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Read the First Chapter of V.E. Schwab’s The Fragile Threads of Power


Read the First Chapter of V.E. Schwab’s The Fragile Threads of Power

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Read the First Chapter of V.E. Schwab’s The Fragile Threads of Power

Volume One of Threads of Power: Once, there were four worlds, nestled like pages in a book, each pulsing with fantastical power and connected by a single city: London.


Published on July 10, 2023


Once, there were four worlds, nestled like pages in a book, each pulsing with fantastical power and connected by a single city: London…

Prepare for tangled schemes and perilous adventures with friends old and new as author V.E. Schwab begins a brand new fantasy series set in the dazzling world of Shades of Magic. We’re thrilled to share the opening chapter from The Fragile Threads of Power, out from Tor Books on September 26—and check back here for more chapters leading up to the book’s release!

Once, there were four worlds, nestled like pages in a book, each pulsing with fantastical power and connected by a single city: London. Until the magic grew too fast and forced the worlds to seal the doors between them in a desperate gamble to protect their own. The few magicians who could still open the doors grew more rare as time passed and now, only three Antari are known in recent memory—Kell Maresh of Red London, Delilah Bard of Grey London, and Holland Vosijk, of White London.

But barely a glimpse of them have been seen in the last seven years—and a new Antari named Kosika has appeared in White London, taking the throne in Holland’s absence. The young queen is willing to feed her city with blood, including her own—but her growing religious fervor has the potential to drown it instead.

And back in Red London, King Rhy Maresh is threatened by a rising rebellion, one determined to correct the balance of power by razing the throne entirely.

These two royals from very different empires now face very similar struggles: how to keep their crowns—and their own heads.

Amidst this tapestry of old friends and new enemies, a girl with an unusual magical ability comes into possession of a device that could change the fate of all four worlds.

Her name is Tes, and she’s the only one who can bring them together—or unravel it all.






Master Haskin had a knack for fixing broken things.

The sign on his shop door said as much.

ES HAL VIR, HIS HAL NASVIR, it declared in neat gold font.

Once broken, soon repaired.

Ostensibly, his business was devoted to the mending of clocks, locks, and household trinkets. Objects guided by simple magic, the minor cogs that turned in so many London homes. And of course, Master Haskin could fix a clock, but so could anyone with a decent ear and a basic understanding of the language of spells.

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The Fragile Threads of Power
The Fragile Threads of Power

The Fragile Threads of Power

No, most of the patrons that came through the black door of Haskin’s shop brought stranger things. Items “salvaged” from ships at sea, or lifted from London streets, or claimed abroad. Objects that arrived damaged, or were broken in the course of acquisition, their spellwork having rattled loose, unraveled, or been ruined entirely.

People brought all manner of things to Haskin’s shop. And when they did, they invariably encountered his apprentice.

She was usually perched, cross-legged, on a rickety stool behind the counter, a tangle of brown curls piled like a hat on her head, the unruly mass bound up with twine, or netting, or whatever she could find in a pinch. She might have been thirteen, or twenty-three, depending on the light. She sat like a child and swore like a sailor, and dressed as if no one had ever taught her how. She had thin quick fingers that were always moving, and keen dark eyes that twitched over whatever broken thing lay gutted on the counter, and she talked as she worked, but only to the skeleton of the owl that sat nearby.

It had no feathers, no flesh, just bones held together by silver thread. She had named the bird Vares—prince—after Kell Maresh, to whom it bore little resemblance, save for its two stone eyes, one of which was blue, the other black, and the unsettling effect it had on those it met—the result of a spell that spurred it now and then to click its beak or cock its head, startling unsuspecting customers.

Sure enough, the woman currently waiting across the counter jumped.

“Oh,” she said, ruffling as if she had feathers of her own. “I didn’t know it was alive.

“It’s not,” said the apprentice, “strictly speaking.” In truth, she often wondered where the line was. After all, the owl had only been spelled to mimic basic movements, but now and then she’d catch him picking at a wing where the feathers would be, or notice him staring out the window with those flat rock eyes, and she swore that he was thinking something of his own.

