For Ages
12 to 99

The Heart of the World is a part of the The Isles of the Gods collection.

Magic and sacrifice will collide as lovers and gods, enemies and allies vie for the fate of the world in this heart-pounding sequel to THE ISLES OF THE GODS, which Stephanie Garber called "deliciously diabolical and full of heart."

When Selly and Leander began their treacherous voyage to the Isles of the Gods, the captain’s daughter and the playboy prince  were strangers. But amid talk of war and a deadly attack on their ship, the unthinkable happened.

They fell in love.

Leander’s ritual at the island temple was meant to prevent a war between the gods. Instead, it nearly cost him his life, and drew the goddess Barrica back from exile. Now, as her Messenger, Leander is imbued with her deadly magic, and only Selly’s presence can stop it from consuming him.

But Barrica wasn’t the only immortal roused from sleep. The God of Risk, Macean, was awakened by an enemy all thought dead, and across the sea he’s calling for war.

The fight to save their world will take Selly and Leander from the gilded ballroom of the royal palace to the hallowed halls of an ancient library. Battle lines will be drawn, and bonds will break.

With the wrath of gods and the machinations of power-hungry rulers straining their loyalties, can their love withstand the trials that await them?

An Excerpt fromThe Heart of the World


The Docks

Kirkpool, Alinor

Everything in Kirkpool that can float, from a battleship to a bathtub, is coming to greet us. Steamships and schooners, merchants and fishing boats, they’re all jostling for space in crowded harbor waters made choppy by their maneuvering.

The decks are thick with bodies, and everyone’s cheering, flying sapphire-­blue Alinorish flags, waving as the Emma makes her way in toward the golden city on the hill.

Leander stands silently at my side, gazing out across the harbor with a calm I’m desperate to break. There’s no easy laugh, no wink to put me at ease, no joke about how this kind of welcoming committee is just another day in his charmed life, full of all the usual admirers. When I scan his eyes, I can read nothing in them.

Before he became a vessel for the power of his goddess, his gaze was the warm brown mahogany of a ship’s timbers. Now it’s the same emerald green as our magician’s marks.

I know he’s in there, though. I know.

I grip the wheel tighter and exchange a glance with Keegan as we enter the thickest part of the cheering fleet, the boats around us sitting low in the water, every one of them loaded to the point of instability. Our scholar is taking it all in solemnly.

The crowd is shouting and singing, greeting us as joyfully as if we’ve won a war for them. And I suppose we have.

For all of them, this moment is more than victory. And then I hear the word in their cries.


Somehow they know what Leander is—­just as they knew he was coming. “Seven hells, Keegan, do you . . . ?”

“I hear it,” he murmurs. “But how word has traveled ahead of us, I don’t know.”

The cries around us are of pure joy. Alinor has a Messenger, and Mellacea will be forced to cower before us. This is ab­solute triumph.

They don’t understand that we paid for this power with their prince.

Leander shifts his weight toward me, and lifts one hand to lay it over mine where I grip the wheel. A shiver of magic goes through me, like the static before a storm, my body prickling.

It happens every time he touches me, this current of raw power. He’s barely left my side since we left the Isle of the Mother—­and Laskia’s broken body, and Jude’s broken spirit—­behind.

When I sleep, Leander sits quietly with me, and when I come up on deck, he follows, never out of reach. I can tell where he is at any given moment without turning my head, feel the press of his mind against mine as clearly as if it were his fingers weaving through mine to squeeze.

“We shouldn’t talk to anybody until we’ve seen to Queen Augusta,” Keegan says, walking back along the deck toward us.

“I’m not planning on giving interviews,” I reply. Somehow we’d both thought we would just quietly sail back into Kirkpool, find a place to tie up, and then figure out a way into the palace. This is . . . the opposite of that.

He speaks gently. “We need to tell her everything, Selly. These people must not know the decoy fleet is gone, or they wouldn’t be celebrating like this.”

“Oh, goddess,” I breathe, and for a moment, as if in response to the word, the air around me shifts the way it does before a storm, close and heavy. Barrica’s nearer to us than she was before Leander became her Messenger. The words that were once a simple epithet are now . . . something else, when whispered so close to her vessel.

“Leander,” I say softly. “It’s getting harder to sail, the wind in here is a mess with so many boats. Can you please guide us in?”

He doesn’t reply—­he hasn’t since it happened—­but I know he can hear me.

At night, I dream of him—­I see him through frosted glass, or on the other side of a jostling crowd, never quite able to reach him. And it is him, I know it is. I know he’s not gone, even if I don’t know how to reach him yet.

I wake up each morning knowing I was just talking to him. I remember the feel of it—­the warmth of his smile, like sunlight—­and seeing the whole of him, not just the ghost of him, in his gaze.

Last night, I dreamed he was at the bottom of the sea, standing on white sand, reaching up to me. I was on the surface, trying desperately to dive down to him, tremors running through my limbs, nausea pushing its way up my throat.

