Book Excerpts

Book Excerpt | Russian and Finnish Folklore Revamped in Amy Kuivalainen’s New Firebird Faerie Tales Series

Amy Kuivalenen is back with a whole new mystical world for you to explore. Drawing from Russian and Finnish folklore, the author of the hit Magicians of Venice series brings you Cry of the Firebird, the first in an all-new series that’s sure to entrance both new readers and old fans alike. Find an exclusive sneak peek in the article below, but don’t be surprised when it leaves you craving more.

Book cover for Cry of the Firebird. Image links to the book's About the Book page on BHC Press's website.

A firebird is reborn on the borders of Russia, a gate to a world of monsters and magic is breaking, and only a reluctant, untrained shaman stands in the way of a flood of supernatural darkness…

Anya is still reeling from the death of her grandfather when a strange encounter with the Finnish God of the Dead changes her life forever: Her family has been guarding the gates to the Russian otherworld on their farm for centuries, and she’s the new gatekeeper. Worse, if she doesn’t awaken her magical abilities and assume her new role, the gate will break, unleashing a flood of monsters and dark gods into their world.

As Anya struggles to make sense of her changing world, she can’t deny the strange encounters. She’ll need to accept her fate and work with the legendary firebird if she hopes to survive—and protect humanity.

Filled with magic, adventure, and mythology pulled deep from Russian and Finish folklore, Cry of the Firebird is a dark fantasy that dives deep into the world of magic, pitting those who would abuse it against those sworn to protect it. Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman.

Excerpt from Cry of the Firebird:


Look through the heavy pine forest and see a fire glowing. Beside it sits a bear of a man, knife in one hand and a clay bowl on the ground in front of him. It has been a long time since he last shed blood for his gods, and this will satisfy them a little longer.

The screech of the doomed animal in his clutches is broken off, and the bowl fills with its steaming blood. He puts the bowl on a flat stone by the fire before cutting his scarred wrist and letting his own blood drip into the mixture.

For many days, he has thrown his runes, trying to discover the meaning behind his dreams. He has marked each one with his blood, yet still, they reveal nothing.

A tune starts deep in his gut. It stretches and twists like an unborn child, traveling up like a snake through his chest, setting his bones to shake. He grinds his jaw shut to keep it from escaping as it creeps up his throat.

His lips vibrate as the magic tries to force its way out. The man is well learned in the ways of the song and knows how to control it. The bowl steams, and he leans over to breathe in the blood fumes that will give him visions.

The magic of the blood song works through him, pulling him under the power of the trance, dragging forth memories that he always does his best to keep buried. The visions hit him thick and fast.

The secrets in his blood demand to be heard, each turning over in his mind like rune stones spelling out his past and future: the lost princess, the witch, the game, the bloodline, the curse, the gates, the firebird. Over and over, they turn. Lost past, broken present, and a future that will burn the world in an inferno.

The magic tells him that the war he’s been waiting for is almost there. But he’s not ready.

This man’s name is Vasilli, and he is searching for his brother. Yvan has the magic he needs to survive what is coming. Vasilli will possess it and break the threads of fate around him.

Even if he has to wade through a sea of blood to do it.

Chapter One

When Anya woke on a drizzling early autumn morning, she had no idea that she was about to meet the God of the Dead.

After downing painkillers for her hangover, she headed into the village on unsteady but determined feet. The lady who ran the grocery store gave her a once-over glance, from her muddy boots to her fair, crookedly braided hair, and frowned in disapproval. Even with a blazing headache, Anya still managed to lift her lips in a partial sneer in reply. Anya had a sneer that could cut you in places you didn’t know you had, but only if she deigned to notice you at all.

This wasn’t an uncommon exchange when she bothered to walk the few short kilometers from her farm. Anya knew what they all thought of her, and she made it known that the feeling of dislike was mutual.

Thankfully, the only café wasn’t busy with forestry workers in high-vis gear or local farmers midmorning. She’d been forced to partake in a weekly visit to the café when her grandfather, Eikki, was alive. Since his death three months prior, she’d found she still wasn’t able to let the ritual go. It was also fun to remind people that she hadn’t left the farm like they all told her she should. According to most, a woman running a farm by herself couldn’t be done, no matter how small it was.

Liisi, the café owner, gave her a guarded smile as Anya ordered eggs and coffee before retreating to a booth in the corner. She fought the urge to rest her head on the cold countertop to soothe her burning head.

God, she was hungover. She hadn’t planned to drink so much the night before, but she’d been having nightmares every night for the past week, and the vodka helped get her back to sleep. Last night, she’d relived the car accident that killed both of her parents. Anya hadn’t forgotten the sound of her mother’s blood dripping onto the dashboard as she had waited for someone to come rescue her from the back seat. It had been years since she’d dreamed of the crash, and now her PTSD was bound to flare up all over again. She’d only just gotten it under control enough that she wasn’t seeing Eikki dying every time she shut her eyes.

