Read an Excerpt From Hana Lee’s Road to Ruin


We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Hana Lee’s gritty debut fantasy novel Road to Ruin, out from Saga Press on May 14th.

Jin-Lu has the most dangerous job in the wasteland. She’s a magebike courier, one of the few who venture outside the domed cities on motorcycles powered by magic. Every day, she braves the wasteland’s dangers—deadly storms, roving marauders, and territorial beasts—to deliver her wares.

Her most valuable cargo? A prince’s love letters addressed to Yi-Nereen, a princess desperate to escape the clutches of her abusive family and soon-to-be husband. Jin, desperately in love with both her and the prince, can’t refuse Yi-Nereen’s plea for help. The two of them flee across the wastes, pursued by Yi-Nereen’s furious father, her scheming betrothed, and a bounty hunter with mysterious powers.

A storm to end all storms is brewing and dark secrets about the heritability of magic are coming to light. Jin’s heart has led her into peril before, but this time she may not find her way back.


Chapter One

ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Second Age of Storms, 51st Summer, Day 20

The pteropter came shrieking out of the hot blue sky like mana lightning, hell-bent on ruining Jin’s day. Time didn’t do her the courtesy of slowing down. One second she was roaring down the wasteland highway on her magebike, and the next, a demented flying beast had its claws in her shoulder. Right down to the bone, like the leather was nothing.

Jin yelped and twisted, which was exactly the wrong thing to do. The handlebars jerked. The bike shuddered beneath her. Wings flapped in her face as she fought to regain control. Then the front wheel hit a rock or a pothole or some stupid shit like that, and the next thing Jin knew, she was sailing through the air.

She hit the ground headfirst, flipped a couple of times, and finally skidded to a rest on her side. Not dead was her first hazy thought. Then: That depends. What about the bike?

She didn’t dare look. Instead she lay there, battered and breathless, imagining the worst: a shredded, smoking heap of metal in a pool of bright blue mana. A scrapped magebike in the middle of the wastes was a death sentence.

First things first: Were her bones broken? Was her skull intact? Could she move?

Thank Rasvel for her bonehelm, carved from a saurian’s skull and tougher than steel. She’d rattled her head around good, but she could still think and she wasn’t seeing double. Her throat itched for a mana-cig. Good sign, probably. She confirmed her limbs were working by reaching into her breast pocket for a pack, only to find it empty. Right—she was trying to quit.

Finally she made herself look. Relief made her dizzy. The magebike was all right; it lay on its side in the dust, still bike shaped, smoking slightly. The sight lent Jin the strength to push herself upright, then to her feet. Goddamn, her shoulder hurt.

Jin glared at the reason she’d crashed. The pteropter was thrashing weakly on the ground next to the magebike. Just a little one, small enough to fit in her bonehelm. Jin limped closer and it screeched, reedy and thin. One of its four leathery wings dragged in the dirt, white bone poking through a mess of violet saurian blood. Beady eyes glared from the triangular head, above a beak lined with sharp teeth.

“Don’t look at me.” Jin heaved her bike upright and braced the kickstand on the cracked, pitted surface of the highway. “I was minding my own business. You’re the one who tried to kill me.”

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Road to Ruin

The pteropter made a miserable keening sound and fell silent. Jin snuck a glance. The little saurian wasn’t dead; its three unhurt wings were twitching, like it wanted to take flight. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen.

Jin looked back in the direction she’d come. Air shimmered above the highway, hot and dry. Gravelly sand undulated and heaved as far as the eye could see, an infinite expanse broken only by the skyward-reaching teeth of a rock outcropping or the lone many-armed figure of a cactus. The wasteland wasn’t featureless and flat the way city dwellers described, but even Jin had to admit there wasn’t much out here to look at.

Except that.

Above the western horizon churned the crackling fog of a mana storm. Kerina Sol, her starting point, would have already closed its dome in preparation. Gales of wind and blasts of lightning would batter the city’s shield, testing the limits of the shieldcasters who closed ranks to keep it raised. Jin could imagine the faint blue hum of the shield even if she couldn’t see it from this distance. Everyone in the city would be safe from the storm so long as the shieldcasters held; only outriders like Jin were in trouble.

Likely the little pteropter wouldn’t survive once the storm came this way. Even if it did, the wasteland sun would bake it to death—if its own kind didn’t peck it apart first.

“Not my problem.” Jin took off her helm and checked it for cracks. The bone hadn’t even chipped. She hesitated, grinding her teeth, and the pteropter had the nerve to let loose a sad chirp that tugged at her heartstrings. “I said, not my… Ugh.”

It was her problem, the way sick cats and kids in rags had always been her problem. The wasteland was meant to be her guilt-free zone, a lawless desert where the only person Jin had to worry about was herself.