Time and again I’d duck underwater, trying to claw my way through the currents, my lungs burning and bursting—­and every time I’d fall short, shooting back up to gasp for air, my eyes stinging with salt, my heart pounding so hard I could feel it in my temples.

He stretched his hand out to me, fingers grasping, his wide eyes pleading with me to come for him. I woke, gasping for breath and blinking back tears.

He’s reaching out, trying to talk to me through my dreams from where he’s hunkered down behind his barricades.

The first night of our voyage home, Keegan and I talked about the strangeness of my connection with Leander. We sat on deck, beneath an extraordinary blanket of twinkling stars, barely able to believe we’d survived the chase to the temple that day, let alone everything that came after.

“The concept of a Messenger sharing a bond with someone like this was never in the stories,” Keegan said.

Leander was at my side, and though his breathing had evened out from the pained rasp it had been as we left the Temple of the Mother, he was still pressed close against me. There was nothing of my laughing, charming prince in him now. He felt more like a scared animal, sensitive to every noise, flinching at every movement.

“The stories are centuries old,” I pointed out. “Who knows what details were lost?”

“Almost all of them, I’d say. Messengers always vanished from the historical record so quickly. Like fireflies, a flash before they were gone again. Something about you, about the connection between you . . . you keep him here, like an anchor.”

Sensing Leander’s struggle to hold himself together over the past few days, I can see why the Messengers from history disappeared so soon after they showed up. The sheer amount of power in him threatens to split him at the seams. It’s all too easy to guess at the fate of the Messengers from the old stories.

The vast energy he’s trying to contain fizzes between us, jumping in tiny zaps of static. Somehow I’m helping him, but apart from being close to him, I don’t know what it is I’m doing.

I have to figure it out, before the magic builds inside him to unbearable levels.

If the Messengers of the past never had anchors, then maybe his fate can be different. Maybe he won’t simply flicker out like a firefly’s glow in the darkness.

This boy fought for me, and I fought for him, and I will not let him go.

The water currents shift around us to carry the Emma along, and I can see the glinting pinpricks of the air spirits as they press against the sails to keep them from flapping. Le­ander doesn’t even seem to charm the spirits anymore—­they just rush to do as he wishes.

Effortlessly they carry us through the fleet, the water choppy as the steamships churn it up with their propellers, the wind gusting and then lulling as we travel in and out of the shadows of sails.

As we draw closer to the dock, I can make out the individual faces of the blue-­clad Queensguard, linking arms to hold back the onlookers from the place that’s been cleared for us to dock. There are sailors crowded onto the decks of all the ships in prime positions nearby, craning their necks for a look at Leander.

My chest aches, and my throat tightens at the sight of them. I should be standing on the deck of the Lizabetta. It should be Rensa guiding us in.

Leander’s grip on my hand tightens, his skin cool against mine. He senses my sadness, I know it. I lean in to press my shoulder to his, to feel the warmth of him.

Keegan starts to lower the sail as we close the distance between us and the dock, and the air spirits dance in the puffs of current left behind as the canvas folds in on itself. When the Emma bumps in gently against the worn timbers of the dock, there are many hands waiting to make us fast.

“Who’s in charge?” I ask as a couple of Queensguard jump down to locate our mooring lines. I can hear how brittle my voice sounds.

The guards look up to the dock, where a man with a shock of blond hair stands, his handsome face slack with awe. “I, uh—­” he begins, then pulls himself together and snaps a salute. “I am.”

“We need to head up to the palace right now,” I say. “In a closed carriage.”

“Right away,” he agrees, somehow standing even more upright.

“Leander.” I turn my attention back to my prince and squeeze his hand. “Let’s go. Come with me.” In the same way that Leander taught me to cast my mind out for spirits, now I reach for his—­there’s the crackling sensation of power passing between us for a moment, a hint of him, and then it’s over. He’s understood, and together we cross the deck.

The Queensguard who wait for us shift their weight as they watch, uncertain. I can imagine how we must look to them, now we’re up close. Hardly heroes, with our old, ragged clothes, our sunburned skin, chapped lips, shadowed eyes.

The captain offers his hand, and Keegan takes it first, climbing up to join him on the dock. I go next, gripping tightly as I scramble after him—­it’s a long step up from a boat as small as the Emma.

I see the moment the Queensguard captain notices the magician’s marks on my forearm—­geometric, different from any I’ve ever seen before, or any he’s seen, I’m sure. His grip slackens for an instant, before he recovers.

They formed when I used my magic for the first time, to calm a storm near the Isles, to save Leander’s life. We had no time to learn what they meant before I became my prince’s anchor, holding him in place in the world.

I say nothing, but turn to offer my hand to Leander. He grips it and climbs up, agile despite his seeming obliviousness to the world around him.

The moment he sets foot on the dock, a shock wave of pure magic ripples out from us. The timbers groan a protest, and cries go up as the circle of onlookers stagger for balance.

It’s like being hit by lightning. My mouth tastes of copper, my limbs are numb for an instant, then tingle unbearably, and then comes a wash of pure, righteous wrath.