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  • THE SUBTERRANEAN STRATAGEM

The Subterranean Stratagem

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Cover Blurb
The theatre can wait. First there’s a mystery to solve, not to mention a world to save…

Kingsley Ward and Evadne Stephens are the Extraordinaires and they should be the toast of the town – but their juggling and escapology act is failing, and Kingsley is to blame. His wolfish side is breaking free, ruining performances and endangering those around him. The secret to controlling this wildness lies in his mysterious past. Was he really raised by wolves? Who were his parents? What happened to them?

The discovery of Kingsley’s father’s journal promises answers, but when it is stolen the Extraordinaires uncover ancient magic, a malign conspiracy, and a macabre plot to enslave all humanity. What begins as a quest to restore Kingsley’s past becomes an adventure that pits the Extraordinaires against forces that could shatter the minds and souls of millions.

Story Behind the Story
Follow-ups, sequels, call them what you will, they can be hard to write. The challenges of building on the characters and adventures of the first book can be overwhelming. When writing the first Extraordinaires book (The Extinction Gambit) I was aware of this possible problem, so I was very careful in my world building and character planning. While keeping the story in The Extinction Gambit self-contained, I needed to prepare the ground for further adventures that would be as compelling as those in the original volume.
I dived in with the classic writer device – make life hard for your characters. This can be tricky because I like my characters. Kingsley and Evadne are fascinating, intelligent, funny and intriguing. I’d like to have them to dinner. When The Subterranean Stratagem opens, things aren’t going well for them in a professional sense. Naturally, this is only the beginning.
It’s a rich period, this early twentieth century, and it’s a joy to mine it. The developments in science and the study of humanity, in particular, are rich and worth exploring. They become a major part of The Subterranean Stratagem, a backbone against which the escapades of Kingsley and Evadne are set.

The Subterranean Stratagem begins
The giant steel jaws on either side of Kingsley Ward were quivering. Being suspended upside down as he was, it was difficult to judge the trap’s eagerness to close on him, so he ignored the metal monstrosity and focused his attention on wrenching himself free from the straitjacket. At the back of his mind, he was ticking off the seconds, keeping track of the three minutes he had before the Jaws of Death snapped shut.

Through strenuous flexing of his shoulders, he’d managed to heave his right arm – the one in the continuous restraining sleeve – up and over his left. If he could stretch the leather and canvas enough to push his head through the gap he’d made, he was halfway there. The problem was, however, that his writhings had sent him swinging, pendulum-like, bringing him uncomfortably close to the metal teeth on either side.

The mantrap was finely machined, a giant saw-toothed clamshell driven by a spring coiled tightly enough to work ten clocks the size of Big Ben. He’d seen it demonstrated and the crash of the jaws when they shut had made his ears ache.

Kingsley was sweating, and glad of it. The slickness helped him drag his arm up and over his forehead. Immediately both arms were looser. He attacked the buckles on the sleeve with his teeth, tearing at them in a way his wild self approved of. His shoulders ached and his lips hurt, but he soon had the sleeves undone. This let him claw for the fastenings at his back. His fingers slipped, and he cursed, but he soon had the buckles open. After a combination of further teeth work, twisting and wriggling, he was free of the jacket and reaching for the belt that was cinched tightly around his feet.

When he yanked the belt free, he dropped, flipping so he landed on all fours. Immediately, he sprang from the platform just ahead of a monstrous crash behind him. The sound echoed around the exposed rafters of the workshop, sending the chains and ropes swaying.

Success! Kingsley stood, panting, muscles aquiver with exertion and more than a little relief. He glanced over his shoulder at the Jaws of Death, which he imagined looked disappointed, frustrated at not fulfilling their existential purpose, viz. slicing him in two.

Once he’d gathered his breath he struck a pose that he hoped was both debonair and devil-may-care. ‘How was that?’

Evadne Stephens was ensconced amid a mountain of papers at a long table near the window. A large diary detailing their performances sat on top of a metal box. She held a document in one hand while the other juggled three or four small brass cubes without her apparent attention. If not for that subtle movement, she might have been a statue – especially given her marble-white skin.

She lifted her head from her reading and pushed back ‘her glasses on her admirable nose. ‘Sorry,’ she said, and she caught the brass cubes in her palm, ‘I wasn’t paying attention.’

Kingsley threw his arms wide in indignation that began as mock but soon decided that it deserved to be genuine. ‘But I escaped from the Suspended Straitjacket! I defied the Jaws of Death!’

‘You did?’ She went back to her document. ‘That’s splendid, Kingsley. Well done.’
‘Of course, it was made more difficult by having to fight off the tiger while I was upside down’
‘Mmm. I imagine it would.’

‘And the spitting cobra didn’t make things any easier, either.

‘I loathe spitters Evadne put her document on the pile in front of her. ‘You’re testing to see if I’m paying attention, correct?’
‘I’d never dream of testing you. I was giving you an opportunity to show how well you were listening, that’s all:

She sighed. ‘While I would infinitely prefer supervising your practice and making sure the machinery works perfectly, I admit I was giving time to a problem and a mystery.’

‘You do look distracted.’

She held up a letter. ‘It’s from the current Mrs Oldham. She’s resigning.’ She refolded the letter with one hand. ‘That’s the third Mrs Oldham since we rebuilt the school.’

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