A time-traveling, futuristic saga of a family trying to outlast and remake a universe with a power unlike any we’ve seen before.
When Raisa Hopeland, determined to win her race to become the next electromancer of London, bumps into Amon Brightbourne—tweed-suited, otherworldly, guided by the Grace—in the middle of a London riot, she sets in motion a series of events which will span decades, continents and a series of events which will change the world.
From rioting London to geothermal Iceland to the climate-struck islands of Polynesia, from birth to life to death, from tranquillity to terror to joy, Raisa’s journey will encompass the world. But one thing will always be true.
Hopeland is family—and family is dangerous.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of Hopeland by Ian McDonald, on sale 2/14/23.
Love falls from the summer sky
It is twenty-three minutes past twenty-two and London burns. Flames roar from the shattered windows of a Brixton Foot Locker. White skeletons of torched Citroëns and Toyotas lie broken along Wood Green Lane. In Enfield a barricade of blazing wheelie bins defies police and riot-dogs. The Turks of Turnpike Lanes, baseball bats ready, form a phalanx between their shops, their cafés, their livelihoods and the voiceless roar of street-rage. Jagged teeth of bottle-smash, car-crash windscreen-sugar, bashed-in shutters. Scattered shoe boxes and a single flat-screen television, dropped on its back, face shat- tered by a fleeing foot. Waltham Forest to Croydon, Woolwich to Shep- herd’s Bush, riot runs like molten lead from BlackBerry to iPhone, Nokia to Samsung, flows down into the heart of the city, to Islington, Sloane Square, Oxford Circus.
‘What are you doing here?’ the woman in the TfL vest asks the young man stepping from the train. White, wide-eyed, a coxcomb of red hair flopping into his eyes. Tweeds two sizes too small, brogues, a leather bag slung across a narrow shoulder. A thin, unworldly thing caught out of time and space: a fawn in a foundry. She and this fey boy are the only people on the Central eastbound platform.
‘I’m trying to find Meard Mews?’
‘Yes. It’s around Broadwick Street somewhere. I think.’
‘Are you out of your head?’
‘I am at Oxford Circus?’
‘Did you hear what they said? Avoid inessential travel?’ The woman in the hi-viz holds up her BlackBerry. ‘It’s kicking off up there.’
Subterranean winds whip shoe-dust, rattle chocolate wrappers across the tiles and carry the rumble from the street, at times voices, at times a soft, surging roar. Crashes. Splinterings. The sounds swirl through the tubes of the colossal instrument that is Oxford Circus station and the young man looks up, antelope eyes wide.
‘Can you help me?’
‘Exit 7,’ the woman says. ‘Please be safe up there.’
‘I have a charmed life,’ he calls back up the platform.
He emerges into riot. Hands shy rocks, bricks, pieces of smashed litter bin and bus-timetable off the shutters of Nike’s flagship store. Every hit on the swoosh raises cheers. He ought to slip behind them into the narrow ways of Soho but the sight, the sound, the smell of anarchy are so contrary to everything he understands about the city that he lingers a fascination too long. Mob radar registers him. Mob turns. Mob sees him. Pale, tweeded. A bag over his shoulder. Effete. Elite.
His hand goes to the leather satchel, soft as kisses from age and love. The same satchel once accompanied his great-uncle Auberon as he pur- sued sensitive misdemeanours in Lycia and the Dodecanese. These men can take it from him. These men can do whatever they want. Flesh is so much more satisfying to rattle rocks from than clattery steel. Flesh can cry and bleed. Four men break from the group and move towards him, shards of street furniture in hands. He backs away. Glass cracks under the heels of his brogues. He stands in a shard-crop field of smashed bottles, car- window sugar, shop glazing.
The sky beats with sudden noise. A television news helicopter comes in low and hard over the roof of Debenham’s. The swivel camera hangs like a testicle from the helicopter’s thorax. It turns above Oxford Circus, seeking newsworthy shots. Mob looks up, poses: its CNN moment.
He spins on broken splinters and vanishes into Soho.
