Esme takes it upon herself to put an end to the Purge and stop the Evening Star. But when fate puts her in the path of the star, she is forced to question the truth about the supposedly evil nature of the stars. This act may lead to her death at the hands of the Purge – or at the hands of the ones she loves.
Hope’s Shadow is inspired by the Inquisitions of the Middle Ages. It is a dark fantasy that challenges the nature of truth and the true meaning of heroism.
IAN. How long did it take to write Hope’s Shadow?
AO. The first draft took about 3 months. From there, the editing and rewriting process took me about another year before I was completely happy with it.
IAN. What inspired you to write the book?
AO. One of my major characters in the novel was inspired by the tales of Joan of Arc. Originally, the story was about this character and how she defeated the Morning Star. Then I wondered what would happen if the hero of the story died before the story even began…and thus this novel was born.
IAN. Talk about the writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?
AO. I write whenever I get a free moment. But I do find that my most productive time of day to write is at night, or during my lunch break at work. If I can get away from the internet, all the better!
IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
AO. I generally wing the first draft, as my characters like to change things on me otherwise. After the first draft, I will use an outline to help me settle any plot holes or chapters that might need to be rearranged.
IAN. How is Hope’s Shadow different from others in your genre?
AO. It’s drawn from a very dark period of world history that not many seem willing to go into detail about, and it does so as honestly as possible. There are no powerful sorcerers slinging fireball spells, the knights in shining armor are usually the villains, though they deem themselves heroes, and it’s a world where even those who fight in the name of good cannot be trusted. Though it is not directly about the Inquisitions and witch hunts, it still unmasks many of the truths from that time period, none of which were the least bit pleasant.
IAN. Is your book published in print, e-book or both?
AO. Currently, it is available in both formats. It may be reduced to just e-book shortly, though.
IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
AO. Hopefully not the desire to curse my name after they read the ending. Hehe! But honestly, I hope readers come away with some sense of insight about the world. Or maybe become just a little bit more curious about the Inquisition and what the witch-hunts were really about.
IAN. Where can we go to buy your book?
AO. Hope’s Shadow is available on both amazon.com and bn.com
IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
AO. My current work in progress is a stand alone, and also a fantasy novel. I am about a third of the way through the first draft at this moment. It’s not as dark as Hope’s Shadow, but that’s all I can tell you right now.
IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?
AO. I am hoping to write the sequel for Hope’s Shadow one day. I just have to get the plot ironed out. And then I’d like to go back and work on the prequel.
A frigid wind howled mournfully through the trees. Splotches of crimson blood fell across the virgin snow and the black candles that lay scattered beside the ebony-haired woman. Her body was sprawled across the forest floor, her breasts no longer rising and falling with breath, her blue eyes intent on the darkening sky above.
A man cloaked in shadows stood over her body as he wiped the blood from his obsidian blade. He held himself perfectly still, as if too stunned by his actions to even look away. His dagger trembled in his hand. Noting his own reaction, he stiffened his arm. His breath was visible in the frozen air.
He squatted beside the woman. With steady hands, he reached into the gaping hole in her chest, wrenching free her heart. The sight of blood that normally filled him with delight only sickened him now. He carefully placed the useless lump of muscle in a leather satchel and kissed the woman’s cold, colorless lips.
“Forgive me, Esperanza,” he muttered as he rose and faded back into the shadows of the forest. “It had to be done. May the stars guide you home.”
The setting sun shrouded the forest with deepening shadows. No birds sang, no animals scurried over the snow-laden branches. Even the dryads stayed hidden within their trees. Without the light of the moon, vanished from the heavens over a year ago, there was nothing to protect anyone from the Shadow Lurkers. The light of the stars offered no reprieve from the night’s treacheries.
Robin would not have dared venture into the forest at this hour if he wasn’t certain that Esperanza was out there. She covered her tracks well, though a hunter as experienced as Robin could still manage to follow them. If only she hadn’t abandoned him, he thought. If only he hadn’t been so foolish as to believe that she’d finally accepted his company and their newfound intimacy. It was his own bloody fault for believing her when she promised to stay with him!
Robin paused by a tree to catch his breath, though the rising mix of emotions in his chest threatened to choke him and his lungs ached from the frigid temperature. Although he had forgotten his cloak in his haste, and his filthy tunic hung loose from his trousers, he didn’t feel the cold air.
The tree bark trembled beneath his fingers. Robin started and drew his hand away, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. The tree’s dryad — the spirit who cared for it — was terrified. He looked around and saw that most of the trees quivered, sending small clumps of snow to the ground. His heart leapt to his throat.
A harrowing scream tore through the quiet of the evening. Robin’s heart almost ceased beating at the sound.
“ESPERANZA!” he screamed, stumbling through the snow, scrambling ahead without care. His hair clung to his clammy flesh. Puffs of steam curled from his mouth as he struggled to breathe. The pounding of his heart made his ears throb.
The sounds of crunching snow broke into the eerie and surreal silence, as though an army of feet raced through the forest. “She can’t be … She can’t be … blessed sun … be all right, girl! Please, be safe!”