“Here, you look like you need it.” Liisi put a steaming mug of coffee down in front of her.

“Thanks,” mumbled Anya. She waited until Liisi disappeared into the kitchen before she took a flask from her pocket and topped the mug up with vodka. Anya sipped, then stared out the window so she wouldn’t look at Eikki’s empty seat in front of her and feel the gaping hole of his loss.

Anya had always thought boredom would be the thing to kill her in the small village on the borders of Russia and Karelia, but now she knew it was going to be loneliness.

Just another reason you should sell the farm and start a new life somewhere else.

It was all Anya had thought about since she’d put Eikki in the ground months before. Every time she’d go to act on it, the guilt came crashing down over her like a tidal wave. Her ancestors had always farmed the land next to the ancient forest, and she was the last one left. It would not only be an ending for her, but of her family history and the promise of their land. Anya had another big mouthful of the spiked coffee. The heat and alcohol burned a hole in her empty stomach.

The loneliness wasn’t the only problem. The feeling that something was missing in her life—in her—had only grown since Eikki’s death, and in the last month, it had become almost unbearable. Every day, the pressure inside of her grew. She was twenty-seven years old and had barely seen anything of the world. Instead, she lived in a place where time seemed to stand still. There has to be more than this.

Liisi put a plate of eggs on the table in front of her. Anya smiled even as her stomach roiled. She couldn’t keep living off vodka and coffee, but still, she stared at her plate with apprehension until someone cleared their throat.

“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?” the person asked in English.

Anya started in surprise and looked up at the tall man standing in front of her. He wore an immaculate black suit and stared at her like he knew her. Black hair framed the cheekbones of his handsome, pale face and intelligent black eyes. He was close enough that she could smell his aftershave—a strange blend of cypress, winter ice, and ash.

 Anya glimpsed down at his shiny, black shoes. There wasn’t a speck of dust or dirt on them. Definitely not a local, that’s for sure. She looked around the café—still empty—then back to the man, who was waiting for an answer.

“No, it’s not taken,” she said, thoroughly confused. Tourists tended to be few and far between, and Anya hadn’t seen anyone so polished since she’d lived in Moscow for a brief time. “I’m Anya.” She fought the urge to fix her hair.

“Yes, I know.” He sat down across from her.

“And you are?” Alarm bells went off in Anya’s brain, not only because he knew her name, but because he smiled at her—a dazzling smile that turned his already handsome features into something gorgeous and dangerous.

He held out a hand to her. “You can call me Tuoni.” His voice deep voice rattled her bones. “That’s what Eikki knew me as.”

“Like the God of the Dead?” Anya took his hand to shake it. Tuoni, in Karelian mythology, ruled the Land of the Dead with his children.

“Oh, good. You’ve heard of me. That will save us some time.”

Anya’s palm tingled as he tightened his grip. Black shadows shivered around their hands. She pulled hers away and rubbed at her eyes.

You must still be drunk. Eikki had loads of weird friends. She thought of the fortune teller with gold teeth. Tuoni was probably just there to pay his condolences.

Sudden, cold pressure built behind her eyes, and Tuoni laughed.

“Perhaps you are still a bit drunk, so let me clarify to put you at ease. I really am that Tuoni.”

Despite thinking the guy was a nutter, sweat prickled the back of her neck. “Even if you were, how is that supposed to put me at ease?”

“I’m here to talk to you, Anya, not frighten you. Unless you can see my true form and that’s what’s disturbing you?”

True form. The words brought an old memory hurtling to the forefront of her mind. Eikki used to tell her stories about magical creatures and beings that used glamor and guises…usually to lure gullible humans to violent deaths.

“Not unless your true form is wearing a suit far too nice for this place,” Anya replied, trying to hide her growing anxiety. She didn’t scare easily, but the longer she talked to him, the more uncomfortable she became. As Tuoni stared at her, the hand he’d shaken burned with the imprint of his touch.

“Strange. I’m sure Eikki once mentioned you could see things,” he said.

“Yeah.” She scoffed. “Maybe in my PTSD-induced nightmares after watching my parents die.” PTSD symptoms that had returned after she’d seen Eikki mauled by wolves in the forest. Anya put her hands under the table to hide their shaking.

“I’m not talking about nightmares, Anya.” Tuoni watched her with a predator’s interest, searching her features. “A shame. It’s a useful talent for a shaman to have.”

“I bet. So, you’re here to pay your condolences to Eikki or something?” Her patience was running out. Just play along, then he’ll leave you alone.

“Or something. I’ve come to talk to you about Eikki and your family legacy.”

“Legacy? You mean the farm?”

Liisi came back to refill their coffees. “Who is this man you are talking to, Anya?”

