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  • Published: 6 August 2024
  • ISBN: 9781761346804
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $27.99

The Girl with No Reflection

Extract

The sky was strewn with pepper-pot stars, reflected in the pond below. On the water’s surface, the mirror image of Ying Yue’s face floated, pale and moonlike, distorted by ripples.

“My lady,” a voice behind her said. “Shall I fill the bath?”

Ying was at the edge, on her knees, bent over the water. It was an unusual position for a noblewoman, but she had never been one for following rules. She didn’t turn around or get up. Instead, she raised a hand, dismissing her handmaiden. “No thank you, Li Ming. I will bathe myself tonight.”

Li Ming retreated, silent as the wind.

Ying sighed. She was supposed to be preparing for tomorrow, but her stomach was in knots.

She forced herself to breathe in, then out. You’ll be fine.

Frustrated, Ying flipped her long hair over one shoulder to keep it from getting wet. Then, reaching down, she cupped her hands together and dipped them in the water. It was icy but crystal clear. Bending close to the pond’s surface, she drew her hands up and sluiced water over her face.

Something caught her eye: a splash from the far side of the pond. Ying jumped and sat back on her heels. Her heart sped up. The back of her neck prickled.

She wasn’t alone.

The ripples radiated outward until the water lapped at the edge of the pond. It was lucky the ground was paved with stones, else Ying would have been kneeling in mud.

She rose to her feet in one fluid movement and adjusted the skirt of her hànfú, its golden embroidery scarlike against the red satin of the robe. With her eyes trained on the water, she listened, heart fluttering like a caged bird.

The ripples faded. The pond became smooth again; reflective, like glass. Ying exhaled. Just a fish, she thought. Earlier she’d seen carp milling about at the surface, clamoring for food, their huge, muscular bodies glinting silver in the moonlight. Surely it was one of them that had caused the splash.

The pond was an ornamental feature in the expansive gardens wrapping around Ying’s private quarters. On the morrow, she was to wed the emperor’s only son, Prince Shan Zhang Lin, in an elaborate three-stage ceremony. As the future crown princess and, eventually, empress of the powerful Shan Dynasty, she was afforded certain privileges.

The garden was one. She’d always loved nature, and when she had first arrived at the Imperial Palace three months prior, she had been delighted to find her own private oasis. Her first day had been spent trailing her hand through the swinging willow branches, breathing in the lush fragrance of the abundant exotic blooms, and watching the colorful carp swimming in lazy circles beneath the water. She’d marveled at the pond, its water a delicate green and dotted with lotus flowers. It had been so beautiful. It was so beautiful. At the time, she’d been touched. The prince obviously wanted to make her happy.

It hadn’t taken long for her to realize that that was not the case. Now that she knew better, Ying suspected the task had been delegated to his team of advisors. It is in the empire’s interest, they would have told him, to keep the future empress happy.

He probably hadn’t prepared her lodgings, didn’t know how they looked or where they even were. He certainly never visited. And whereas back home her family was involved in every household matter, she’d quickly learned that the ruling dynasty distanced themselves from everyday, mundane life. The Shan family had servants for their servants’ servants, each tier confined to their own set circle.

No, it would have been a small inner group of officials who’d deemed it prudent to keep Ying happy. But, she thought, if they’d wanted to keep her happy, they would have allowed her family to join her. If they’d wanted to keep her happy, they wouldn’t have confined her to her quarters.

If they’d wanted to keep her happy, they would not have locked her door.

Ying sighed again. Three months—three long months she’d been kept here. And while the trees and flowers had lost none of their beauty, she now knew them so intimately, so well, that even with her eyes shut, she could trace each detail in her mind. She spent day after monotonous day staring at the garden’s high stone walls, wishing she could take flight and escape.

Pushing her sleeves up to her elbows so as not to trip over the draping fabric, Ying Yue picked up the fāngzhū, a concave mirror designed to collect moonlit dew. It had been sitting in her garden gathering dew every night for a whole lunar month. Considered the nectar of the gods, the dew was to be used to brew her ceremonial wedding tea.

Balancing the large square in both hands, she turned to make her way back to her room. But as she stepped away from the pond, she heard a strange sound.

She whipped around, catching a glimpse of something just slipping below the water. Her knuckles blanched around the edge of the fāngzhū. Once again, ripples marred the surface of the pond.

In the distance, a warm glow spilled from the glass door of her room, but it was too far for the light to reach her. She should be going inside. She should be preparing for her hair-combing ceremony, traditionally held on the eve of a wedding.

But something filled her mind, a silent song, reaching out to her from the pond. She couldn’t explain it. After all, the garden was quiet save for a few chirping crickets.

As much as she tried to ignore it, something was calling her. The lure of the water was strong, too strong.

Carefully, she placed the fāngzhū down on the pebbled path, crept toward the water’s edge, and peered at the surface. It was smooth again, reflecting the stars, the moon, the skeletal branches of the surrounding trees. And once again on the water’s surface was her face, looking pale and drawn and more than a little worried.

It’s nothing. Ying pressed a hand to her chest. Nothing more than her reflection. Surely it was just the stress of the impending wedding, the weight of filial expectations that rested on her shoulders. Her anxiety was getting to her. She was starting to imagine things.

But then she noticed something. Something that made her heart pound, her palms grow clammy, her head throb with heat. Something was wrong— something terrifying.

It was her reflection. Yes, her reflection in the water looked exactly like her. Small, dainty cherry lips. Big, doelike dark eyes. A cascade of black hair tumbling over one shoulder.

But that wasn’t the strange thing. The strange thing was that in the water, Ying’s reflection was smiling.

And Ying Yue was not.


The Girl with No Reflection Keshe Chow

A young woman chosen as the crown prince’s bride must travel to the royal palace to meet her new husband—but her world is shaken when she discovers the dark truth the royal family has been hiding for centuries—in this lush fantasy debut perfect for fans of Amélie Wen Zhao and Iron Widow.

Buy now
Buy now

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