The Year of the Knife

The Year of the Knife

by G.D. Penman

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"An addictive blend of magic and murder noir." -Gareth L. Powell, BSFA award-winning author of Ack-Ack Macaque

Agent "Sully" Sullivan is one of the top cops in the Imperial Bureau of Investigation. A veteran witch of the British Empire who isn’t afraid to use her magical skills to crack a case. But Sully might need more than a good education and raw power to stop the string of grisly murders that have been springing up across the American Colonies. Every one of them marked by the same chilling calling card, a warning in the form of a legion of voices screaming out through the killers' mouths: "It IS tHe YEAr oF the KNife."

Sully’s investigation will drag her away from the comforts of home in New Amsterdam, the beautiful but useless hyacinth macaw that used to be her boss, and the loving arms of her undead girlfriend, in a thrilling race against time, demonic forces and a shadowy conspiracy that will do anything to keep its hold on power and ensure that Sully takes their secrets to her grave, as soon as possible. 

G.D. Penman’s imaginative The Year of the Knife is a fun, fast-paced urban fantasy mystery with an engaging set of characters, most notably Agent Sully of the Imperial Bureau of Investigation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780996626293
Publisher: Meerkat Press, LLC
Publication date: 11/28/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 1,742
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

G.D. Penman writes fantasy fiction. He lives in Scotland with his partner and children, some of whom are human. By day he is a writer for hire, by night he stares at the ceiling and makes up stories. He is a firm believer in the axiom that any story is made better by dragons. His beard has won an award. He is a time traveller, but only forward, and only slowly. Once upon a time he was the editor of Forgotten Worlds Magazine and Amphetamine Press. His short fiction can be found in Phantasmacore and Three Lobed Burning Eye. His literary criticism can be found online at BookWitty. If you have ever read a story with queer people and Kaiju, it was probably his.

Read an Excerpt


July 4, 2015

New Amsterdam was a city the way decapitation was a paper cut. Both could make a person bleed and both would hurt like hell, but only one made bystanders start screaming. It was a quarter past midnight and the streets of Nova Europa's capitol still pulsed with life. Not so long ago, Sully would have been in the midst of that crowd, in one of the clubs that lined Park Slope with the scent of gin on her lips and her arm draped over some silly young wannabe starlet's shoulders. She wasn't in a nightclub tonight, though — she wasn't even in the streets. She was hard at work among the vermin in the subway beneath the city.

The tunnel was pitch black and the trains weren't running there thanks to the New Amsterdam Police Department's order to cut the power, an emergency measure to keep Sully safe. Although safe was a relative term given that she was tracking a serial murderer through total darkness. It was a dangerous job, but one that suited Sully perfectly — certainly better than her earlier stint in the navy or the retirement in academia everyone seemed to expect from her. The subway company had made a stink about the impact the outage would have on their business, but they'd been left no choice in the matter. Besides, it was the middle of the night — not rush hour — they would survive the loss of a few hours' worth of fares.

Sully kept her eyes down so that she wouldn't give away her position; they were glowing a dull red, the tell-tale sign that she had conjured vision enhancing magic — in this case a modified night vision spell that allowed her to see in the sunless tunnels. She needed the element of surprise, she was in the killer's territory now. The heat signature of a set of footprints led her along the narrow subway walkways. They were getting brighter the farther in that she traveled. The NAPD officers on the scene had warned her that there was a homeless population in the tunnels, so it was possible that she was chasing one of them instead of her killer, but she doubted it. There was a certain cosmic geometry involved in magic, and once you knew how to interpret the angles, it only took simple calculations to work backward from effect to cause. Sully knew that whoever was casting the spells that had been killing citizens of New Amsterdam was doing it from down here.

The footprints were glowing brightly now — she was close. All of the creeping around, the cat and mouse nonsense — it was making Sully tense. If alchemy classes had taught her professors anything it was that there were certain substances that reacted violently under pressure, and one of those substances was Sully. She'd started the night off angry, and it had only gotten worse after dealing with the solid wall of ignorance at the NAPD. The few cops who didn't treat her like an idiot for being a woman treated her like an idiot for being Irish. It was enough to make anyone tetchy. Giving up any pretense of stealth, Sully shouted into the maintenance tunnel, "That trick with the trains was clever. Simple thaumaturgy, transferring the force from the train up to hit the people above. It takes a twisted kind of mind to come up with something like that. I like it."

