Read an Excerpt From Caitlin Rozakis’s Dreadful

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We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Caitlin Rozakis’s debut high fantasy farce Dreadful, out from Titan Books on May 28th.

It’s bad enough waking up in a half-destroyed evil wizard’s workshop with no eyebrows, no memories, and no idea how long you have before the Dread Lord Whomever shows up to murder you horribly and then turn your skull into a goblet or something.

It’s a lot worse when you realize that Dread Lord Whomever is… you.

Gav isn’t really sure how he ended up with a castle full of goblins, or why he has a princess locked in a cell. All he can do is play along with his own evil plan in hopes of getting his memories back before he gets himself killed. 

But as he realizes that nothing—from the incredibly tasteless cloak adorned with flames to the aforementioned princess—is quite what it seems, Gav must face up to all the things the Dread Lord Gavrax has done. And he’ll have to answer the hardest question of all—who does he want to be?


Now that he suspected what to look for, the mirror’s purpose felt more obvious. Of course he’d want to block anyone from looking in. He threw the cloth back with some reluctance and took a deep breath. The words tickled the back of his teeth. When he tried to think about them, they skittered away. He closed his eyes, forced himself to relax, and let them flow out.

Lightning chased across the mirror for a moment before it settled to a dim glow. Now what? Zarconar apparently outranked him. The other wizard would make him wait, he realized. How petty. Effective, though.

He couldn’t go do something else. Or maybe he should. Hoping he could get settled in time, he grabbed a sheaf of papers and dragged the chair across the floor. It shrieked horrifyingly as the heavy wood skidded across the stone. He hoped he hadn’t left scratches, but he couldn’t check now. He threw himself into the chair, studiously casual. One leg over the armrest? He tried it. No, too casual. He straightened up just enough to look dignified. Preoccupied, not bored. The words on the paper swam before his eyes. He tried to focus, failed. Instead, he just flipped idly through the papers, over and over again.

The mirror flashed. He tried not to jump. Instead, he made sure to finish pretending to read the sentence, and then set the paper down very deliberately, a small and pleasant smile on his lips.

Zarconar’s skin smoldered, a red so dark it was almost black. Not the color of darker skin, like (it came to him on one of those useless flashes he was quickly becoming accustomed to) was common among the southern traders. Actual red and black, as if he’d mixed dried blood with a touch of ink and painted it on. Or maybe he’d spelled it to that color. It looked like nothing human. A stiffened collar of black velvet rose from his shoulders to above his ears, framing his gleaming bald head. The cloak clasped with a small skull, seemingly human but smaller than a baby’s. Fetus? Monkey? Shrunken? Disgusting, whatever the origin.

The whole effect was ridiculous.

But Zarconar’s eyes burned with a menace that killed the laughter in Gav’s throat.

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Dreadful

“You have the princess?” Zarconar’s voice rumbled deep from his chest. Gav felt a burst of envy. His own tenor could never convey that level of malevolence.

Gav swallowed, his mouth gone suddenly dry. “I do.”

“Good.” The other wizard’s eyes narrowed. “Any resistance?”

“The… the king is attempting a ransom,” Gav offered after a pause. He had no idea what the other wizard expected, and the small frightened mammal part of his brain was insisting that he meet those expectations. Right now. He didn’t know what Zarconar would do if he didn’t. He didn’t want to find out.

That seemed to amuse the other wizard. One lip curled up in a smile. “Anything appealing?”

“A small fortune? No land, though.” He forced a smile of his own. “A little insulting, really. You’d think he barely cared for the girl.”

Zarconar’s laughter boomed. It didn’t make Gav feel particularly reassured. “Feeling bold today, are you?”

Gav could feel the blood rush out of his face, leaving him dizzy. Zarconar could tell something was wrong. How should he behave? Obsequious? Terrified? No, he’d made his choice and had to bluff it out.

“I did my part.”

The gleaming eyes narrowed. “The first part, at least. Now we must wait for Valevna and Xaxus to complete theirs.”

Without any other ideas, Gav nodded.

Another smile played around Zarconar’s lips. It promised things, things Gav did not want to see delivered. “For the moment, you need merely hold her. And not get any foolish ideas. You can do that much, can’t you, Gavrax?”

“No foolish ideas,” Gav repeated faintly.

“Excellent,” said Zarconar. “We’ll speak again in three days.”

Gav nodded, still dizzy.

The mirror winked out.

He collapsed back into the chair. Then he sat bolt upright again, speaking the words that would close his side of the connection. He pulled the cloth back over.

Then he collapsed back into the chair again.

So the plan in question hadn’t started with him. Not good. No, it was being masterminded by a man with ensorcelled skin who should have been ridiculous but instead turned his bowels to water. Even now, his insides were spasming, demanding that he find himself a privy and soon. Worse and worse. And there were at least two more parties involved, probably also Dark Wizards, going by those ridiculous names. They couldn’t be named normal things, like Bo or Trevan. They had to have named themselves that. He wondered what monstrosity Zarconar slept in at night. Probably a bed carved to look like a dragon’s mouth. Or maybe on the backs of a dozen weeping virgins.

What was he going to do? Any thoughts of releasing Princess Eliasha fled out the window. Definitely not an option. He felt bad; he didn’t actually wish harm on the girl, but a quick consideration revealed he was not going to risk Zarconar’s wrath for some stranger, no matter how pretty. He’d have to do more research, he realized. This was just the first part of Zarconar’s plan, and he could not afford to disappoint him in parts two through whatever. What he was not going to do was admit to Zarconar that he couldn’t remember the rest. Zarconar seemed like the type who only valued people as long as they remained useful. The last thing Gav wanted was to become a liability. Liabilities got eliminated.

And Gav very much wanted to survive.

Excerpted from Dreadful, copyright © 2024 by Caitlin Rozakis.

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