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A War of Daisies (The Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse #1) by A.A. Chamberlynn

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#Historical, #Fantasy,

Hawk’s Hollow, Colorado. 1894. Four young women with very different lives and very different dreams, except for one thing: they were chosen to be the Riders of the Apocalypse.

Penelope is on a quest to reconnect with the tribe that represents half her blood. Willow wants to win the cross-country horse race, even if it means pretending to be a man. Felicity longs to escape from the cage society has created around her. And Dynah is bound and determined to be Rodeo Queen if it kills her.

But when strange things begin happening to each of the young women, their personal agendas are derailed by a much bigger purpose. By the time they realize what their new powers mean and that the four of them have been chosen for a dark destiny, the apocalypse is nigh.

Because Hell hath no fury…

The afternoon blazed so hot and so bright that Willow was having a hard time taking proper aim, and damn it all, if she missed her shot she would shoot the sun itself out of the sky. Waves of heat rose up from the hard, red earth, covering everything in a haze of watery lines. Sweat dampened the base of her spine, and dust swirled around her boots.

She fired.

The high, sharp sound of glass shattering sounded better than a choir of angels. Her target, a bottle on a log, now lay broken in tiny pieces, a spray of blue across the dirt. Willow’s heart skipped a beat and her blood pulsed swiftly in her veins. She lifted the Colt to her lips and kissed it, and the metallic tang in her mouth tasted like victory. Victory and power.

A soft nicker from her mare Bullet alerted her to company. For a moment she didn’t see anything, which didn’t sit well at all, but then a familiar Appaloosa emerged from the copse of birch trees near the river. Its rider sat bareback, her skin the same cinnamon tone as the mountains rising behind her, her hair ink and midnight. Willow stuck her gun in her belt as they approached.

“You do know that no matter how good you are, they aren’t going to let you enter the sharpshooting competition or the race.” Penelope signaled her gelding to halt and swung off him. She always dismounted face forward by swinging her leg over her horse’s neck. “Girls aren’t allowed to enter.”

“First of all, I’m a woman,” Willow said, hips cocked to the side, hands resting on them. “But—” she cut off Penelope’s protest— “I’m well aware that women aren’t allowed, either. Because Hawk’s Hollow is way behind the times. It’s nearly the 20th century for crying out loud.” She stopped there and waited until Penelope pressed for further details.

“So, you’re out here shooting your gun for the fun of it?”

Willow’s lips twisted into a smirk. “Well, not that that wouldn’t be a perfectly legitimate reason, but no. I’m going to enter the competition. I’m just going to do it as a man.”

Penelope’s brow furrowed. “I’m not following.”

“I’m going. To pretend. I’m a man,” Willow said with great patience and a roll of her green eyes. Sometimes her friends really lacked imagination.

Penelope stared at her for a moment, and then began to laugh. Loudly. The sound of it carried up into the cloudless turquoise sky and bounced from the red peaks surrounding them.

“What’s so funny?” Willow narrowed her eyes to dangerous slits.

“You.” Penelope waved a hand in Willow’s general direction. “You’re way too pretty to pull off being a boy. I mean, your hair for starters.”

Willow looked down at her waist-length, arrow-straight platinum hair. It was true. The hair had to go. “So, I chop off my hair. And I bind my chest. Easy.”

Penelope muttered something under her breath about not having much of a chest to bind, which earned another famous glare. “And what of your mother?” she asked, louder this time.

“I’m technically an adult,” Willow began, but then stopped. It was a weak argument, and she knew it. Being an unwed woman and all, it didn’t matter that she was legally an adult. Again, antiquated. “But she’ll be out of town. Delivering a big shipment all the way to California.”

Her mother really couldn’t blame her for being as rebellious as she was. After all, she herself was an airship pilot, and Willow’s dad was an outlaw. It was like putting together two tigers and expecting a house cat.

A frown tugged at Penelope’s lips. “She’s going to find out. And she’s going to kill you.”

“What’s life without a little drama?” Willow shrugged, then took two strides to her chestnut mare and swung up into the saddle. The leather creaked softly, her seat and legs melting into it like they were one and the same. She sighed. With a horse beneath her and cold iron strapped to her hip, she didn’t need a thing in the whole wide world.

Penelope jumped back up onto her own horse. “Fine. It’s your funeral.”

“Will you bring flowers?” Willow grinned, then let out a cry and pressed her legs against Bullet’s sides. The mare shot out across the earth.