In the tunnel ahead, purple spellfire appeared, sputtering from someone's fingertips, presumably the killer's. Sully's face split into a wicked grin and she dropped into a low stance. Her own magic flowed out smoothly. She twisted the flames of it with her fingers and traced jagged glowing sigils that hung where she left them, drifting in slow orbits around her hands. The scent of ozone started to fill the air, the smell of the gathering storm overpowering even the stink of tar on the train tracks. The dust, which hung heavy in the air due to the constant disturbance from the passage of trains in adjoining tunnels, started to take on shapes of its own. Geometric patterns formed in the clouds around the two of them as they prepared their spells. Sully was ready, but she held back for a moment. She wanted to see what she was up against. A sizzling green bolt burst out of the darkness toward her, some backwater hoodoo garbage that she wouldn't have wasted the time of day on. She slapped it away with a half-formed shield and then returned fire: a sphere of ice that her opponent managed to dodge with a stumble. The spells were the only light in the tunnel, and she had to blink hard when her magic collided with a pillar and exploded in a shower of snowflakes and sparks.

Another green dart was cast at her. She ducked under it with a wild laugh, not even wasting the effort to deflect it, and returned to her feet close enough to see the man in the glow of the sparks trailing from his hands. He was taller than her — but who wasn't. He wore clean-cut clothes and appeared well-fed. Good, definitely not one of the homeless residents trying to defend their turf. She snapped her fingers and set off a series of small concussions in the air above him. He scrambled back from the din and clapped his hands to his ears in a vain attempt to protect his hearing.

Laughing now, Sully let a long, razor-thin coil of flame trail from her hand, then snapped it up to catch the next bolt he flung. The captured spell swung around her in an arc, charring a long curve into the concrete walls of the tunnel. She flicked it back toward him and watched the man's glassy eyes follow the blaze of light. The green bolt hit him in the chest and his clothes started to disintegrate instantly. He frantically tugged at his coat, trying to get it off before the spell spread to his skin, but it was too late. Bruises blossomed across his newly-bared chest, and blisters rose to the surface in a horrid yellowed mass before popping in a shower of bloody fluids. He screamed and the magic in his hands vanished. Only Sully's fire kept the tunnel lit as she stood and watched him die by inches, the flame of her whip coiling and lashing around her like a snake caught by the tail. It was only after the man had collapsed onto the ground and was starting to decompose that Sully realized she was still laughing — although cackling might have been a better word. She stopped herself, feeling the build-up of adrenaline start to recede. She sat down on the side of the track and dug her cellphone out of her pocket, hoping for enough signal to call the office.

Lots of women worked for the Imperial Bureau of Investigation these days, but Sully could never quite shake the feeling that, apart from her, most of them sat behind a desk and answered a telephone. She didn't recognize the voice on the other end of the line, so she used her formal drone. "Superior Agent Sullivan reporting."

"What is your status Agent Sullivan?"

"Target is dead. Deceased. Extinct."

The conversation on the other end of the phone was muffled until she clearly recognized the nasal monotone of Deputy Director Colcross. "Agent Sullivan, I need you to be in Winchester Village in Yonkers. Immediately."

Sully found herself straightening up despite herself. "What's the situation, sir?"

There was a sound that might have been the grinding of teeth on the other end of the line. "We may be dealing with a breach but it is unconfirmed. I wouldn't ask you to be there if I didn't think you were required. Please be as swift as possible, there are civilians within the containment area."

Sully had her little leather-bound notebook out of her inside pocket before the call had even disconnected. She scribbled out a formula and tried to be honest with herself about her own weight — it was crucial for the spell. As far as combat magic went, she was acknowledged as an expert by her peers, but traveling spells were not her area of expertise. For Sully, it was a brain grinding exercise in raw maths and she loathed it. Just when she was starting to think it would be quicker hiking back along the tunnel, the last piece of the spell clicked into place. She vanished in a soft thunderclap as the air rushed to fill the space behind her.

