Author: Wynne Channing
An ancient prophecy warns of a girl destined to cause the extinction of the vampire race.
So when 17-year-old Axelia falls into a sacred well filled with blood and emerges a vampire, the immortal empire believes she is this legendary destroyer. Hunted by soldiers and mercenaries, Axelia and her reluctant ally, the vampire bladesmith Lucas, must battle to survive.
How will she convince the empire that she is just an innocent teenager-turned bloodsucker and not a creature of destruction? And if she cannot, can a vampire who is afraid of bugs summon the courage to fight a nation of immortals?
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A human girl will be re-born a vampire. She will shed the blood of all who walk in darkness and bring about the death of the entire vampire race.
—Ancient vampire prophecy
The sun’s down. I am so dead.
I walked out of the bakery with a box of cannoli balanced in my hands and when I saw the dark sky, my smile faded. I shouldered my way through the crowds and rushed into a piazza. The clock on the church tower read 9:25 p.m. I rounded the fountain in the center of the square, my flip flops slapping at my heels. I shifted my box of pastries so that it was under my arm like a football and quickened my pace.
Sofia is going to kill me. When I left the house at 7:30 p.m., I had told her that I’d be only twenty minutes. But I’d lost track of time wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, snapping pictures. So far, I wasn’t being a good guest in her home. Two days ago, I had accidentally used dishwasher soap in her laundry machine, producing a titanic bubble bath. This was not the way to redeem myself.
A few people sat on the stone stairs around the fountain. A bearded man plucked at a guitar and nodded his head. A woman reclined against her boyfriend, her hands on his knees as if they were the arms of a chair.
One young man stood alone on the top of the stairs. His hands were in the pockets of a charcoal coat with an asymmetrical zipper that cut across his chest. His face was backlit against the street lamps, but I knew that he was staring at me. He had such rigid posture that nothing but his head moved as he watched me cross the square.
I dropped my gaze. The straps of my backpack dug into my shoulders and shifted my T-shirt. I tugged at the hem so that the Canadian flag was centered in the middle of my chest. He probably wants to rob me. My father had warned me about pickpockets in Rome. A few days before my trip, he had come into my room with a bulgy blue fanny pack: “To keep your valuables safe.”
From the corner of my eye I could still see the man’s face pointed in my direction, and I heard my best friend’s voice in my head. Zee, he’s checking you out. See if he’s hot. Ryka had encouraged me to have a summer fling. The only fling I’d ever had with a guy was when Felix Lewis flung me in the air during cheerleading tryouts. “Find someone and have fun,” but avoid the bad guys, she had said. She wanted me to keep my other valuables safe.
Pretending to look back at the clock, I glanced at the fountain. The guy was gone. I searched the piazza but didn’t see him. Too bad. He might have been cute. Would his trying to pick my back pocket count as second base?
I turned down a lane sandwiched between two square buildings and wove through a group of men in soccer jerseys. An old man in an undershirt and house slippers stood in the street with a dusty poodle, and I returned his sullen glare with a smile and a nod.
After walking several minutes, something seemed wrong. Okay, I remember passing this restaurant with the row of people eating on white linen tablecloths under white umbrellas. I remember this tight street with the parked cars on my left. But I don’t remember the street opening into a parking lot and this giant purple bush.
A mass of fuchsia flowers cascaded down the side of a building, like a purple monster arm, reaching for the ground with its branchy fingers. I would have remembered this. I doubled back through the dim streets but then couldn’t find my way to the piazza. Don’t panic.
I took a mental inventory of the contents of my bag: a journal, my wallet, my passport, my digital camera, a bottle of water. Of course, I didn’t take the note card with Sofia’s address and phone number on it. It’s on my dresser. Of course, I didn’t take a map. I could see Sofia’s round face, scrunched with disapproval, the creases on her frowning forehead. I performed a frustrated pirouette.
“Come on,” I said, exasperated with myself.
“Excuse me?” A voice said behind me.
I spun around, and there he was in the middle of the road. The guy from the fountain. I recognized his jacket and his tall, stiff stance.
“Sorry. I was talking to myself,” I said.
He took a step toward me and his face shocked me. He had high cheek bones and clean-shaven, pale skin. His deep-set blue eyes were in shadow under thick, dark eyebrows, but they were luminous.
I realized then that I was staring with my mouth ajar.
“You’re American?” he asked in his Italian accent.
“No, I’m from Winnipeg. It’s in Canada,” I said, pointing to my T-shirt. I glanced away, feeling weird that I had just directed his attention to my chest.
He nodded. “You are on vacation?”
“I’m living here for two months studying Italian.”
“Well then, welcome to Italia,” he said, and his pale pink lips smiled. “Do you like it here?”
“I’ve only been here for about a week and I love it.”
“What do you love most?” The word, “lah-ve,” filled his mouth thickly.
“I love the architecture, the food,” I said. “If I could eat gelato every day for the rest of my life, I would.”
“Then you must be sweet.”
His smile widened and I felt embarrassed. To quash my anxiety, I thrust my hand at him. “I’m Zee,” I said.
He seemed startled, tucking in his dimpled chin to gaze at my hand. “Zee?”
“My name is Axelia but everybody calls me Zee.”
“Paolo,” he said.
He slipped his smooth, cool hand into mine. I gripped his palm and shook it vigorously.
“Eggs-ee-lee-ah?” he said, pronouncing every syllable of my name. “I like it.”
