I am over-the-moon to be able to share with you the exclusive cover reveal of Alechia Dow’s upcoming science-fiction debut, The Sound of Stars–plus an excerpt of the prologue and first chapter!
It’s out on February 25th, 2020, so a bit of a wait, but it’ll be well worth it for alien invasions! road trips! banned music, books, & popular culture! two opposites working together!
I’m honestly so excited, and you can find the official summary here:
Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the alien Ilori resulted in humans losing control of their world.
Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in one of the last Ilori-controlled centers in New York City. To stave off rebellion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books, and creative expression are deemed dangerous and illegal, but Ellie keeps a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to lead without emotion. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music, and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
Ellie’s–and humanity’s–fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.
Sci-fi is such an underrated genre, but this sounds like an epic read, and 2020 creeps closer every minute!
If you want to get a better taste of The Sound of Stars, I also have this neat little excerpt of the prologue and first chapter! I read it this morning and absolutely sped through. (Now I’m hungry for more!) I know this is going to be a good one.
The invasion came when we were too distracted raging against our governments to notice. Terror had a face and we elected it, my mom said. We were more divided than ever, and that division made our defeat easy.
One moment we were screaming at each other–fingers pointed at the bigotry, the chaos, the hatred—and the next our gaze lifted to the chrome spaceships hovering behind the clouds. No one knew what to do. There was panic; there was fear. Anyone who could, left the city and headed for their second homes or their families out-of-state.
Not us, though. We had nowhere to go, no option but to stay behind, locked inside our apartment, waiting for the news to tell us what was happening. For days, the reports told us nothing other than what we already knew; there was now incontrovertible proof we weren’t alone in the universe.
News was hard to come by. There were whispered rumors, nothing confirmed, nothing that inspired confidence in Mom or Dad, who already expected the worst. We didn’t dare leave our apartment building till something concrete reached our ears. It never did.
Other than speculation, there was no official communication that first week. The White House was silent. It was as if they invited chaos by not releasing a statement, by not acknowledging the truth or establishing a plan. All we could do was sit on our couch and wait. That was the longest week of our lives.
And then, one night, the sky lit up a brilliant orange brighter than the sun. The explosion that followed shook our walls and pierced our eyes. We hit the aliens, the radio blasted across the block. Three massive ships––one in the US, struck over New York that crashed onto the California coast! We destroyed them, people shouted in the streets. Had we won? Was it over?
And then they struck back.
Army bases were their first targets. But there was still hope, the news reports said. We still had our national guard. We didn’t need jets and planes. We needed troops on the ground. They were mobilized just before the invasion.
Major cities across the world were overrun within days. The battles raged just outside our walls. The Ilori—we learned their name and their abilities—didn’t use bombs. Didn’t need weapons. They marched in black armor and masks and used their hands. They hunted by sound; they could hear our hearts beating, our inhales of breath. They could use their minds to destroy ours. And yet, after taking out the leaders, they didn’t. These seemingly invincible creatures responded only to our attacks. Whatever their goal, it didn’t involve annihilation—not that that made a difference.
There were losses on both sides; more of us than them, but enough of them to make humans feel like we stood a chance. Every dead Ilori was taken and analyzed. I still remember the way people cheered in their homes as breaking news reports filmed, not from news stations, but from hospitals within protected bunkers. Scientists had found a way to kill the Ilori. They weren’t indestructible. Underneath their armor they looked like us. They had eyes, ears, lips, hair, and skin, which meant they could bleed. Their blood was as red as our own. Yet, killing them was difficult. If you were lucky enough to outnumber them ten to one, you might be able to overpower them, maybe even shut them down.
Electricity…that’s their source of power, we were told excitedly. They need it to survive. I chuckle thinking of it now; how we thought, because we found their weakness, we’d win. How our soldiers switched out their guns for electrical weapons, and we thought we had a chance.
We were wrong.
“I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature . . .” Elinor Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
blame the Starry-Eyed for the risks I take. Allister Daniels, the lead singer, once said that life’s short, but it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do, so give more than you take and be kind. I guess that meant a lot to me, because here I am, giving and being kind… And it’s probably gonna be my downfall.
It’s that thought that sticks with me as I stop to tie my shoe, slipping a scrap of crumpled paper into my sock before standing. Easy, all part of the routine; collect a note from the edge of the trash can in the back corner, hide it, and read it when I get home. I wonder what my patron wants this time. Mysteries are always popular, so’s military nonfiction for those looking for hope. But it’s about time everyone understands that there is no hope. This is it.
It’s warm in here; half the building is sweating in this makeshift gym while human guards look on with boredom. I swipe the beads of sweat lingering at the base of my hat and blow air through my teeth. Sometimes we go into the courtyard, but it’s winter now and the Ilori don’t trust us to take care of ourselves. Still, I’d rather be cold than in here, overheating. So I guess I’d prove their point.
