Gothic fae lore meets dark academia in A Study in Drowning, a spellbinding new enemies-to-lovers fantasy inspired by Welsh mythology, by Sunday Time bestselling author, Ava Reid. To celebrate the release of this truly tantalising new read, we’re thrilled to be able to share an exclusive extract handpicked by Ava herself.
A faint morning fog was coming over the cliffside. It crept in pale and slow, like lichen consuming a dead tree. Out of the mist rose Hiraeth Manor, gray and black and green, as if it were an extension of the cliffs themselves.
Ianto led them up a stone staircase, the steps uneven and carpeted in moss. The wooden double doors were damp and moldering; Effy could smell the rot before she even reached the threshold. The brass door knocker was as huge as a bullring and flaking with rust. Ianto had to jam his shoulder against the door several times to force it open, until at last the ancient hinges relented with a dismal and ominous groaning sound.
“Welcome,” Ianto said. “Try not to slip.”
Effy looked down before she looked up. The tile floor was scummy, like the surface of a pond, and the red carpet that led up to the staircase was thick with mildew. When she lifted her gaze, she saw the staircase itself, the wood termite-eaten and wet, cobwebs strung through the banister like weaving on a loom. Portraits hung askew over peeling wallpaper, which looked like it might once have been an attractive peacock blue, but water stains had turned it a grimy shade of gray.
“I—” she began, but stopped abruptly, unsure of what to say. The air tasted thick and sour. When she had recovered her faculty of speech, blinking profusely against the dust in the air, she managed to ask, “Has it been this way since your father passed?”
Ianto gave a huff that was half amusement, half dismay. “It’s been in various states of disrepair since I was a child. My father wasn’t much for home improvement, and the climate in the bay doesn’t exactly make for easy upkeep.”
There was a faint splash from her left. Preston had stepped through a small, filmy puddle. “I’m going upstairs,” he said shortly. “I’ve wasted enough of the morning already.”
Effy knew that was a hidden gibe at her, and she narrowed her eyes back at him.
“At least have some coffee.” Ianto’s tone did not suggest Preston had much choice in the matter. “And then perhaps you can help me give Ms. Sayre a tour. I imagine you’re more familiar than I am with some parts of the house by now. My father’s study, for example.”
Preston drew in a sharp breath, but didn’t protest. Effy felt no more pleased at the prospect of him tagging along, though for Ianto’s sake, she tried not to show any obvious displeasure.
The kitchen was off the foyer—small, cramped, and tumbledown, half the cabinet doors hanging off their hinges. The white tiles were laced so thoroughly with filthy grout they looked like crooked teeth in an old man’s mouth.
Ianto gave Effy coffee in a chipped mug. The back of his hand was covered in black hair, just like Master Corbenic’s.
Effy took one sip, but the coffee tasted as sour as the air. Preston held his own mug but didn’t drink from it. His hand kept fluttering back to his pocket, and Effy remembered how he had stuffed his cigarettes there. His finger were long, thin, nearly hairless. Feeling heat rise to her cheeks, she tore her gaze away.
“I really should get back to work,” he said, but Ianto was already ushering them into the dining room. There was a long table with a moth-eaten white cloth over it, the ends stained like the muddy hem of a dress.
An odd and very dusty chandelier dangled precariously from the ceiling. Effy had never seen anything quite like it before: shards of mirrored glass, carefully cut into narrow diamonds like icicles, light bouncing from one to the next in a rippling glimmer. It almost made it look like it was moving, even though the air in the room was oppressively still.
“That’s lovely,” Effy said, pointing up. “Where did you get it?”
“I think it was an acquisition of my mother’s. I don’t truly remember. I can’t say we’ve done a lot of dining in here recently,” said Ianto, and gave a short laugh that fell limply in the silence.
They passed through the rest of the rooms on the first floor: a pantry that even rats and roaches had abandoned, a living room that had certainly not seen very much living lately, and a bathroom that made even Ianto frown in tacit apology.
By that point, Effy’s stomach was churning so viciously, she thought she might retch.
Ianto took them up the stairs, pointing out each of the portraits on the way. None were of real people—the Myrddin family had no aristocratic pedigree and therefore no ancestral heirlooms. Emrys had been the son of a fisherman. No, these were paintings of characters and scenes from Myrddin’s books.
Effy saw Angharad in her marriage bed, pale hair strewn out among the pillows, iron girdle glinting at her waist. She saw the Fairy King, black hair streaming past his shoulders like a slick of fetid water, his colorless eyes seeming to follow her as she climbed. Effy paused mid-step, heart lurching. That hair, those eyes, the slender, jagged form like a gash in the fabric of the world—
“Mr. Myrddin—um, Ianto,” she said. “I saw something last night, in the dark—”
“What’s that, Effy?” Two steps ahead of her, Ianto’s voice sounded distant, disinterested. But Preston was looking at her with an inscrutable expression, as if waiting for her to keep speaking.
“Nothing,” she said after a moment. “Never mind.”
Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice. Since childhood, she’s been haunted by visions of the Fairy King. She’s found solace only in the pages of Angharad – author Emrys Myrddin’s beloved epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, and then destroys him.
Effy’s tattered, dog-eared copy is all that’s keeping her afloat through her stifling first term at Llyr’s prestigious architecture college. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to design the late author’s house, Effy feels certain this is her destiny.
But Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task: a musty, decrepit estate on the brink of crumbling into a hungry sea. And when Effy arrives, she finds she isn’t the only one who’s made a temporary home there. Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar, is studying Myrddin’s papers and is determined to prove her favorite author is a fraud.
As the two rival students investigate the reclusive author’s legacy, piecing together clues through his letters, books, and diaries, they discover that the house’s foundation isn’t the only thing that can’t be trusted. There are dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspiring against them – and the truth may bring them both to ruin.
Get your copy of A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid here.