Not fair.

What could she even do to help, anyway? She didn’t have anywhere to pack an injured pteropter. Jin glanced at her tank satchel and saddlebags, which were stuffed with expensive—and, for the most part, illegal—goods, including one love letter signed in swooping royal cursive and sealed with rose-scented wax. Prince Kadrin probably wouldn’t appreciate pteropter bloodstains on his latest romantic missive.

That left her bonehelm. Fuck.

Jin knelt beside the pteropter and held out her hand, slow and careful. You are an idiot, she reminded herself. It’s a miracle you’ve survived this long. The pteropter eyed her hand and clacked its toothy beak. Jin winced in anticipation.

“Easy, now—ow, ouch, goddamn fuck—”

She lifted the pteropter—its beak clamped down on her gloved palm—and stuffed it into the helm. Then she tore off her jacket and wrapped it hastily around the helm, fashioning a bulky sling. Finally she hung the cursed parcel on her handlebars and stepped back, panting.

The parcel shrieked. A sharp beak poked out from one of the orbital openings on the bonehelm and emitted a scratchy hiss. Jin massaged her shoulder.

“I’m gonna call you Screech.”

She straddled her magebike, worked her hands over the textured grips, and inhaled, long and slow. Power rose from the dwindling store of mana in her blood, a simmer in her veins. It pooled in her hands until the heat grew almost unbearable—then a spark crackled between her fingers and danced over her knuckles.

Jin braced herself for the magebike’s familiar roar, the blissful rumble of the engine between her knees. Nothing happened. Trapped in Jin’s helm, the pteropter let out another screech.

“No,” Jin said. “No, no, no.”

She burned more mana. Sparks flew. Her hands grew hot and slippery, but the magebike made no sound.

Jin swore, hopped off the bike, and scanned the exposed machinery under the engine block. The crash must have knocked something loose. Where had that smoke come from?

“Oh Rasvel, not the engine. Please not the engine.”

Jin pressed her forehead against the warm leather saddle and breathed in, then out. Her throat ached for the cool smoke of a mana-cig. She kept them stashed in her saddlebags now, too far to reach for one on a whim.

The sky darkened. Out west, the mana storm had barreled over Kerina Sol without breaking stride and was bearing down on her position. Bolts of blue and violet lightning stabbed down through boiling black clouds; a clap of furious thunder followed each flash. Closer together now. Much too close.

Makela’s grasping fingers, she’d wasted too much time on the pteropter. If she didn’t get her bike going, she was toast.

Sweating, she bent over the engine. Jin was no mechanic, just a sparkrider, and she didn’t fully understand the bike’s internals. No one did, except the artificers who put the bikes together and kept them running. It was all based on Road Builder technology, science lost to the ages and rediscovered in bits and pieces by scavengers combing the wastes for old ruins.

Mana went in the magebike’s fuel tank and sparks went down the ignition line; that was the extent of Jin’s comprehension. The tank was still one-third full, and the ignition line was intact. So what now?

A distant roar caught her attention. Not the oncoming mana storm, and certainly not the magebike under her grease-stained hands. Jin tossed sweaty black hair out of her face and glanced north. Her blood froze.

Out in the haze rode a half-dozen bikes, shiny and chrome under the darkening sun. Tattered standards flew above the procession; bonehelms gleamed in the last remnants of daylight.

Wasteland raiders. Just her fucking luck.

They’d be on her in minutes. But what were they doing? Raiders went storm chasing, not storm fleeing. Sucking up the mana that pooled in a storm’s wake was a tenuous way to survive in the wasteland; riding along a storm front was a good way to die. Sure, they were sparkriders like Jin, so they might survive a few minutes in the storm—longer than anybody without the Talent. But there was just no goddamn reason.

Jin bent back to the engine and racked her limited knowledge of its workings. Sparks went down the copper wire connecting the grip to a metal box under the engine, which she’d heard mechanics call the mana regulator. Jin touched the regulator, and part of the metal shell came off in her hand, jagged and sharp.

Oh. That was probably it.

Shit. A busted mana regulator was one of the few things on her bike she knew how to replace, if she had the part. But out here in the wastes, still most of a day’s ride from her destination, she was fucked. Unless…

She could bypass the regulator. Send a spark straight down the intake. It was a stupid thing to do, just like riding without a helm. Even odds that the magebike would either cough back to life or blow to pieces and scramble Jin all over the highway like an egg.

What other options did she have? Sit here, let the raiders skin her and strip her bike for parts? Limping into the storm was probably a more merciful end.

“This is all your fault,” Jin growled at the pteropter dangling from her magebike’s handlebars. It warbled back, then tucked its beak under an uninjured wing and… went to sleep. How? How?