The narrow, tight streets open onto a parallel world. Soho ignores he- licopters, breaking glass, rattling shutters, jeering voices, the fact that this is the year 2011. Soho life moves as it ever has, shoaling in sushi restaurants. Chinese buffets, coffeehouses, corner bars. Lads in plaid shorts and Ha- vaianas stand loud-drinking on the pavements. Young women smoke in cut-offs and summer shoes. Televisions play live rolling feed of the riots. Amy Winehouse sings how love is a losing game.
He pauses to consult his phone. Google doesn’t know Meard Mews.
‘You want to be careful with that,’ a street drinker calls. ‘Someone’ll have it off you.’
‘I’m trying to find Meard Mews?’
‘Meard Mews?’ The glass collector flickers his fingers over the phone screen. ‘Map doesn’t show it, but it’s there.’ A tap on the glass.
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Meard Mews is a shoulder-wide crevasse between two brick walls, crowded with pungent shadows. He flicks on his phone torch: heaped black refuse sacks, cardboard pulped by rain and feet. Reeks of August rot, garlic, over- heated cooking oil. Kitchen chatter. Radio gaga and Soho beer piss. A set of black double doors, the email said. There are three such doors in the narrow passage.
He buzzes the intercom on the first door.
‘Crumble?’ he asks.
‘Crumble. It’s, uh, a club.’
Sirens, amplified by the brick trumpet of Meard Mews. Next door, next intercom.
A long stream of swift syllables in a language he does not recognise ends in a dead intercom. To the final door.
‘Hello, I’m the music.’
‘The music. For Crumble. I’m playing a set.’
‘Never heard of it love.’
‘It could be small.’
The voice calls someone out of the range of the intercom. ‘Sorry, noth- ing like Crumble round here love.’
‘This is Meard Mews?’
‘I got an email to come to Meard Mews. A black door.’ ‘Not here love.’
The news helicopter passes overhead again. He taps up the promoter’s email again.
Then love falls from the summer sky.
‘Hey hi hello?’
He stares at the intercom on the final black door.
‘Here. I’m up here.’
The light from his phone scampers up the walls, over the barbed wire and broken glass embedded in cracking concrete, along the gutters. And strikes a young woman’s face above the rotted brick parapet. Her skin is light brown, her cheekbones sharp, her face freckled, her eyes green, her hair held back by a Nike headband.
‘Maybe turn the light off? You’re blinding me.’
‘How much charge have you got?’ the woman calls.
‘On your phone.’
‘About eighty percent.’ A fire escape ladder drops to the street. Shoes descend first. Such shoes; soft, like gloves for the feet. Then he sees old- school skater tube socks with the proper red, white and blue bands at the top. Next, Adidas capri tights; three-striped, hole in the back of the thigh. A backpack over a crop top. Light, tough fingerless gloves. Around her left forearm, a phone in some kind of harness. The woman descends with equilibrium, momentum, glory. Angels descend like this on their ladders from heaven. Angels of Soho.
She crouches in the alley, her face lit by screen-shine. She swipes a fin- ger. His phone plays a small snatch of the music he would have performed at Crumble: a notification. The package had arrived.
‘Accept it. It’s safe. If this goes dead, I’m dead.’
‘What?’ he says.
She peers over his shoulder and taps the app. His screen fills with a map of Soho, bisected by a vertical translucent green band. ‘Yes,’ she hisses and snatches the phone from his hand. A jump, a vault, a grab and she is half- way up the fire ladder on the opposite side of the street.
She turns on the ladder and throws a tablet of glow down to him. Her phone. As he holds it in his cupped hands like a sacrament, it drops into power-saving mode. Five percent. He switches it off.
‘Recharge it,’ she shouts. ‘It’ll find me.’
‘What?’ he says again, and ‘Wait . . .’
A moment is all. Seize it. At some point in eternity random quantum fluctuations will re-create this universe in its every detail and this moment will present itself again. Myria-years are too long a wait to redeem unre- quited desire.
He pulls himself onto an industrial trash bin. The fire escape is a stretch but he is skinny and lithe. He swings his satchel behind him. The soles of those gecko-grip shoes are vanishing over the parapet above him. He winces as he scrapes toes on brickwork. These are handmade brogues.