Tuoni’s brilliant smile returned. “I’m Eikki’s lawyer from St. Petersburg, here to talk to Anya about her inheritance.”

“I knew you were no farmer,” Liisi said in shaky English.

Anya cringed at her pronunciation. Her parents—a schoolteacher and a lawyer—had taught her English, Finnish, and Russian in hopes that they would all travel when she got older. After their deaths, Eikki had continued their lessons.

Much good it did me, seeing how I’ve never traveled anywhere.

“A tragedy what happened to that old man. Attacked by wolves in the middle of summer. It’s unnatural—”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Tuoni shot her an apologetic smile, “but Anya and I do have a lot to discuss before I leave today.”

“Of course! It’s just so nice to see a new face, especially a handsome one.”

Anya rolled her eyes. And you were lying through your teeth anyway. No one gave a shit about Eikki except her. Liisi just wanted someone to flirt with.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Liisi said, touching Tuoni’s shoulder before bustling away.

“You said legacy.” Anya lifted a brow.

“Yes, your legacy as a gatekeeper and shaman, like Eikki was.”

Anya choked on her coffee. “You think he was a shaman? I mean, he was a joiking enthusiast when the Sami performers came through, but—”

“I am many things, Anya, but I’m not a liar. There was a lot Eikki kept hidden from you—his magic included. He wanted to protect you by making the world believe you were as devoid of magic as your father was.”

“Stop. I don’t know who you really are or who put you up to coming here to piss me off, but don’t talk about my grandfather like he was crazy, and never, ever talk about my father.” Anya had endured enough teasing about Eikki over the years. The village loved gossiping about him—that is until something terrible happened, and then he was the first person they called. The nearest doctor lived an hour away, and Eikki was handy with a needle and knew what herbs would heal and bring down a fever.

Cold radiated from Tuoni as his lips lifted in a sneer. “Do you really think I’m going to obey a sad little mortal like you?” Anger brewed in his eyes. “I’m here to help you, so shut up and listen so I can get back to what I’m meant to be doing.”

“No, I don’t think I will.” Anya went to get up, but Tuoni made a small gesture, and she remained locked in her chair. “What the fuck? Let me go.” Her heart pounded as she tried to wriggle free, panic racing through her.

Tuoni didn’t seem concerned. “I don’t want to frighten you; I just need you to sit still and listen. As I was saying, Eikki was a shaman and a gatekeeper. There are only a few places in the human world that touch an otherworld, and your farm borders on one of the strongest in Russia. Eikki protected this gateway into Skazki his entire life, like your ancestors before him.”

The forest at night is their domain… Eikki’s warning words rushed back to Anya. He had said that to her parents the night they died. He’d tried to convince them not to leave. How could Anya have forgotten that?

“What do you mean by a gateway to Skazki?” Anya asked. In the fairy tales, Skazki was the name of the land of heroes and myth, while Mir was the human world.

“A gateway is a place where two worlds touch. Sometimes, people and creatures with magical abilities can cross through, which means those gateways must be guarded. Your family have always been gatekeepers, and because of that, Eikki had enemies. Unless one has a lot of power, they need a gatekeeper to world-walk, so people like Eikki would be petitioned. He was particular on who he let through. The night your parents died—that was a disgruntled petitioner lashing out because they wanted to hurt Eikki.”

They were murdered? Anya shuddered against the invisible bonds holding her as she remembered the shadows surrounding the car, blacking out the windshield as she and her parents screamed. Then the deafening silence when they hit the ditch.

She held back a sob. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because despite his misguided efforts, Eikki can’t protect you anymore. You’re lucky word spreads so slowly between the worlds, because when the creatures and magic users in Skazki find out he’s dead, they are all going to try to break through. You need to learn to be a gatekeeper and keep them out. You have a great power hidden inside of you, Anya. That power needs to be unleashed, because if you don’t keep the gates closed, anyone and anything will be able to get in. Like the skin-changers that killed Eikki, for example.” Tuoni studied her. “You saw them that day, didn’t you?”

Anya thought she’d imagined seeing the skinny, humanoid forms hidden under the wolf furs. By the time she’d reached where they were attacking Eikki, they had disappeared into the forest, leaving him to bleed out from the deep wounds they’d ripped in his stomach and chest. Anya squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to block out the bloody images.

“If Eikki was guarding this gate, how did they get in to kill him?”

“I can’t be certain, but my guess is that one of his enemies from Skazki helped the skin-changers. He’d been having premonitions of his impending death as the cancer ate through him. Maybe they, too, knew he was weakening. The last time I saw him, he was determined to lay down a ward that would protect you long after he was gone, hopefully for the rest of your life, but he was murdered before he figured out how.” Tuoni’s tone softened ever so slightly. “He could never understand that he couldn’t shield you forever. He couldn’t stop the supernatural war that is coming, and neither can you. Now that he’s no longer here to renew the gates’ strength, they will weaken and fray. You don’t have much time before they are ripped apart—and probably you along with them.”