The apprentice returned her attention to the waiting woman. She fetched a glass jar from beneath the counter. It was roughly the size of her hand, and shaped like a lantern with six glass sides.

“Here you are then,” she said as she set it on the table.

The customer lifted the object carefully, brought it to her lips, and whispered something. As she did, the lantern lit, the glass sides frosting a milky white. The apprentice watched, and saw what the woman couldn’t—the filaments of light around the object rippled and smoothed, the spellwork flowing seamlessly as the woman brought it to her ear. The message whispered itself back, and the glass went clear again, the vessel empty.

The woman smiled. “Marvelous,” she said, bundling the mended secret-keeper away inside her coat. She set the coins down in a neat stack, one silver lish and four red lin.

“Give Master Haskin my thanks,” she added, already turning away.

“I will,” called the apprentice as the door swung shut.

She swept the coins from the counter, and hopped down from her stool, rolling her head on her shoulders to stretch.

There was no Master Haskin, of course.

Once or twice when the shop was new, she’d dragged an old man from the nearest tavern, paid him a lin or two to come and sit in the back with his head bent over a book, just so she could point him out to customers and say, “The master is busy working now,” since apparently a man half in his cups still inspired more faith than a sharp-eyed girl who looked even younger than her age, which was fifteen.

Then she got tired of spending the coin, so she propped a few boxes and a pillow behind a mottled glass door and pointed to that instead.

These days she didn’t bother, just flicked her fingers toward the back of the shop and said, “He’s busy.” It turned out, no one really cared, so long as the fixing got done.

Now, alone in the shop, the apprentice—whose name, not that anyone knew it, was Tesali—rubbed her eyes, cheekbones bruised from the blotters she wore all day, to focus her gaze. She took a long swig of black tea, bitter and over-steeped, just the way she liked it—and still hot, thanks to the mug, one of the first things she’d ever spelled.

The day was thinning out beyond the windows, and the lanterns around the shop began to glow, warming the room with a buttery light that glanced off the shelves and cases and worktops, all of them well stocked, but not cluttered, toeing the line between a welcome fullness and a mess.

It was a balance Tes had learned from her father.

Shops like this had to be careful—too clean, and it looked like you were lacking business. Too messy, and customers would take that business elsewhere. If everything they saw was broken, they’d think you were no good at fixing. If everything they saw was fixed, they’d wonder why no one had come to claim it.

Haskin’s shop—her shop—struck the perfect balance.

There were shelves with spools of cable—copper and silver, mostly, the best conduits for magic—and jars full of cogs and pencils and tacks, and piles of scrap paper covered in the scrawls of half-worked spells. All the things she guessed a repair shop might keep on hand. In truth, the cogs, the papers, the coils, they were all for show. A bit of set dressing to put the audience at ease. A little sleight of hand, to distract them from the truth.

Tes didn’t need any of these things to fix a bit of broken magic.

All she needed were her eyes.

Her eyes, which for some reason saw the world not just in shape and color, but in threads.

Everywhere she looked, she saw them.

A glowing ribbon curled in the water of her tea. A dozen more ran through the wood of her table. A hundred delicate lines wove through the bones of her pet owl. They twisted and coiled through the air around and above everyone and everything. Some were dull, and others bright. Some were single strands and others braided filaments, some drifted, feather light, and others rushed like a current. It was a dizzying maelstrom.

But Tes couldn’t just see the threads of power. She could touch them. Pluck a string as if it were an instrument and not the fabric of the world. Find the frayed ends of a fractured spell, trace the lines of broken magic and mend them.

She didn’t speak the language of spellwork, didn’t need to. She knew the language of magic itself. Knew it was a rare gift, and knew what people did to get their hands on rare things, which was exactly why she maintained the illusion of the shop.

Vares clicked his beak, and fluttered his featherless wings. She glanced at the little owl, and he stared back, then swiveled his head to the darkening streets beyond the glass.