She is a rooftop away already, crouching against the air-glow of Rich- mond Buildings like a superheroine. The higher lights of Soho Square hang like a sequin curtain behind her.
‘I’m coming with you.’
‘But you’re in trouble.’
‘You could die.’
‘You said, “if this goes dead, I’m dead”.’
She shakes her head.
‘Not literally. Dead. More like . . . look, I haven’t the time. I’m in a race.’ She is fleet, but he follows. Those light roof-ballet shoes barely touch the asphalt, the splitting slates, the moulded leads. His brogues run sure. She flickers across the Soho rooftops like low summer lightning. He is the small thunder in her wake. In the lee of a flaking chimney stack she stops, hands on thighs, breathing deep. He arrives beside her.
‘That’s tweed,’ she says, surveying him.
Victorian men scaled Alps in tweed, he is about to say, but she is run- ning again, down the sloping roof slates to a brick parapet overlooking a narrow alley more a punctuation between buildings than a thoroughfare. She stands on the edge, shifting her weight from foot to foot, judging distances. The no is in his throat as she steps back, finds her balance and makes the short, strong run. She jumps. She seems suspended over the dark void filled with Soho heat and the odour of Thai food: the sole still point in the seething city. She lands with a crunch on the tiles, crouched, finding her balance.
‘A race against whom?’ he shouts across the gap.
‘My kynnd,’ she calls back.
‘Kynnd Finn. And did you say “whom”?’
He measures up the gap. Run in, launch, the landing, traction: all against him. For him: the Grace. He makes his run, throws himself over the street, lands hard, pitches forward, breaks his fall with his hands.
‘Gods,’ she whispers.
‘So.’ He dusts off his grit-pocked hands. ‘Race against whom?’
The sky behind the woman is wreathed with yellow, sodium-lit smoke. Sirens weave a web of alarm. ‘Listen. There’s a thing I can inherit. Some- thing so rare and magical you wouldn’t believe it. Finn also has a claim to it. So: We race. First one to bring it to life, keeps it. We start at opposite ends of a line that runs through London.’
‘Like a train line?’
‘No shut up listen. A map line. Zero degrees eight minutes two point one two seconds west. Me in Streatham, him up in Muswell Hill. If we stray more than twenty metres off the line, it’s game over.’
‘Even, people’s houses and private property and things?’
‘Shit on private property, tweed-boy. I had to swim across the Thames. There’s a wetsuit in the backpack. It’s a bit stinky.’
‘You put a wetsuit on in central London?’
‘And took it off in front of a dozen pervs. I got the river, Finn got Euston and the West Coast Main Line. So, if the line says run over the roofs, jump over alleys, I run, I jump.’ She turns to show him his phone shining from her left arm. ‘GPS. The Arcmages are watching. Now, I got a race to win?’
‘I can be useful,’ he calls as she works her way up the roof, fingertips brushing the slates.
‘Really. I have a charmed life.’
It’s true, and more than true. It is the defining truth in his twenty-four years. It is why the doors in Meard Mews hadn’t answered to Crumble. It is why the rioters on Oxford Circus sniffed, growled and moved on; to bring him here, to this rooftop. And she won’t turn him away. The Grace will always favour the Graced.
‘Well come on then.’ And she is along the ridge tiles. He follows on her heel.
A small crowd talks and drinks outside the Nellie Dean on Dean Street. Intent on their blunt gossip, their blaring laughter, they never look up. Half the universe is unseen, like dark matter. A city burning ten streets away, women slipping into wetsuits, a spandex superheroine and her tweed-and-brogue sidekick running the ridge tiles, like a quirky sixties spy-show cancelled mid-first-season: dark energy.
The girl checks a red pin on the appropriated phone.
‘How far is it?’
She flicks her chin towards Soho Square. ‘Carlisle Street.’ She drops to a high porch and peers down into the street.
‘Five, six metres.’
‘There’s a fire escape down that side.’
‘Off the line.’
‘Not to me.’
He takes the forbidden fire escape and descends to the Dean Street drinkers. ‘Um, could I ask a wee favour?’ The Grace can never be sum- moned or commanded. It is a shine. It goes out from him and touches hearts made wide by beer and summer and the drinkers help him drag a picnic bench across the street, upend it and position it under the drop point.