“Why me too?” Anya was struggling to believe any of what he was saying, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she still couldn’t move, she wouldn’t believe him at all.

“Because you have untrained magic, and there are Powers in this world who will want it once it begins to manifest. As for the gates, you probably have six months at the most. Gate protection spells are usually renewed twice a year at the summer and winter solstice to strengthen them. You’ll want to master your power and seal them before your time is up.”

Anya was quiet a moment. She shook her head. “Why do you even care enough to tell me any of this?”

“I have my reasons, the main one being if this world is flooded with the monsters from all of your stories, it will be a massacre,” Tuoni snapped. “It’s not only them you need to worry about. There are other powerful magic users in this world and Skazki who will seek to take the gates from you. They want control of them and unlimited access between here and there. Stealing your magic and killing the last of your bloodline will just be an added bonus.”

“Say I believe you. How am I meant to learn how to close—or even find—this magical gate before I get murdered?”

“Don’t be sarcastic with me, child. You know I speak the truth, even if you were made to forget it,” Tuoni said. “I suggest you start by looking through some of Eikki’s books. Most shamans don’t believe in writing things down, but he did. You can learn a lot if you keep your mind open.” He gave her a chilling smile. “Now, I really must be going. I hope to see you again soon.”

Anya rolled her eyes.

Tuoni sighed and got to his feet. “At least try to stay alive and make it a challenge for me.”

Anya ignored the comment and glared up at him. “I would like to be let go now.”

The weight holding her limbs down lifted, but he blocked her way out of the booth.

“Another thing—Eikki asked me to give you this before he died.” Tuoni reached into his pocket and pulled out a smooth black-and-red stone.

Anya didn’t want a damn thing from him, but she asked, “What is it?”

“It has been in your family for a long time. All you need to know is that it’s dangerous—and your destiny.” Tuoni took her hand and slapped the stone into her palm, then held her hand tightly. “I have a parting gift for you. You’ve been made to forget a lot about your life, Anya. It’s time you woke up.”

Anya stopped breathing as his handsome face shivered and slipped away. Underneath, his black eyes burned in a face of impossible, horrible beauty swathed in shadows. Anya struggled as a bolt of static snapped between their palms. Pain shot through her head, tearing something inside of her, and she cried out. The taste of salt and ash and blood swirled in her mouth as the sound of wings beat about her ears. Tuoni held on until the pain eased. Anya gagged and gasped for breath.

Tuoni’s face changed back to normal, and he smiled down at her. “Take my advice and stay sober for the next few days. Things are going to get strange. Hyvää päivää, shamanitsa,” he growled. Then he vanished.

“Where did he go?” Anya scrambled out of the booth.

Liisi gave her a disgusted look. “Are you drunk again? You’re the only one in here, idiot girl.”

Anya threw some money down on the table, clutched the stone to her chest, and ran.

See a man in the forest. He is dressed in a long black trench coat, and water clings to his curly hair. Some days, he curses the shaman and the promise he made to watch over his family. Other days, he wonders what it would be like to step into the light and let her see him. But he’s not there to talk to Anya. Only to protect her.

Sharp pain scratches at the pit of his stomach and back of his throat. He needs to feed but is reluctant to leave Anya when she is so alone.

And then there she is, running as fast as she can, clearing the village buildings, stumbling over the boundary fence, and cutting across a field. He snaps to attention but stays hidden in the tree line. There’s nothing chasing her, but something had to cause such fear. He relaxes as soon as she passes through the farm’s wards, then stares at the sky. It’s a few hours till nightfall. Then he will hunt down whatever made her so afraid and tear it to pieces.

“Kuivalainen skillfully blends Russian and Finnish folklore into a delightfully whimsical urban fantasy [and] breathes fresh life into fairy tale characters like Baba Yaga, and fantasy staples like wizards and dragons. With its masterful combination of richly detailed scene setting, humor, romance, quirky characters, and supernatural conflict, this is a story to be relished.”

Publishers Weekly

Cry of the Firebird releases October 14th, 2021!
Preorder your copy today:

About the Author:

Author portrait of Amy Kuivalainen. Photo links to Amy's About the Author page on BHC Press's website.

Amy Kuivalainen is the author of the Magicians of Venice (The Immortal CityThe Sea of the DeadThe King’s Seal) and the Firebird Faerie Tales.

A Finnish-Australian writer who is obsessed with magical wardrobes, doors, auroras, and burial mounds that might offer her a way into another realm, she enjoys mashing up mythology and lore into unique retellings about monsters and magic.

Amy enjoys practicing yoga and spending time in the beautiful city of Melbourne, where she is working on her next novel.

To keep up with Amy, check out her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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