Robin pulled himself up the hill, bracing himself for whatever he might encounter. He didn’t want to consider the possibilities, especially when he knew the nature of what hunted her. Esperanza was strong, powerful. She had fought a tyrant to put a just king on the throne. She had faced and imprisoned the evil Morning Star. She could survive. Would survive. Nothing … nothing could … NO!
“Esperanza! Answer me! Please!”
The voice he longed to hear remained silent.
The first thing he saw when he topped the hill was the Evening Star. It hung low over the horizon, much lower than normal. Robin gasped, dread seizing his insides with icy claws. The Morning Star had appeared like this – as large as a man standing before him – just before it destroyed Rowan, before it began to sate its bloodlust on thousands of innocents.
With those memories flooding his head, Robin started to turn, desiring nothing more to escape the Evening Star, the vile forest, and the terrible evil lying in wait within the treacherous shadows. The fading sunlight glinted off something in the snow, catching his attention. He faltered, his boots slipping over the slick ground. A silver heart-shaped locket, its chain broken, lay abandoned not far from his feet. No more than two feet away lay Esperanza, her black curls spread out like a cloak beneath her head and shoulders. Her round face seemed colorless, and her once-vibrant blue eyes stared ahead, void of all emotion and passion. He prayed she would move, would suddenly sit up and speak. The complete stillness of her body mocked him. Blood drenched the front of her tunic and stained the pristine snow. Her sword, its peculiar amber-colored blade unmarred by blood, lay unsheathed at her side. Six black candles were scattered near her head. There were no footprints in the snow besides hers.
He didn't realize he had stopped breathing until his lungs burned and tightened. Neither did he remember drawing his sword, which slipped from his grasp. He took one step, then another, on legs that barely held him. It couldn’t be real, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t …
Collapsing to his knees, not feeling the chill of the snow, he reached out to grasp her shoulders, moving without care that her murderer might be waiting to strike him down. He felt like an observer to his actions, as if he were not present within his own body. He shook her, unwilling to believe she breathed no more. His tears felt like fire upon his face.
“Blessed sun, no!”
He held her close to his chest and sobbed, simultaneously feeling numb and in such terrible pain, he thought it would kill him. He prayed it would as he looked up to the Evening Star, which seemed much closer now.
Robin glared at it, hatred rising like bile within him. “It’s your fault she’s dead!” he screamed. He rose to his feet, unsteady, and still clutching Esperanza to his chest. “You’ll pay for what you’ve done! I won’t let you take any more lives!”
A shadow passed over the Evening Star, momentarily hiding it from view. Robin took a few steps back and nearly stumbled over Esperanza’s sword. He’d only seen her use it once, and never against a mortal enemy. It was powerful, though, that much he remembered.
“Die,” a voice whispered like nails clawing over wood. “Your blood … it smells … delightful …”
Robin stiffened at the sound, surprised that he felt no fear, only anger and hatred. The heat of those emotions smoldered within him. Carefully he laid Esperanza on the ground and picked up her sword. The blade was heavier than he expected it to be, and he nearly dropped it. His arms tensed as he brought both hands around its cold hilt and struggled to raise it above his head. Starlight glinted off the amber-colored blade.
“Elpida!” he cried, as Esperanza once had. The blade pulsed, and then bathed the forest with a white light that almost blinded him.
The Shadow Lurkers covered their faces with long, gnarled talons, screaming against the light. Some of them fled. Their twisted, rotten bodies reeked of grave soil and decay. Long, thin voids occupied the space where eyes should have been upon their unnaturally long, mask-like faces. Something thick and scarlet dribbled from between the rows of needle-sharp yellow teeth that filled their mouths.
The bravest of the Shadow Lurkers leapt from the trees. Their screams sent chills down Robin’s spine. His voice trembled as he repeated the name of Esperanza’s sword. The blade glowed more brilliantly as he swung it at the Shadow Lurkers, deftly cutting through their ephemeral bodies. No other weapon could easily destroy these shadow-made creatures. Robin continued to fight throughout the night, even as the Shadow Lurkers grew bolder. He went hoarse from screaming Elpida’s name, and his arms burned and ached from the effort he exerted. He kept his thoughts on the corpse of the woman he’d loved, that he had lost for reasons he couldn’t begin to comprehend, and remained strong.
When dawn broke and the Shadow Lurkers fled from the sun’s light, Robin fell to his knees, exhausted almost to the point of fainting. He laid Esperanza’s sword beside him and stretched his arms, grimacing at the pain that burned its way through him. Then he forced himself back to his feet. There was a shrine nearby. They would see to the preparation of her body for burial.
There had been no sign of the Evening Star’s descent across any of Fiespera’s countries, not as there had been when the Morning Star had fallen. The ground was not rent asunder, the forest did not erupt into flames, and the sky did not rain ashes. Nevertheless, after he had a chance to rest, Robin would begin his hunt for the Evening Star. Revenge now was his only purpose.