The lights blink, telling us we have a few more minutes before we’re to go back to our own apartments.
“Janelle,” a whisper comes from the crowd behind me. I slow down, allowing whoever it is to catch up to me.
“I loved it. Thank you.”
I don’t turn around but recognize the voice. Marcus from the eighth floor. He borrowed one of my dad’s books, Watchmen. My dad is–was–a big fan of graphic novels, while my mom loved romance and classics. As for me, I like everything, especially YA where girls kick ass and boys don’t get in their way. Most of my patrons go for my books, but every so often, I get a request that has me looking beyond my stuff. And I’ll do it, every time, if it means a story can change someone’s outlook, if even just for a day.
Stories do that for me.
When recreation time’s over, we shuffle our way back into the hallway and up the stairs, where the air is immediately less stale. I should be grateful that we’re all locked in here, that we’re alive. That we’re clothed, fed, sheltered, and the Ilori don’t seem to want to kill us… until we break their precious rules. But freedom might be better than survival.
Back at my apartment, I snatch the book request from my shoe.
Something with dark humor, please. Jack 3B
My mind’s already roving through possibilities when a knock on the door has me frozen in panic. It’s too soon to expect anyone. The numbers rise to the surface of my mind, threatening to overtake my world for a few minutes before I can be a functioning, normal person again. But there’s no time for that right now, and I can’t keep panicking like this. I gulp and open our beige door, my heart pounding.
Zoe Landson stands before me, an uneasy pout on her lips. “I know this is wrong, but I really need a book.”
“You shouldn’t be here.” My gaze darts up and down the hallway, making sure there are no guards around to bust us. We’re lucky everyone important is either prepping dinner or upstairs.
Zoe’s gaze locks on mine. “I know, but–”
“This isn’t how I operate.” I pull her inside and flick off the lights, washing us in shadows. I never do library business in the apartment. “There’s a system. First, we establish contact through passed notes. That’s half a transgression if caught. This—” I point to her in my apartment “—is a whole one.”
The rules of social transgressions are pretty easy: speaking in private places? Half a transgression if it’s innocent, i.e. not plotting to attack or something. If it’s about contraband and making plans to engage in illegal activity? That’s one transgression, and you get only two until you’re executed. Lying won’t work with them. The Ilori have ways of finding out whatever you try to hide. They’re powerful, especially if they think you’re planning their demise.
“Then I vet you. I find your secrets and I test your loyalty.” What I don’t say is that I rely heavily on Alice for that––she finds the dirt on everyone. It’s her talent and my secret weapon. “Then, and only then, can we discuss books.”
Zoe squints at me through the moonlight that shines in from the bare living room window down the hall and across from the kitchen. She’s a year younger than me, and although we both are–were–outsiders in this building, we were never close. My parents inherited this apartment, and her dad was the repairman slash janitor. We stuck out, and probably would have stuck out even more if we became friends. “I’m sorry, Ellie. But I really need a book.”
I shake my head, nostrils flaring. “You broke my rules.”
“Please. You don’t know what it’s like over there” She motions to the door, across the hall to her apartment. “My dad’s all I got and he’s–”
“How do I know you won’t toss me to a Kill Squad to cover your own ass?”
I clench my jaw, the words harshly whispered. Honestly, I doubt Zoe’s gonna do that, but I vet people just in case. I like my rules and process. “You don’t come here outside of socialization hours, and we never talk about the library. You slip me notes like everyone else. And you don’t give them a reason to suspect either of us. This system works–and it has for a year, but it only works when people follow it.”
A tear tumbles down her cheek, catching the light. Her bottom lip trembles.
Just say no. Don’t do it. Why risk yourself? These are the questions that run through my mind before I once again decide my role as librarian is more important than my life. Yeah, she came to my apartment, potentially exposing me, and yeah, I’m terrified of punishment. But a part of me likes the challenge. And another part of me, the foolish one, still holds on to the words of Allister Daniels.
Give more than you take. Be kind.
I lower my voice. No one’s around to overhear us, but better safe than sorry. “What are we talking?”
“Really?” Her eyes widen, but I keep my face blank, impatient. “Paranormal, please?”
I nod. “Don’t come back here again. Follow the rules, or you’re off the list. Got it?”
“Thank you, thank you.” Zoe goes to hug me, but I inch backward. We aren’t friends like that.
I give her a polite smile that probably comes off as more of a grimace. I ease the door open, allowing her to peek out first. Satisfied, she bolts across the hall. I don’t wait to hear her door close before I shut mine. That was close.
