by Lora Orme (@pen2published)
Editor: Jeni Chappelle (@jenichappelle)
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Sixteen-year-old Minara (Mina) Davenport is quite certain her father didn’t die in an accidental forge fire—it was arson. But investigating in her Victorian-esque country has been thwarted at every turn. Until now. She’s finally old enough to apprentice as a seeker and investigate freely. She can finally make everyone listen. But when Mina seeks justice beyond the scope of her position, she’s caught and thrown out of the program, blowing her only chance at finding the truth – legally, at least.
That’s when her lace gloves come off.
But when Mina falls from a roof chasing a shadowy figure, she unwittingly calls lightning and gets zapped across the country. As it turns out, she can control electrical current—and she’s not the only one. She’s landed at an academy called Haven where lightning jumpers live and learn in secret. Being a lightning jumper could make it easier for Mina to find answers in her father’s death, if she can survive the dangers of her ability and the mysterious forces plotting to keep her in the dark.
As Mina investigates and takes lessons alongside her new peers, she finds a past that may have been better left in darkness and a tangle of secrets powerful enough to spiderweb into the country’s untouchable Noble District. Now all jumpers are in danger. With her friends’ lives and her father’s memory on the line, Mina must decide whether to give into the storm of vengeance or if justice means something else entirely.
A STUDY IN STORM & SHADOW is a 99,000 word YA fantasy novel with an undercurrent of mystery, a spark of romance, and zaps of humor. It pairs the whodunit sass of Veronica Mars with the dark academia worldbuilding in A Deadly Education and a plus size main character.
I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a double major in English and biology, which inspires me to blend science into magic in my writing. (Part of the magical system in this story was inspired by the concept of spiders sensing and drifting on magnetic currents in the atmosphere.) This manuscript was selected as a winner in RevPit 2021.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Five Pages
I inhaled shallowly against the cording of my bodice as I crouched to take a better look at the gods-awful chartreuse bedroom rug that was my crime scene. Not that I’d committed a crime there. Although, should the rug go up in flames later, I would have no knowledge of that. For now, it was merely the crime scene I’d been assigned as part of my evaluation.
Mr. Huddleston, to whom the rug and house belonged, stood like a clock tower in the corner, hands fidgeting away each second. The silence was enough to make my ears ring, an even worse distraction than if he’d been talking to me, and I couldn’t afford any distractions. So I hummed—softly enough that no one else could hear but loudly enough to focus.
Frayed threads laid flat before me, the result of years of use and the perfect surface on which to clearly see a line of fine debris. I pinched the flecks between my fingers and thumb. The gritty bite was familiar. “Sawdust.” I sniffed. “Sweet. Like the forests beyond the lumber district.” I stood and walked to the window, careful to avoid the trail of evidence. “It leads here. This could be the thief’s point of entry.”
“But the window is closed and locked, not to mention the absence of fingerprints,” noted Madam Rosa, posted in the doorway. Her broad-sleeved gown gave her the girth of a man, and a bowler cap hid her bundle of black hair. On the collar of her coat gleamed a bronze brooch with the seeker insignia and three stars, a reminder that she was my superior.
A bead of sweat dripped down the back of my neck from my pinned hair. It wasn’t nerves. The oppressive heat was always far worse in the blacksmithing district. Every house baked next to its own forge.
I pressed my fingertips to the warm glass. They squeaked across the clean surface, sending a spider scuttling for the broken webbing dangling off the nearby headboard.
A street away, the windows of my house were wide open to welcome the occasional gust of dry, late-summer air. They were also nowhere near this clean. Air polluted with soot and smoke covered the local buildings in grime. It was impossible to escape.
I turned to the man. His puffy grey eyes stared back as he twisted a throw pillow in his rough-knuckled hands. “You closed and cleaned this window before the Sentinels arrived, didn’t you, Mr. Huddleston?”
“I—No! Of course not. I didn’t. I—” His focus drifted past me, then down.
I’d hit on something. I tried not to let a smirk turn up the corners of my mouth. “Mr. Huddleston, you’re not in trouble. It’s natural to want your home to look a certain way. But if you want your late mother’s ring back, we need to know.”
He wrapped his arms around himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want the Sentinels to think I’d been a nozzlehead for leaving my window open, inviting every thief in the City of Creation to come take what they want. They don’t understand the ways of blacksmiths. I can hardly breathe with all these fumes. Add in the summer sun and it’s unlivable.”
Truly. The blacksmithing district was always the last place I wanted to be, not that I had much choice. “I understand, Mr. Huddleston. Believe me, I do. You did nothing wrong.”
“Mr. Huddleston, would you please excuse us for a moment?” asked Madam Rosa.