Aboveground, a taxi swerved to avoid the woman appearing out of thin air and nearly ploughed into a streetlamp. The driver was out of the car and yelling before Sully had time to think. She tucked her notebook back in her jacket and yanked out her badge instead, shoving it in the cabdriver's face until the torrent of Hindi slowed to a halt and he just stood there panting. She asked, "How fast can you get to Yonkers?"

He looked at her like she'd just appeared out of thin air and demanded a ride, then carefully said, "Half an hour if Throgg's Neck is clear."

She weighed the information and then nodded. "All right, let's go."

They moved slowly through the Brooklyn streets, only getting up to a decent speed once they had cut across to the road that ran alongside Black Bay. By the time they were over the bridge to the Bronx, Sully had more or less forgotten that the driver was there and was already on her third phone call. The first two had been to different branches of the NAPD, where no one seemed to be able to get their heads around the idea that their serial killer was dead and that Sully had more important things to do than convince them of this fact. The third had been back to her own office at the Imperial Bureau of Investigation to see if somebody who spoke the complicated language of jurisdiction could explain the situation to the NAPD.

The IBI offices were on Staten Island in the midst of the shining towers of law firms, stock brokers and seers. It was the classiest looking place that Sully had ever worked, and she always felt as common as muck walking in wearing her street clothes. She probably should have been doing what everyone else in the building was doing, dumping half of her paycheck into tailors shops so she could blend in, but she was a lot more comfortable in her jeans. She blessed whichever bureaucrat had failed to make the dress code apply to her department.

The little gated community of Winchester Village was done up in the faux-Republican style that had been popular down south a few years back. The houses looked like big white blocks to Sully — white stucco walls and flat terracotta tiled roofs. Normally they would have been dark at this time of night, the streetlights weren't meant to reach all the way back past their pretty little gardens, but tonight, they flickered at the edges of Sully's vision under the red and blue strobing lights of police cars.

She paid the taxi driver with a bundle of greasy notes, and he hauled ass away so fast that she wondered if his green card was shaky, or if he knew the meaning behind the big glowing dome over the house at the end of the cul-de-sac. She jogged across to the barricade line where the local residents politely hovered. Sully may not have been tall enough to see over them but she had no qualms about elbowing her way through the crowd. She flashed her badge at the pale faced boy in uniform on the other side of the barricade and, when he didn't respond fast enough, she hopped right over it and strode toward the group who looked like they were in charge. There were a pair of redcoats in the midst of a sea of blue and black uniforms of the NAPD, and it was the redcoats she focused on. The navy and the army recruited magicians for their power, the IBI recruited them for their intelligence, but the redcoats didn't care if you could barely string a spell together. Redcoats were picked for their blind loyalty to the Empire. Their presence on the scene meant that the governor knew what was happening here — that the government was already involved. Sully groaned. Covered in cold sweat and sporting a blank face, one of the redcoats had his hands in the air maintaining a barrier spell around the house, apparently with some difficulty. His superior officer was so entrenched in her jurisdictional pissing contest with the NAPD that she hadn't noticed that he was burning out. Sully spun her around by the shoulder and snarled, "Relieve your deputy. He's about to drop."

The silver haired redcoat glowered at Sully but caught sight of her slumping coworker at the same time. She gave Sully a dirty look as she stomped off and Sully took the woman's place in the huddle of officers. The men fell silent and stared at Sully for a long moment until she rolled her eyes and flashed her credentials. "I'm with the IBI. Give me the situation."

The assembly muttered and spluttered a moment before all eyes settled on an older man with a walrus moustache and an attitude that screamed detective-sergeant.

He huffed. "We have the situation under control."

Sully didn't raise her voice at him, that would be unprofessional. Instead she calmly said, "If things were under control I wouldn't be sent out here at" — she glanced at her watch — "half past one in the morning. Now give me a report or I'll find somebody who can."

A sergeant can be many things — he can be rude, he can be stubborn, he can even be reckless; but one thing a sergeant cannot be is stupid. Behind the little eyes in the middle of his slab of a face, there were cogs spinning at high speed, and somewhere in that arcane mechanism, in the region of the brain related to having a career in the morning, a little alarm bell started ringing. He perked up and started reciting, "Our breach alarms went off a little after nine. We narrowed the search down with our magic detectors, I mean, ah, Schroedinger unit's until we got to this street. Then somebody called in the redcoats and we got things quarantined. They weren't calling in the army until it was confirmed but they said that it looks like, ah" — he glanced around nervously — "one of the gentlemen downstairs may have come a-calling."

