers what they really want, a story of bawdiness washed down with a sip of moral justice.

I’m a fairly accomplished scientist and technologist, all the details at

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Twitter: @ransomstephens



Instagram: @ransomstephens


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