My breathing finally slows just as the doorknob bumps into my back. I scoot aside to let my mom in, shoving Jack’s note underneath my hat. “Janelle, what are you doing? Why are the lights off? Are they here?”
There’s frenzy in her jerky motions, and her loose bun loses a few strands of matted dark brown curls. When was the last time she showered? I take in her blue scrubs, which hang off her diminished frame.
“Mom, everything’s okay. I was just walking around the apartment. Getting exercise.” I hate lying to her, but her eyes are far off already anyway. She’s been mentally checking out more and more. I sit her down at the kitchen table.
When Dad stomps inside and takes a seat, barely glancing at us, Mom pushes her chair as far away from him as she can. I remember how they used to laugh about silly things and get lost in their own little world of love. Now, they’re both lost, just in very different worlds. And the love seems nonexistent.
Minutes pass in silence until I answer the door for dinner. There’s a polite smile on my face as I accept the trays and thank one of our elderly neighbors, but I can’t help recoiling at tonight’s meal. For the fourth time this week, we’re given hard crackers smeared with a tasteless protein spread. The canned peaches are new, though.
After setting the food down, I hand Mom a paper napkin, although she barely ever eats enough to make a mess. I know I shouldn’t ask anymore, that I should keep quiet and let everyone be, but I miss talking to them. “How was… Was it a good day?”
Mom shoots me a look as she pushes her untouched plate towards me. She’s reluctantly lucid and terse. “There are no good days.”
I take her portion of peaches and eye Dad, wondering if I should even try to reach him. He’s stoic, and survives only to serve them. His humanity, if he still has it, is dwindling away. In the beginning, he used to hug me fiercely and tell me that knowing I’m still here got him through dark days.
And yet, the days are darker than ever, and I’m not certain he even remembers my name. The anger at how unfair it all is keeps my mouth shut.
After he inhales his food, he marches off to bed, leaving Mom and me to go through our usual motions. I clean up. She sneaks around the house to her various stashes of alcohol, drinks enough to dull her pain, and stumbles to the guest room. I wait in my bedroom until their snores echo down the hall before I make my move.
Twenty-three steps from my room to the kitchen. From there, fifteen steps to the door. Easy peasy, I tell myself.
But I can’t hear my footsteps over the incessant pounding of my heart.
I’m breaking more rules than usual tonight: out of bed past curfew, out of domicile past curfew—yes, those are two separate things—fraternization outside of socialization hours…the list goes on. If I get caught, and it’s a sympathetic human guard whose injection hasn’t kicked in today, it’ll be just a half a transgression. But if they find out I’m going to my contraband library in the basement, I’ll be up for execution.
It’s that last part that gives me chills.
Breathe in, breathe out. Listen.
No one’s here. The stairs are deserted. I know the guards’ schedules and plan accordingly, but plans sometimes go awry.
I gotta believe it’s worth it.
A book can change someone’s world. Especially Zoe’s. Her dad, the building’s repairman, and my dad, are part of the half-solutions program, a monthly mood-enhancing vaccine that turns humans into obedient Ilori servants. But at least I’ve somewhat got my mom. Zoe has no one, and she’s been pulling her hair out of loneliness, boredom, and probably terror. Fear makes folks reckless enough to risk their lives. I get it.
Down just the two flights of stairs.That’s it. Take another breath and wait.
I swallow before pushing myself off the wall and down the stairs to the basement. One glance around, and I pluck the key I keep hidden under my purple beanie. There’s not too much light, but I know this door well enough. I touch the edges of the lock and slide the key in. One quick twist, and I swing the door open.
Once I’ve closed it behind me, my shoulders finally unhunch. I’m in.
Our family storage unit is the first door on the right with a broken padlock. The Ilori broke it the moment they seized control of the building, although they never searched it hard. I’m grateful for that.
Everything’s smooth-sailing now, but still my gaze flicks down the hall to the boarded basement hatch. A painful memory I try to block out slams into my mind and heart until I gasp and let it claim me.
I was fifteen when they took over. I’d been looking out our living room window, rocking back and forth, mourning. Another execution had happened less than an hour before. It wasn’t the first, but it was the first time a teenager was killed. Alice cried on my shoulder, she’d gone to school with him, while I looked on. My eyes were open, but my mind was closed. Our situation had become real.
None of us would be spared.
I’d seen a mother and child run toward our building, to the basement hatch. My emotions were raw, and I knew they’d either get taken in or killed. I ran from the apartment, down the stairs just as the shift changed, a lucky break for me. I went to the basement and hurried toward the hatch. It required a key. I didn’t have the key. I tried my own, but it didn’t work.
“Please, let us in,” her voice called from outside. “Please. I have a little girl.”