“Thanks. I like it too. It’s spelled A-X-E-L-I-A; but the X is soft. Though I hated it when I was young. In kindergarten, someone spread a totally untrue rumor that ‘Zee likes pee,’ and then, you know, at recess, it was always ‘Zee likes pee, Zee likes pee.’”
I laughed and when he didn’t join me, I cleared my throat to silence myself. “And I have no clue why I told you that story, since we just met.”
Oh, Zee. Always babbling when you’re nervous.
He cocked his head and studied my face. “Zee, would you like to go with me for a gelato?” he asked.
Whoa. Is this beautiful guy asking me out? Ryka would be celebrating with corniness: “He doesn’t want to steal your wallet. He wants to steal your heart.”
“Uh, thank you, Paolo,” I said, relishing the opportunity to use his name. “But I actually need to get home.”
“Where do you live?”
“Good question. I mean, I’m not sure. I’m a bit lost,” I said with a shrug and something in between a grin and a grimace. “It’s on a narrow street around here. There’s a café on the street. There’s a pizzeria. I know—every narrow street has a café and a pizzeria. And I don’t have a map or an address. I might just have to live on the streets, survive on cannoli, and sing for coins.”
“Yes but I’m sure people will pay me to stop.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I will help you.”
“Oh, I remember!” I exclaimed. “There’s a white church on my street.”
“Via della Scala has a white church,” he said. “And a café and a pizzeria.”
“Via della Scala, that’s it!” I said.
He put his hand over his heart and bowed slightly. “May I have the honor of walking you there, Zee?”
“That would be lovely.”
As we walked back to Sofia’s apartment, I chattered to fill the silence. I told him about the laundry fiasco and about my Japanese housemate, Miyuki. At one point, I realized that I was nervously swinging the box of cannoli while I walked. Paolo kept his eyes on me while I looked everywhere else. His suede coat sleeve would brush my bare arm, giving me goose bumps.
“How old are you?” I said.
“How old are you?”
“Me too,” he replied.
“I start university in the fall. I’m going to take general arts courses for now because I’m not sure what field I’d like to get into. My father’s an aerospace engineer and my big sister is studying mechanical engineering. But I almost failed physics and math in high school. So for the safety of mankind, I don’t think I should get a job building anything. I love taking pictures so maybe I could be a photographer. What do you do?”
“I’m a student.”
“What are you studying?”
“I’m a student of life,” he said. He pursed his lips when he smiled.
Was that code for unemployed?
“I see,” I said, instead. “And what have you learned so far?”
“I’ve learned that treasures present themselves when you least expect them,” he said. “And you? What has your life taught you?”
“That I shouldn’t walk around without a map,” I said. “And that dish soap doesn’t go in washers. Actually, I’m here because I want more life experience. I feel like I’ve been pretty sheltered in Winnipeg.”
“I’ve never been there. Is it nice?”
“Yes, but it gets cold.”
“Cold doesn’t bother me.”
“This cold would. Our winters are brutal. It’s so cold sometimes that my eyes water and then my wet eyelashes freeze together.”
He chuckled. His teeth were small and perfect. For a moment, I imagined walking with him through these streets, laughing and holding hands. I imagined him teaching me Italian. I imagined him kissing me. Then I could add “kissed a hot guy” to my experiences, right after “traveled outside of Winnipeg.”
Suddenly I recognized the square planters in front of Sofia’s apartment farther down the street.
“Thank God, we’ve found it!” I blurted. Then I turned to Paolo. “I didn’t mean thank God because I don’t like your company. You’re wonderful company in fact.”
“I also enjoyed your company.”
“Thank you so much. I owe you my life for helping me get back to Sofia’s.”
One side of his lips curled up. “Then repay me,” he said.
“Okay.” I channeled Ryka’s boldness. “I could buy you a gelato?”
“Yes. Let’s meet tomorrow at nine fifteen.”
“Where?” I asked. I could feel my cheeks flushing.
“Right here,” he said, pointing to the pizzeria to his left.
“Done,” I said. “It was nice meeting you.”
Zee is studying in Rome, trying to broaden her horizons before starting university in the fall. She happens to meet a devastatingly handsome man named Paolo one night while walking home. It turns out that Paolo has a secret - he's a vampire - and intends on killing Zee. Instead, she is transformed into a vampire herself and becomes hunted by the Emperess and her soldiers. With the help of a new ally named Lucas, Zee must find a way to convince the empire that she is not out to destroy their world before a war breaks out.
Although the concept for this novel wasn't exactly unique, the author did a great job separating it from the rest of the genre out there. The story was intriguing and the descriptions and backstory she uses for the empire and its history were imaginative and interesting. The characters, especially our heroine Zee, were likeable and believeable - which immediately made me root for them and their cause. Zee is a flawed character, so she seems easier for the reader to identify with. The flow of the book was great and the writing very well done. The book is full of adventure, romance, and also themes that all readers can understand - finding yourself, courage, fate, and love. With all the action and a fast-paced narrative, this book was a page turner that demanded to be read in one sitting. I highly recommend it for fans of YA vampire and paranormal fiction!
About the Author:Wynne Channing is an award-winning national newspaper reporter and young adult novelist. She loves telling stories and as a journalist, she has interviewed everyone from Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Jackman to the president of the Maldives and Duchess Sarah Ferguson. The closest she has come to interviewing a vampire is sitting down with True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard (he didn’t bite). She briefly considered calling her debut novel "Well" so then everyone would say: "Well written by Wynne Channing."
Where to find Wynne:
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