They led for an eighth of a mile, but the Appaloosa wasn’t about to let them win. Willow heard hoofbeats behind her as they came up fast. Nothing but flat red earth and blue sky lay before them, blurring like a watercolor painting as they flashed across the plains. Far, far in the distance, mountains waved them on. Out here Willow knew no boundaries; Hawk’s Hollow was a dot on a map that held no power over her. Out here she was the sky.

The Appaloosa’s nose came into view at her elbow. His chest was flecked with foam, his shoulders dark with sweat. Penelope laid low across his neck, his black mane mingling with Penelope’s own raven locks. The horses drew neck and neck. One nose would surge forward, then the other. Red, black, red, black. An eagle swooped down from above to watch them, flinging its shadow across the parched dirt.

And then it was over, the horses spent and the wind tired of chasing them. Willow reined in Bullet and gave the mare a pat on the neck. She pranced proudly in place.

“I defy any of the men to beat us in a race,” Willow said. “We’re the fastest thing they’ll ever see.”

“The race is about endurance, not speed,” Penelope pointed out. “Not as much your strong suit.”

“That just means it’s easier,” Willow scoffed.

Penelope raised her eyebrows. “A hundred miles in two days? If you say so.”

“I do.”

“Well, I’d better get going. I assume you’ll be at the fairgrounds tomorrow?”

Willow nodded, eyes aglow. Tomorrow marked two weeks until the Hawk’s Hollow Annual Fair, and just about the whole town showed up to see who was signing up for the race, rodeo, and shooting competition, and to watch the try-outs for the team sports. It was almost as big a to-do as the fair itself.

“You’re signing up for the rodeo, aren’t you?” Willow asked. Women were allowed to compete in roping, reining, and trick-riding, just not the bronco riding, shooting, or the race.

Penelope shrugged. “Dynah is. And you know how that goes.”

“You should do it anyway,” Willow said. “Your sister’s choices have nothing to do with your own.”

A snort. “We’ll see.” Penelope waved farewell and turned her horse west.

The two racers parted ways. Willow headed back to her house, taking the long route. Hopefully by the time she got there, her mother would already be gone on her trip. If not, there could be questions, or lectures about staying by herself, or offers to have the neighbors come check on her, and none of those things were desirable in the least. The sooner her mother quit worrying about her when she went on trips, the better.

But when Willow got back to the little house nestled between the river and the red buttes, she saw to her dismay that her mother’s airship was still perched atop the cliffs overhead. Blast it all.

She hid the Colt in a wooden box at the base of a large birch tree, then took her time unsaddling Bullet and cooling her off in the shallows downstream from the house. The water from the mountains was cold as the stars and bit like a rattler. Bullet snorted and shimmied in place as she scooped handfuls of it onto her neck and shoulders. Willow didn’t hear her mother approach until she was almost on them, just the shuffle of a boot to alert them to her presence. Her mother never went noticed unless she desired it.

Willow turned. Her mother stopped a couple of feet away, arms crossed over her chest, dagger sheathed in worn leather strung low across her hips. Faded jeans, fringe jacket, suede hat. Around her neck hung her pilot’s goggles, their huge, black eyepieces staring at Willow as if they suspected her plan. Her mother was desperately pretty, and they looked exactly alike except that her mother had more than a tint of strawberry in her blonde, a fact that made Willow jealous as hell. But we all have our struggles in life.

“I’m headed out, kid,” she said. Her voice was like the rocks in the river, smooth but hard. “No boys, no guns, no booze, and don’t forget to feed the chickens.”

“Of course, Lyla,” Willow said. She never called her mother by any of the maternal nicknames. “I won’t play with dynamite, either.”

“Always the kidder.” Lyla didn’t smile when she said it. “Oh, and one more thing. Don’t even think about getting involved in that race.”

Willow had been expecting this, so her face was perfectly smooth and her eyes unblinking as she said, “Yes, Lyla.”

Lyla stared at her for a moment and then rocked back on her boots. “Okay, then. I’m off.” She turned and headed along the narrow path up the canyon wall to her ship.

Willow waited until the gas tanks in the ship had ignited the flames that flared out the two large hot-air balloons atop the deck; until the ship had risen above the canyon, spooking all the chickens; until the secondary wings had unfolded and the vessel had soared out of sight. Lyla and her rules with it. Then she retrieved her gun, took Bullet to their little ramshackle stable that abutted the cabin, threw her some hay, and went inside to chop off all her hair. She was of half a mind to smoke one of Lyla’s cigars while she did it, but then she’d have to spend well-earned money replacing them before she got back, and it just wasn’t worth it. They tasted awful anyway.