Jin swung her leg over her bike again. If she was going to die, at least she would die in a magebike engine explosion, which was honestly a pretty badass way to go. Her mother’s face flashed through her head, and Jin winced. Eomma would never forgive her for dying out here in the wastes without leaving a husband or wife or even a hush-hush lover to grieve. Organizing Jin’s poorly attended funeral was probably Eomma’s worst nightmare.

The thought made Jin’s throat itch for that mana-cig again. She reached awkwardly under the engine block for the intake. Bending over brought her to eye level with the leather satchel strapped to the fuel tank, and her heart skipped a beat.

The crash had damaged more than just the mana regulator. Something sharp had sliced open the satchel. Jin was looking at torn leather and empty space where a jewel-encrusted scroll tube should have been safely ensconced.

“Shit.”

When it came to cargo, Jin had three rules: no drugs, no poisons, no explosives. Those rules were her mother’s condition for taking any of the coin Jin made as a courier. They’d probably cost Jin thousands of mun over her career, which was frustrating, but she knew Eomma had her reasons. So Jin stuck to questionably legal but harmless goods: imported produce, herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs, the latest in sartorial fashions, and, on one memorable occasion, a live prizefighter rooster. It all added up to a decent but unreliable income stream.

The letter in that scroll tube was worth more than the rest of her cargo combined. Prince Kadrin and his stupid letters were the only reason Eomma had a bakery and Jin had a paid-off magebike. He was by far her best client.

Raiders roared in from the north. Mana lightning raged in the west. Jin hopped off her magebike yet again and scoured the road, heart hammering in her chest. The ancient highway was riddled with enough cracks to hide a legion of scroll tubes. The sunlight was fading fast. Jin’s breath came in short, desperate gasps.

There—a ruby glint under the failing sun. The tube was wedged into a deep crack, covered in dust and sporting a dent in its gold-embossed cap. Jin yanked it free, cringing as tiny gems popped off and went pinging over the asphalt. Oh well, they were Talentcrafted anyway. Kadrin could have someone replace them with the wave of a hand.

Jin could smell the storm now: a nose-hair-sizzling chemical tang. The raiders were gaining on her, too. Indigo smoke boiled from magebike exhausts as the riders’ eyes glowed hot orange, pulsing with the wax and wane of their Talent. Shit, Jin could see their eyes now—that wasn’t good at all.

Jin had a perfect track record of never having come face-to-face with a wasteland raider, thank you very much. And fuck if she was breaking that streak today.

She stuffed the scroll tube down her jacket and leaped onto her magebike. “Time to go!” she announced to the sleeping saurian swinging from her handlebars.

She thought about muttering a quick prayer to Rasvel before she shot sparks down her intake and blew herself into little Jin-flavored bits, but decided against it. Better if the Giver of Blessings didn’t watch her screw up. Jin had no intention of waking up Talentless in the next life.

Power rushed to her fingertips. The engine coughed and roared to life—and more importantly, didn’t explode.

“Fuck yes!”

She’d been born to be a sparkrider. She’d known it ever since she crested a dune for the first time and went sailing through the air on wings of steel and smoke. Her body and her bike were one, her home was the highway, and all that other sentimental crap.

She’d never had to tear ass on a magebike to escape a mana storm and a howling gang of raiders, though. At least, not at the same time.

Jin kicked off and fed the engine. It responded at once with a satisfying snarl and charged forward. She threw a glance over her shoulder just as the lead raider hopped the highway shoulder, swerved, and skidded to a squealing halt.

Jin’s heart leaped. The raiders weren’t going to chase her. They must have thought she’d make easy prey, stranded on the highway, but a sparkrider on the run was a different beast. Especially a courier, light and swift, unburdened by a knight’s steel and shield.

The lead raider took off her helm. Dirty-blonde hair stuck up in spikes from a tanned face that was already too distant for Jin to make out her features. The raider raised her hands.

Baffled, Jin kept stealing glances back even as she sped away. The other raiders peeled off into the wasteland, shrinking to little dots as the mana storm boiled closer. Jin still had no clue why they’d ventured so near the storm front; clearly they weren’t eager to face lightning. But the blonde raider stayed put, straddling her magebike and staring after Jin.

What was she doing? Rolling thunder and shrieking wind eclipsed all other sound; the sky bled blue to black. The storm was almost upon the raider.

Jin kept going. The last time she glanced back—right before the storm bore down on the faraway shape of magebike and rider—the nape of her neck prickled fiercely. Somehow, despite the distance, she knew the woman was smiling.

A tiny voice in Jin’s head asked, Don’t I know you?

From the book: Road to Ruin by Hana Lee. Copyright © 2024 by Hana Lee. Reprinted courtesy of Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.



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