“I’m trying,” I answered through the door. “I’m trying.”
I pulled, I scratched, searched for something–anything–that would fit in the lock, that would open this door to hell and offer her purgatory. Tears streamed down my face, and I muttered, counted my numbers, hummed a song, recited a quote from a book… but nothing opened that door.
And then I heard his voice. “I told you not to leave. I told you…”
“You hit me, you–” The woman’s voice wavered.
“I love you…stay with me. I can save you, I can–”
Her panic seeped through the door. “I want to be safe. I’d choose the Ilori over you. They have food and heat.”
And then she screamed.
The little girl yelled for her mommy. I grabbed a book and hit the lock over and over and over, drowning out the shouts and the sounds. It clattered to the ground, and I opened the hatch. There was a pool of blood, but the woman and the little girl were gone. So was he. I ran back to my room, where I sobbed and told myself over and over that it wasn’t my fault, that they were okay… even though it was impossible. There’s no way our stories have happy endings anymore.
A few days later, I began lending out books.
I push that memory aside, like always, as I hit the flashlight on a few times to make it work. The agony in my chest subsides as I remind myself that I can’t have an emotional breakdown right now. I was helpless, too weak to stop whatever happened to that woman. Too slow. But now I can help people. Somepeople. Patrons.
My flashlight flickers on. I’m out of batteries, so I don’t waste too much time collecting the books.
The space is tiny and tight, and a great hiding spot. I sidestep random old furniture my parents moved down here when Mom wanted new décor. I weave past the midnight-blue ottoman my dad used to prop his feet on while reading the newspaper in Brooklyn. He’d kick the ottoman away in anger and comment about another senseless hate crime, or nuclear tensions rising, or climate change, or our morally corrupt politicians. My dad refused to throw it away when my mom said the color didn’t match our new couch. Sometimes I go down here just to be reminded of our other life. And him.
My hip brushes against one of my great-aunt’s old table lamps. And then my eyes flash to the floor. The matching lamp is scattered in ceramic pieces. That’s not right. My body tenses as I maneuver around the shards to the old mattress.
Breathe in, breathe out. A broken lamp doesn’t mean anything.
I tug on the ripped fabric, lifting the flap I cut, and let a sigh loose. My books are still inside. Thank goodness.
My gaze roams over the titles before I pull my out my old, tattered copy of Twilightand then, because I really am committed to being kind, the first book inThe Dark Artifices series. Zoe will love these. Then I grab The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxyfor Jack. I’m about to replace the covering when a gap in the shelf catches my attention. How many books are checked out?
I scan the stack. Then why are there eight holes?
No. Am I losing it? Think, Ellie.
I remember every interaction I’ve had regarding the library. In the last few days, I’ve lent seven books to four patrons. I count again. Fifty-two books. Onlyfifty-two books. I’m going to hyperventilate. Oh damn. Numbers roll off my tongue as I try to keep it together.
But who could’ve taken it? Which book? Another scan and I know. The Hate U Give. I stood in line with my dad to get Angie Thomas’s autograph at the Strand.
Why would someone take it? If it was them, I would know by now, right? A small, mirthless laugh escapes me. If it was them, I’d be swinging by my neck in front of everyone already. Did I misplace it? A shudder rolls through me. No.
Who took it?
My eyes flick toward the corner, where, for a second, I think I see movement. There’s this sudden sensation that maybe I’m not alone. But that’s ridiculous. This space is too small for someone to hide. I stamp down the thought before the realization hits me. My name is on that book. The what-ifs strike.
What if my mom took it? No. She’s never down here, and she doesn’t know about the library.
What if it’s someone who hates me and wants leverage? I make a list, but it doesn’t take long. There’s only one person who hates me enough to want to see me dead: Mr. Hughes, a neighbor with a serious chip on his shoulder. But when would he have had the time?
What if it’s somewhere out there, waiting to be found? Already, I can feel the rope tightening around my neck.
This book is going to get me killed.
I’m already on the edge of my seat. Wow, what a cliffhanger.
(Also did you catch the reference to Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give?)
It makes me so sad that books are being treated this way in this future, but honestly, this is a future I could see. One line in particular stood out to me:
We were more divided than ever, and that division made our defeat easy.
This felt a little too real, but I won’t distract you from your main goal (the cover!) any longer with my rambling!
Are you ready to see the cover?
Are you absolutely sure? Positively? Absolutely-positively?
Here it is!
It’s so gorgeous?! I love the color scheme a lot and it’s just so swooping and epic! From the little stars and planets on the glowing text to the cityscape in the background, I can’t wait to see what it looks like in person on a finished copy!
If you’re excited for The Sound of Stars, don’t forget to add it to Goodreads and check out Alechia’s social profiles for updates!