Sully almost laughed at the superstitious nonsense. "They only come if you call them by their own name, sergeant. You can say 'demons' until the cows come home, and it won't do any harm."

He flinched when she said the word but went on, "We've managed to piece together a time line from witnesses, scrying, and the family's social media. Mister" — he checked his clipboard — "Mister Underwood left work at about eight. Got home just before nine. The family had already had dinner. He ate some leftovers. They all watched TV together for half an hour. That was about the time that our alarms started and the family went silent. We were on the scene about half an hour later."

Sully blew her frustration out between her teeth. "So they have been in there with whatever came through for nearly three hours? What shape is your badge sergeant?"

He scowled at her and said nothing. The other men seemed to be intently studying their own folders or examining the barrier. She spat on the ground.

"How many kids are in there?"

He grunted. "Two girls. Teenagers."

She stepped closer to him, breaking up the circle. "Your badge is in the shape of a shield. It is in the shape of a shield because you're meant to put yourself between innocent people and harm. You had better hope that it killed those girls, sergeant. You had better hope that it was quick. Because if I go in there and have to see what it has done to them, and it has kept them alive for three hours because you were too chickenshit to send in the redcoats, I will be coming for you. Do you hear me?"

The sergeant tried to posture, tried to answer back, but the weight of Sully's power was behind her emerald stare. He was pinned like a butterfly to a board. Legally she couldn't just kill him for following procedure. They were both agents of the Imperial law in their own ways. But then again, magicians were a law unto themselves. All magicians got a bit strange with time, and rules like "wear clothes" and "don't kill people" seemed to fade in significance when you spent your days trying to puzzle out the equations to create your own miniature star or a cat with a human face. He nodded nervously and backed away.

Sully rolled her shoulders and took off her overcoat, handing it to some poor hapless boy in uniform. She trusted the NAPD as far as she could throw them, so she scooped up one of the Schroedinger Units to check the readings herself. The Schroedinger's Box was a clever piece of equipment. They were originally used to detect when wishes were being made. When the laws of probability were getting skewed, the randomness of the breakdown of radioactive material inside their lead-lined core became a lot less random, but with a bit of time the technology was refined and they could detect practically any magic nowadays. Sully saw that the readings were off the charts, so high that she was surprised white rabbits weren't spontaneously appearing in people's hats.

She found the exhausted redcoat and tapped him on the shoulder. He was still glassy-eyed when he turned to face her, and it was with some sadness she realized that in her report, he was going to be hammered just as hard as the bitch who'd left him holding the barrier so long it had lobotomized him. Assuming Sully lived long enough to write a report. She held out a hand. "Give me your sword kid."


Excerpted from "The Year of the Knife"
by .
Copyright © 2017 G.D. Penman.
Excerpted by permission of Meerkat Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Endorsement - Robyn Bennis

“Penman writes with the wit and charm of a foul-mouthed Terry Pratchett. His Agent Sully is what Dirty Harry would be if he was a lesbian witch fighting demons alongside the cast of Yes, Minister. She can be my date to the Imperial Bureau of Investigation Ball anytime.”

BSFA award-winning author of Ack-Ack Macaque Gareth L. Powell

“An addictive blend of magic and murder noir.”

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The Year of the Knife 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous 24 days ago
Anonymous - Reviews are suppose to be based on THE BOOK, not your inability to purchase it. (FYI it was FREE for me)
Anonymous 4 days ago
But is Eugene ok? or did he die?
Anonymous 11 days ago
Reminded me of Harry Dresden meets Harry Potter. Very entertaining!pbn
Anonymous 14 days ago
Not my preferred genre
Anonymous 15 days ago
Just wow! Done extremely well, kept me wondering how it was going come all together in the end. Brilliant!
Anonymous 19 days ago
I'm enthralled by the attention to detail in this alternate reality.
Anonymous 21 days ago
Definitely worth reading! A new look and a new story I've never imagined. Had me from the first chapter.
Anonymous 24 days ago
This is supposed to be today's Free Friday's pick, why is it trying to charge me $8.49 for purchasing it? Bait and switch!!!!