Title: Midnight’s Twins
Author: Holly Race
Release Date: 11th June 2020
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Hot Key32 Books
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52244702-hypnos
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Midnights-Twins-Holly-Race/dp/1471409163/
Summary: Fern King is about to uncover a place that she could not have imagined in all her wildest dreams. Annwn is the dream mirror of our world, a place where Dreamers walk in their slumber, their dreams playing out all around them. An enchanted, mysterious place that feeds our own world – as without dreams, without a place where our imaginations and minds can be nourished, what kind of humans would we be?
But Annwn is a place as full of dangers as it is wonders: it is a place where dreams can kill you. Annwn and its Dreamers are protected by an ancient order known as the Knights – and when Fern’s hated twin Ollie is chosen to join their ranks, Fern will have to do whatever she can to prove she is one of them too.
But the world Fern discovers in Annwn, in this dream mirror of her London, is a fragile one, threatened by vicious nightmares. Nightmares that are harder and harder for the Knights to defeat. Something dark is jeopardising the peace and stability of Annwn, something that must be rooted out at all costs. And gradually, Fern realises that the danger lurking inside our sleep is more insidious and terrifying than any nightmare. Because if you can influence someone’s dreams, you can control their thoughts …
Midnight Twins Extracts
Una wouldn’t allow herself to acknowledge that she now had one more death on her conscience. There would be time for that when she was back in Ithr, when she had left all of this behind. Instead, she drank in the unimpeded view of the city that had opened up ahead. Gulls as large as helicopters swooped around her, diving for the dolphins that played in the ship’s wake. In the distance, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf sprouted into existence like flowers bursting from the earth, before collapsing away into the old docks that some dreamers could still remember. She never tired of watching the city she loved morph and mirage before her eyes. But this would be the last time she appreciated it as anything other than a common dreamer. Normal life. No more responsibility for millions of strangers. The only ones she would need to worry about were herself and her little family. Angus, frown lines forming already across his handsome face. Ollie and Fern, hands no bigger than cats’ paws. She’d left them in neighbouring cots, gurgling in conversation. Sometimes the love made her want to rip open her stomach and push them back inside, where they’d be safe. She wouldn’t be able to protect them forever, but she had a feeling she wouldn’t need to. Not Fern, at least. She’d have to wait fifteen years, but then she could tell Fern everything. Maybe she could even join her. What adventures they would have together. In the distance, a baby’s cry echoed through Annwn. Una was sure that it was one of her children calling to her, across the divide of dreams and reality. She was so close. The Tower of London emerged on the shore, and Tower Bridge just beyond. All she had to do was climb up one of the bridge’s piers as the ship passed it, skirt the Tower itself, and she’d reach the portal back to her bedroom. Angus would still be sleeping beside her, one arm crooked under her neck, the other resting on her waist. On the bridge, inspyre morphed into a pack of wolves, mouths open in a parody of smiles. Another shape took its place beside them. Tall, slender, sharp. The rising sun turned the golden monster into one of smoke. The treitre had found her again. As though spinning a voice from her terror, the wolves opened their mouths and howled, their song reeling in the wind and scuttling up her spine. Go.
Heart racing, I reach for the lamp next to my bed. My room is its usual mess, scattered sketchbooks and coloured pencils littering the floor. A sculpture of my guardian angel’s head sits on the desk, seemingly staring out of the window. In the darkness, the memory of the nightmare still fresh, it’s quite creepy. If I didn’t know I was awake I’d be terrified it was about to move. Funny, I don’t remember even remember making a sculpture.
The head twists to look at me. Backed against the wall next to my bed, I am frozen. The mouth moves. ‘The time is here, Fern,’ it says, every syllable weighty. ‘Now wake up.’ I do. My room is dark again, only a sliver of moonlight sliding through the curtains. But I am not alone. Someone is shuffling across the floor. It’s another nightmare, I tell myself. Shaking, I turn the bedside lamp on again. The intruder whisks around. They are clutching one of my sketches. Red, birds‑nest hair; scars etching her face; poorly fitting armour. The sketch matches the face. The face that told me to wake up just seconds ago is no longer only in my dreams. She is here. My guardian angel has come for me. She is standing in my bedroom, exactly as I’ve always dreamed her. I reach out to touch her armour. It’s cold but my hand doesn’t seem to be able to grasp it, as though it’s not truly there. ‘How . . . ?’ I begin, and then I feel faint. In an instant, the woman is by my side and her arm is around my waist. Up close, I see that every detail of her face is picked out by a halo of soft blue light that has no source.The wall feels cool and solid against my palm, but when the woman’s hair brushes against my shoulder everything else blurs. It’s the strangest feeling – as though my body is trying to sleep even when my mind is alert. I’m shaking, my heart’s pounding, heat is filling my head. It’s not fear exactly, but it’s a close relation. This doesn’t make sense. How can she be here? ‘You’re the person from my dreams?’ I can’t say guardian angel. It’s too childish. When she speaks her voice is like the end of an echo. ‘I have walked through your sleep, yes. Andraste is one of my names.’ ‘Ann‑drast?’ I ask, struggling to hear her. ‘Ahn‑dras‑teh,’ she corrects, leaning towards me. Her breath – a winter breeze – makes my skin tingle. She has a strange accent that I can’t place. ‘How are you here?’ I ask. ‘I’ve come to take you home.’ ‘This is home.’ ‘I mean my home. Annwn.’ I shiver. Annwn. The Underworld. Andraste notices my reaction. ‘You have been there before, Fern King,’ she says, ‘You walk in Annwn every night, while your body sleeps here in Ithr.’ At first I don’t understand her. Then I begin to piece it together. Mum dying in her sleep. Ollie’s inability to wake up. Andraste’s appearance in so many of my dreams. ‘Annwn is like . . . a dreamworld?’ ‘That is right.’ Andraste turns away from me, looking for something. ‘So,’ I try to stand and follow her but my legs are having none of it, ‘are you . . . do the knights live in Annwn as well?’ ‘The knights work in Annwn, but they are part of this world, like you.’ ‘They work?’ Andraste sighs, as though she doesn’t have much time but knows it will be easier to tell me what I want to know. ‘The knights protect the people of your world in Annwn.’ I think of the way Andraste always turns up to rescue me when I’m having a nightmare. ‘You protect us from our dreams?’ ‘I am not a knight, Fern King.’ I look pointedly at her armour, at the sword slung from her hip. She frowns. ‘I mean, I am not a knight in the sense you think.’ ‘Then . . .’ My mind races. ‘So what are you?’ As soon as I’ve said it, I wonder whether I’ve made a faux pas. It sounds like such a rude question. Luckily, Andraste only raises an eyebrow. ‘I am one of the Fay,’ she replies. She pats my arm, seemingly done with answering my questions properly, and starts opening all my cupboards.
Here is the story, the voice says, of the Fay, of the first humans, of the thread that holds us together.
It’s not exactly a song. There’s no discernible tune, no chorus or rousing key change. But it’s not a normal story either. As the woman speak‑sings, images form inside my head, like a daydream.
In the beginning, the woman says, we lurked in the shadows of your imaginations. We were creatures of inspyre alone, ephemeral in the youthful world of Annwn. Yet as you told your first stories, sat around fires or drawing on cave walls, you made us stronger. You walked in Annwn and we showed ourselves to you, dropped our lives into your minds, and when you woke you took our stories for your own and made us stronger still. Grand tales you told, of the hunt, of royalty, of courtship, love and betrayal. And thus we were made immortal. Part base human, part inspyre. We can never die while our stories are told. In the beginning we were five. First was the Father, who you know as Merlin. Yet he has other names also, like Odin, Zeus and Baba Yaga. Second was the trickster: Puck and Loki, Coyote and Anansi. Third and fourth the warrior twins yonder.
The woman casts a hand towards Andraste and her red‑haired companion, who bow their heads in acknowledgement.
They are named Athena and Ares, Bast and Horus, Nirrti and Mangala, Boudicca and Spartacus. I am the fifth. I am muse and madonna and I have many names. You may call me Nimue, though others know me as Mujaji and Isis, Aphrodite and Ophelia. Our names grow as you add us to your stories, and each time you name us afresh, we become ever stronger, ever more immortal.’
As I look upon Andraste, I begin to see the different forms that she has taken over thousands of years. I don’t understand how it’s happening, or whether anyone else can see it, but she seems to morph in front of my eyes, like shadows on a riverbed. I see how she is one single person – a warrior woman of huge skill and intelligence – but how she is also made of layers of other warrior women: a merciless queen but also a slave girl teaching her sister to write in the dust at their chained feet. They are the same woman in their souls, even if their stories are very different. I look at the singing woman the same way, and I see at once a young girl pining for her lost lover and a proud woman, naked and pregnant, looking with scorn upon her devotees. The song‑speech continues.
Over time, we became gods and goddesses to you. You sacrificed yourselves on alters and offered us your souls for a sliver of our favour. It was not enough for you. You wished to break open the walls between this world and Ithr. For centuries, mankind laboured to build such a gateway, but it was not until we, the Fay, used our powers that the barriers could be broken. Many thousands of years later, when those who built these gateways were long returned to dust, a human came who could rule both worlds, and Arthur was his name. He it was who created the thanes, who begged us to pick from the multitude of humanity a handful who could protect mankind from their own imaginations. Though Arthur, the Traitor of Annwn, the Great Betrayer, would try to destroy us, we, the Fay, have remained true. So, every year when the pull of Annwn is at its greatest, we summon the best of your kind. And here we are. Now it is your turn to begin your story.
The song‑speech ends. At first I don’t even register that Nimue is no longer talking because the power of that music is still stirring inside me. The song folds into my body like the memory of a bedtime story, familiar and rich and full of hidden darkness.
Holly Race works as a development executive in the film and TV industry, most recently with Aardman Animations. Holly is a Faber Academy graduate, and Midnight’s Twins is her debut novel and the first in a trilogy. After spending several happy years in East London, a few streets away from where Fern lives, she now resides in Cambridge with her husband, their daughter and a large black poodle called Nymeria.