‘What’s it now?’
‘Maybe three metres.’
Now the drinkers see the girl on the porch and they are in an adven- ture. She turns, lowers herself over the edge of the porch, hangs from the lip, drops. She hits the slope of the bench, skis down into the street and is across the road, over the bonnet of a tight-parked Peugeot 205, down an alley, up an industrial bin, then a wall, then a fire exit to a high coaming.
‘It’s that free running thing, isn’t it?’ says a skinny bloke in a plaid shirt. He watches her striped socks vault, jump, climb out of his life up among the crumbling chimneys and the rooftop weed-smoking dens, chasing her prize beyond price.
The Grace is not cheated so easily. He is not tied to her strict desire line. He can go anywhere in this city. So: up Dean Street to Carlisle Street to Soho Square. With the last of the power in the girl’s phone he sum- mons the app and faces north, the direction of the other racer. The kynnd, whatever that is. There, moving against the groups of drinkers headed for the earlier tube, the safer bus. Early twenties, tall. Damn fit. Olive skin, prominent nose, gazelle eyes. Dark waves of thick, glossy hair. He wears the same Adidas capri tights as the girl. Same shoes. Same socks. A hydration backpack over a compression top, grippy fingerless gloves. The defining glow of a phone mounted on his left forearm. His wide eyes are turned to alleys and fire escapes and rooflines. Eyes on the prize. And that is how he misses it, the Grace whispers in the chambers of his heart.
At full speed he runs into Finn. They go sprawling to the street.
‘Sorry sorry.’ He helps Kynnd Finn up. A moment of legerdemain. ‘You okay? I think this is your phone.’ And the trick is done. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Finn slips the phone into the armband and runs on, eyes on the top of the city. Now the final act.
Finn glances at his left forearm, as he must. Glances again. Takes the phone and shakes it.
He sees the moment the life and hope run out of a man. He sees him go to his knees. He hears a thing he hoped never to hear again, a man howl as if his bones were wrenched through flesh. In the name of love, he has done the worst thing in his life.
━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━
He walks away from the scene of the phone-switch. On Finn’s stolen phone he can easily locate the Prize. This battered street door leads to a courtyard. There is a fire escape. Of course. Before he climbs the ladder in his inappropriate footwear to a flat roof he makes sure to switch off the purloined phone. Seal the crime. Across a few metres of abandoned barbe- cues and bottle-smash rises a stained-glass cupola, patterned with branches and leaves like a Tiffany lamp. At the four corners of the roof stand slender metal pillars, twice his height, each capped with a metal sphere the size of his head. Are those arcane markings etched into the roof lead beneath his feet, or the hieroglyphs of pigeon shit?
The stained glass is old and carbon-greasy, etched fragile by decades of light pouring through it. He peers through the panes. Glow and shadows. He sits and leans his back against the dome to wait for the girl to come up the long, strict way dictated by the line. Columns of smoke rise against a sodium sky. Sirens and shouts. The city growls, sullen and disobedient. The helicopters have flitted away to districts more newsworthy.
A gloved hand comes over the parapet. A second hand reaches. He is there to offer his own hand.
She stares up into his face. She is exhausted, eyes sunken, face jazzy with sweat and dust, nails chipped.
‘I knew another way in.’
She takes his hand and clambers onto the roof with the last of her strength. She sees the glass dome and every muscle tightens.
‘Oh my God.’ She freezes. ‘Am I . . . is he?’
‘He didn’t make it.’
‘You saw him? Finn?’
‘His phone . . .’ He thinks about the truth. Truth and Grace are not necessary lovers. ‘His phone died.’
‘I win,’ she says simply and because the words cut no night, speaks them again, speaks them to the heedless city. ‘I win!’
The phone on her forearm flashes a four-digit code. She squats to turn tumblers on a lockbox beside the dome. Inside is a ring bearing two keys. She unlocks a section of the dome, opens a panel and steps inside.
‘Come on then. You need to see this. You need to.’
Copyright © 2022 from Ian McDonald