He scooted out of the room past her, full of murmured apologies.
My supervisor turned to me, as stone-faced as ever, with lips pale enough that her mouth was defined instead by a razor-thin shadow. “Well done. We have enough to close our investigation.”
I nearly choked on the stagnant air. “Close it? But we haven’t found the ring. Shouldn’t we go to the lumber district, see if we can find the origin of the sawdust?”
“Seekers are not in the business of recovery, Miss Davenport. And we know where it leads. It’s a place called Riverstone Mill.”
My eyes narrowed. It wasn’t mentioned in the case file I studied. I’d memorized all twelve of the building names and street addresses previously raided. “How do you know?”
“We have already tracked several thefts to that location. As it is an active site, we omitted it from your studies.”
As in, they didn’t trust an apprentice seeker with the information. I frowned and started for the door. “If you know the place, we can recover the stolen goods and find out who’s behind this.”
Madam Rosa flashed her gloved palm, stopping me in my tracks. “As I said, we are not in the business of recovery. That’s a job for the sentinels. It’s private property and thus still owned by someone. They must go through the legal channels to gain access.”
A job for the sentinels. I’d heard that many times before, though not during seeker training. And I trusted them now just as much as I did then. “The sentinels don’t even think this was a robbery! You heard them. They think Mr. Huddleston misplaced it like some bumbling fool.”
“Our findings will change that,” said Madam Rosa. She wore the kind of calm expression that inspired me to want to shake the ridiculous out of her.
Instead, I settled with a groan. “But—“
“It’s dangerous, Minara. There are restrictions, even for seekers. Be proud of yourself for a successful deduction, your first completed case. You’ve earned your brooch today,” she said, gesturing to the starless bronze crest on my collar. “I have no doubt you’ll pass the oral portion of your evaluation tomorrow. If you learn to quietly take a compliment.” Her eyes pinched toward me. “Congratulations, first year seeker.”
My lips stilled and my cheeks cooled, all argument lost. I’d waited so many years to become a seeker, and now I’d passed.
Madam Rosa turned into the hall, and I followed, every footfall lighter than the last, as if the clouds themselves were underfoot.
Mr. Huddleston waited near the stairs. “We have all we need, Mr. Huddleston.” Madam Rosa placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry to say, but stolen items are very rarely recovered. Thieves like this know how to evade and disperse valuables without being caught.”
I sucked in a cheek. It wasn’t exactly a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth, either. And wasn’t truth one of the seeker creeds?
The man’s face tipped down, light fading from his watery eyes. He had no idea his ring was sitting in some warehouse a district away. The ring was an irreplaceable heirloom, a piece of his mother. I stroked the brim of the homburg pinned atop my head—my good luck hat that had once belonged to my father.
“We will inform you if we make any progress.” Madam Rosa tipped her cap at him and descended the stairs.
I averted my eyes as I passed.
I wouldn’t let this get to me. Even though we shared a neighborhood, I didn’t know Mr. Huddleston personally. I couldn’t say whether he was a particularly nice man, though I recalled once seeing him rescue a little boy’s cat stuck up in a drain pipe. Still, the cat might’ve been evil. There was no way to be certain. Maybe losing the ring was karma for all of that evil cat rescuing business.
As my boot met the first stair, I turned back to see Mr. Huddleston grinding his meaty palm into one of his eyes. My tongue flicked against the cage of my teeth. I wanted to speak, but there was nothing I could say to him that would make it better, nothing that would soothe his aching heart.
“Come, Miss Davenport,” Madam Rosa called from halfway down the stairs.
I caught up at the front door, fishing my gloves from my pocket and slipping them back on. The cool cotton enveloped my hands like a second skin.
As soon as we emerged from the house, she turned to me, though her eyes looked elsewhere. “There’s no need to come back to headquarters. We’ll finish the paperwork tomorrow after your oral evaluation. Good day.” Her lithe figure shot like an arrow down Flax Street toward the train platform, head held high without a care in the world.
I lifted my chin. I shouldn’t have a care either. Tomorrow morning, I would attend my oral assessment. I’d already passed, so I didn’t really need to worry about it. Then tomorrow afternoon, I’d finally be granted access to seeker archives. At long last, my father’s death file would be within my grasp.
Mr. Huddleston appeared at one of his upper floor windows, gently easing the glass open. His cheeks were glossy with tears, his face pale. A look all too familiar. I’d stared at my reflection many times after my father died—green eyes turned red from tears, brunette hair frizzing at the temples, my normally full cheeks gaunt and colorless.
No. I couldn’t let myself empathize. Mr. Huddleston was just part of the job, a source of information. Plain and simple.