H. L. Burke is a great for-the-whole-family fantasy writer. Her books are clean, well-thought-out and fun. I was very impressed by Lands of Ash, and thought it was amazingly epic.
I now have a chance to give you an excerpt of her latest book, Cora and the Nurse Dragon! Remember Cora Jennings, who you were praying for? This character was named after the sweet little girl who survived a crazy weird brain AVF.
The story follows the adventures of Cora Harrison in a world where Dragons no longer live in nature but are a resource exploited by humans.
Ages 9 and Up.
Cora had intentionally passed right by the heated planting beds without checking on the egg. She’d spent too much time over the last few days watching it. She’d tried holding it up to the light, but the egg shell was too thick. Since shells usually grew thinner as the dragon prepared to hatch, this was a bad sign. I can’t be disappointed. I knew it was a long shot. Stupid Xavian.
Maybe she should just give up and … what? Throw it out? Bury it in the garden? Leave it in the planting bed to rot?
She rounded the wall of pallets and approached the planting bed. The heat from the electric lamps warmed her skin. She wished they could get Mr. Algernon to put some in their house. They didn’t smell like the oil lamps did.
The seedlings had about doubled in size over the last few days. Their broad, dark green leaves lifted like quivering hands towards the light. I wonder if they think it’s the sun or if they can tell the difference. She pushed back two leaves and gazed down at the egg. Her brow furrowed. Tendrils from the plants had wrapped around the egg, cradling it. Kinda weird. I hope they don’t squeeze it too tight. With one finger, she peeled back the top tendril. The egg trembled at her touch.
Cora’s whole body stiffened. She had to have imagined it. Maybe she’d bumped the planting bed and that’s why it shifted.
“Chirrup.” A muffled sound emanated from the egg. Her heartbeat quickened. It throbbed in her ears, almost overwhelming the next gentle “chirp.”
The egg fractured, a thin crack spreading across the top. Then a tiny, dark beak poked through, slightly hooked at the end with flaring nostrils. Cora knelt down, her nose now inches from the egg. Two bright, black eyes peered through the crack. It chirped again, like a bird, but deeper. It stretched out a thin, elegant neck, then tumbled forward onto its face.
The dragon kicked with its hind legs and flapped its wax paper like wings, trying to free itself from the rest of the shell. Forcing herself to breathe again, Cora pulled away the shell and put out her hand. The dragon wormed its way into her palm, stood on all fours, and flapped its wings.
Cora blinked. Four legs, not two, so not a mayfly … but the coloring was an odd, muddy brown, not bright red, yellow, or green like the other varieties of dragon she knew. “What are you?”
All dragons, from the tiny mayflies to the giant drakes, started out roughly the same size, so that wasn’t particularly telling. The color though … she’d seen a few variations of the mayflies’ typical green, but never brown … and never more than two legs. Four legs was an attribute of the cat-sized dragons, the Strikers and Steamers.
The dragon scratched behind its horn-like ears with its front talon. “Chirp!”
“Yes, I got that.” She glanced around. Abry had a book all about dragon varieties. She’d loaned it to Cora a few times, but Cora couldn’t remember a brown, four-legged type. A mutant? She’d heard about those sorts of things in school. One child claimed to have had a cousin on a farm who had a kitten born with two tails. If that could happen, she supposed a mayfly could be hatched with off coloring and extra legs … but what if it wasn’t a mayfly? What if it really, truly was a cat-sized dragon, like Abry’s Neptune or the Striker in the Emporium window? Could Cora really be that lucky?
Abry will know. She has almost all her books memorized. For now, though, where do I keep you? I suppose even if you aren’t a mayfly, it won’t hurt you to spend the night with them.
She took the dragon back to the wall of terrariums. Here she hesitated. Which terrarium would it be happiest in? What did it want to eat? Terrarium D had the best overall longevity. That was her best bet, until she found out a little more about this dragon’s particular sort. She slipped back the lid to the terrarium and tumbled the little creature in.
In a whirl of wings, the dragon darted back out and perched on her shoulder.
“Chirrup!” it said, a bit shriller this time. She tried to pick it up, but it gripped into her coveralls with its needle-like talons and gave a whining chirp.
Cora chewed her bottom lip. She’d had a few mayflies try to escape when she put them in the tank. That was inevitable in dealing with flying creatures, but she’d never had one latch onto her. Something in her yielded. “All right, you can stay with me for a bit, but if you try to fly away, I’ll put you in a tank and leave you there.”
It folded its wings and settled comfortably against her neck.
Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.
An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.
Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.
She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled “The Scholar and the Dragon”, featuring the books Dragon’s Curse, Dragon’s Debt, Dragon’s Rival, and Dragon’s Bride as well as the YA/Fantasy Beggar Magic. Her current projects are a young adult steampunk fantasy and an epic fantasy trilogy.
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