The cabin was built from small river boulders and boards made from birch and oak. It had a chimney, two tiny bedrooms, and a large kitchen and sitting room. A window in the front lined with brown plaid curtains let in the gurgling song of the river, a song that Willow was fairly certain echoed in her own bloodstream. She was in love with the river and the canyon and the sky and the open plains. But she was also in love with the idea of seeing other rivers, canyons, skies, and plains. Her father was out there somewhere, exploring the world, seeing new things. It chafed at her, just as much as the idea of leaving did. The two opposing yearnings warred inside her every day, some days one taking the lead, the next the other, like wild horses racing.

She sighed, pulled the rusty scissors out of a drawer in the kitchen, and sat down in one of the wooden chairs. Taking a big chunk of her white-blonde hair in one fist, she tucked it inside the open blades of the scissors up near her ear. With a final mournful look at the shining glory of it, she brought the blades together with a sound both terrifying and triumphant.

It’s both a blessing and a curse to have two big passions in life. That’s been me from a very early age. I wrote my first story about a girl getting a pony for Christmas when I was six (not in ANY way meant to manipulate my parents into getting said pony). I tried to write my first novel when I was twelve, also about a girl and a horse. After that, my writing strayed into the fantasy lane, with a horse making a cameo here and there. Until I had the idea a few years back to write a fantasy western. And to make that fantasy western a feminist twist on the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Fast forward to today. A War of Daisies, the first book of seven in the Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse series, released in late October. It has been a super fun ride (pun intended) combining my two passions into one. I even got really crazy and decided to star in my own book trailer with my horse Max. In it, we portray Death and her pale horse. It made perfect sense when the idea popped into my head – I mean, I have a pale horse, and with the addition of a red wig I kindasorta look like one of my characters. Why not?

I’d never been in a film before. I don’t even consider myself camera friendly. So, to say that it ended up being a daunting experience is to put things lightly. Luckily, I have a good friend who is a filmmaker to direct things and coach me through it. It ended up stretching my creative boundaries beyond the literary world, and it was a blast. Even Maxenjoyed it. Now I’m wondering what other neat adventures in film I might get up to. Check out the trailer below to see Max doing cool stuff 😊

The journey with Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse isn’t nearly over yet, but it’s off to a great start and I’m excited to see how it continues to expand my creative vistas. How about you guys – what are your creative passions? Have you ever combined them before? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Alexia Chamberlynn

Fantasy Author (and equestrian!)

5 out of 5 (exceptional)

Independent Reviewer for Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books!

There comes along, once in a rare while, a book that takes you out of your usual comfort zone, and it does it in such a way, you do NOT see it coming! This is such a book!

I read the blurb, it sounded interesting, but I really wasn't expecting to be blown away, and so much so, I was reading this book at 3.30am, cos I couldn't put it down!

All four women have a say, and for their time, they have a LOT to say. They are all are feeling repressed and held down, for one reason or other, and it takes time for those reasons to fully become clear. Once all four are together in one place, a freak weather storm leaves them with powers, and those powers will get them what they what: freedom.

Freedom, however, comes at a price. And it's that price, that TWIST that I did not see coming! I love being puddled along, you know? Taking my time, enjoying what I'm reading, a few questions lurking, but not really seeing where this is going, or that it'll be a 5-star read. And then BAM, right near the end, things become clear, many questions are answered, and then many MORE pop up. The four women's lives are drawn into a tighter circle, and their roles become a bit more solid, but still, I'm not sure where this is gonna go!

Some things happened here that I did not see coming, and I loved being proven wrong about things, even if the reality on the page is far worse than I thought.

There is, apart from that bit I just mentioned, no romance in this book, but there is violence. The women are, after all, War, Pestilence, Famine and Death. But it's not graphic, at all, but written in such a way that you don't see it coming at ya, not at first. When things become a little clearer, then you do see it coming, but again, written in such a great way!

It's been a long time since I tried to write a gushing review without giving anything away, but I think I managed it here. Had I gone into too much detail, I think the women's secrets would have been told, and you need to discover them in the pages of the book, I think, for you to fully appreciate them.

Written with all the words and customs and attitudes of the time (1894, United States) it throws up some *AH* moments and some *NOOOOOOOOOOO? really? they did that?* moments and some *oh my gosh, they did NOT!* moments, and I loved them all!

In case you didn't get it, I loved this book! I hope I can get my grubby mitts on the next one!

5 full and shiny stars

** same worded review will appear elsewhere **

* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and the comments here are my honest opinion. *

Alexia writes novels about magic, adventure, and romance. She lives in Florida with her son and a menagerie of animals. When she's not writing or reading, she can be found playing with horses, drinking wine, traveling to the next place on her global wish list, or maybe doing yoga. Dr. Who, unicorns, and katanas make her very happy.

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