“Not yet,” she said, finishing her tea. Better to wait a bit and see if any more business wandered in. A shop like Haskin’s had a different kind of client, once darkness fell.

Tes reached beneath the counter and pulled out a bundle of burlap, unfolding the cloth to reveal a sword, then took up the pair of blotters. They looked like spectacles, though the gift lay not in the lens, but in the frames, heavy and black, the edges extending to either side like the blinders on a horse. Which is exactly what they were, blotting out the rest of the room, narrowing her world to just the space of the counter, and the sword atop it.

She settled them over her eyes.

“See this?” She spoke to Vares, pointing to the steel. A spell had originally been etched into the flat side, but a portion of it had scraped away in a fight, reducing the blade from an unbreakable weapon to a scrap of flimsy metal. To Tes’s eyes, the filaments of magic around the weapon were similarly frayed.

“Spells are like bodies,” she explained. “They go stiff, and break down, either from wear or neglect. Reset a bone wrong, and you might have a limp. Put a spell back in the wrong way, and the whole thing might splinter, or shatter, or worse.”

Lessons she’d learned the hard way.

Tes flexed her fingers, and ran them through the air just over the steel.

“A spell exists in two places,” she continued. “On the metal, and in the magic.”

Another fixer would simply etch the spell into the blade again. But the metal would keep getting damaged. No, better to take the spell and weave it into the magic itself. That way, no matter what happened to the sigils on the steel, the power would hold.

Carefully, she reached into the web of magic and began to mend the threads, drawing the frayed ends together, tying tiny knots that then fell away, leaving the ribbons smooth, intact. She got so lost in the work, she didn’t hear the shop door open.

Didn’t notice, not until Vares perked up, beak clicking in alarm.

Tes looked up, her hands still buried in the spell.

With the blotters on, she couldn’t see more than a hand’s width, so it took her a moment to find the customer. He was large, with a hard face, and a nose that had been broken more than once, but her attention went, as it always did, to the magic around him. Or the lack of it. It wasn’t common to see a person without any power, and the utter absence of threads made him a dark spot in the room.

“Looking for Haskin,” he grunted, scanning the shop.

Tes carefully withdrew her fingers, and tugged the goggles off, flicking the burlap back over the sword. “He’s busy,” she said, tipping her head toward the rear of the shop, as if he were back there. “But I can help.”

The man gave her a look that made her hackles rise. She only got two kinds of looks: appraising, and skeptical. Those who saw her as a woman, and those who saw her as a girl. Both looks made her feel like a sack of grain being weighed, but she hated the latter more, that way it was meant to make her feel small. The fact, sometimes, it did.

The man’s hard eyes dropped to the sword, its hilt poking out from beneath the burlap. “You even old enough to handle magic?”

Tes forced herself to smile. With teeth. “Why don’t you show me what you have?”

He grunted, and reached into his coat pocket, withdrawing a leather cuff and setting it on the table. She knew exactly what it was, or rather, what it was meant to be. Would have known, even if she hadn’t glimpsed the black brand circling his left wrist as he set it down. That explained the lack of threads, the darkness in the air around him. He wasn’t magicless by nature—he’d been marked with a limiter, which meant the crown had seen fit to strip him of his power.

Tes took up the cuff, and turned it over in her hands.

Limiters were the highest price a criminal could pay, shy of execution, and many considered it a harsher punishment, to live without access to one’s magic. It was forbidden, of course, to bypass one. To negate the limiter’s spell. But forbidden didn’t mean impossible. Only expensive. The cuff, she guessed, had been sold to him as a negater. She wondered if he knew that he’d been ripped off, that the cuff was faulty, the spellwork unfinished, a clumsy snarl in the air. It was never designed to work.

But it could.

“Well?” he asked, impatient.

She held the cuff between them. “Tell me,” she said, “is this a clock, a lock, or a household trinket?”

The man frowned. “Kers? No, it’s a—”

“This shop,” she explained, “is licensed to repair clocks, locks, and household trinkets.”

He looked pointedly down at the sword sticking out of the burlap. “I was told—”

“It looks like a clock to me,” she cut in.

He stared at her. “But it’s not a clock…?” His voice went up at the end, as if no longer certain. Tes sighed, and gave him a weighted look. It took far too long for him to catch it.

“Oh. Yes.” His eyes flicked down to the leather cuff, and then to the dead owl, which he’d just realized was watching him, before returning to the strange girl across the counter. “Well then, it’s a clock.”

“Excellent,” she said, pulling a box from beneath the counter and dropping the forbidden object inside.

“So he can fix it?”

“Of course,” Tes said with a cheerful grin. “Master Haskin can fix anything.” She tore off a small black ticket with the shop’s sigil and a number printed in gold. “It’ll be ready in a week.”

She watched the man go, muttering about clocks as the door swung shut behind him. She started to wonder what he’d done to earn that limiter, but caught herself. Curiosity was more danger than a curse. She didn’t survive by asking questions.

It was late enough now, the tide of foot traffic beyond the shop retreating as the residents of the shal turned their attention toward darker pursuits. It got a bad reputation, the shal, and sure, it could be a rough place. The taverns catered to those who’d rather not cross paths with the crown, half the coin used in the shops had come from someone else’s pocket, and residents turned their backs at the sound of a cry or a fight instead of running in to stop it. But people relied on Haskin’s shop to fix and fence and not ask questions, and everyone knew that she was his apprentice, so Tes felt safe—as safe as she could ever be.

She put away the unfinished sword, downed the last of her tea, and went about the business of locking up.

Halfway to the door, the headache started.

Tes knew it was only a matter of time before it made itself at home inside her skull, made it hard to see, to think, to do anything but sleep. The pain no longer took her by surprise, but that didn’t make it any less a thief. Stealing in behind her eyes. Ransacking everything.

Avenoche, Haskin,” she murmured to the empty shop, fishing the day’s coin from the drawer with one hand and sweeping up Vares with the other, heading past the shelves and through the heavy curtain into the back. She’d made a nest there, a corner for a kitchen, a loft with a bed.

She kicked off her shoes, and put the money in a metal tin behind the stove before heating up a bowl of soup. As it warmed, she freed her hair from the pile on her head, but it didn’t come down so much as rise around her in a cloud of nut-brown curls. She shook her head and a pencil tumbled out onto the table. She didn’t remember sticking it there. Vares bent his skull to peck at the stick as she ate, soaking up broth with hunks of bread.

If anyone had seen her then, it would have been easy to guess that the apprentice was young. Her bony elbows and sharp knees folded up on the chair, the roundness of her face, the way she shoveled soup into her mouth and kept up a one-sided conversation with the dead owl, talking out how she’d finish the negater, until the headache sharpened and she sighed, and pressed her palms against her eyes, light ghosting on the inside of the lids. It was the only time Tes longed for home. For her mother’s cool hands on her brow, and the white noise of the tide, the salt air like a salve.

She pushed the want away with the empty bowl, and climbed the ladder up into the little loft, setting Vares on a makeshift shelf. She pulled the curtain, plunging the cubby into darkness—as close to dark as she could get, considering the glow of threads that hovered over her skin, and ran through the little owl, and the music box beside him. It was shaped like a cliff, small metal waves crashing up against shining rocks. She plucked a blue thread, setting the little box in motion. A soft whoosh filled the loft, the breathlike rhythm of the sea.

Vas ir, Vares,” Tes whispered as she tied a thick cloth over her eyes, erasing the last of the light, and then curled up in the little bed at the back of Haskin’s shop, letting the sound of waves draw her down to sleep.


Excerpted from The Fragile Threads of Power, copyright © 2023 by V.E. Schwab.

About the Author

V.E. Schwab


V.E. Schwab is the author of The Near Witch and The Archived. The product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing, Schwab has a penchant for tea and BBC shows, and a serious and well-documented case of wanderlust. Vicious is her first adult book.
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