Genre: YA fantasy
Word Count: 97,000
Every night, seventeen-year-old Akasa climbs above the muddy streets into the grand hotels of the foreign district to steal the foreigners’ treasures. Her gang is her family, and serving one’s family is more important than any laws.
When her cousin, Jiyo, is kidnapped by one of the Exalted Lineage lords, her loyalties are torn. Although gang rules forbid her from meddling with politics, she can’t abandon him to the lord’s schemes. Jiyo and a few other boys his age are being tortured to learn how to recreate the dead royal family’s magic. The lord plans to put a fake prince he can control on the empty throne and needs this magic to prove the boy's legitimacy.
Akasa breaks Jiyo out from behind the walls of the lord's home, but there will be nowhere to hide when the lord’s new “prince” controls the country. To protect Jiyo, Akasa must outwit the lord and discredit his prince by creating her own more convincing fake heir. If she fails, not just Jiyo, but the entire country will suffer at the hands of the lord's fake prince. But to succeed in pulling off such a high-profile con, she must break all of the gang’s rules, turn her back on the life she thought she wanted, and betray those she considered family.
Through the smoky haze clouding the dockside inn, I stole glances at the two foreign sailors who’d made the poor decision to stand next to me. My first marks of the night. They watched my accomplice, Yori, move three cards in circles on our table. Their thick, hairy arms folded across their chests gave them an intimidating edge, but their wide blue eyes and vapid expressions said they were suitably ignorant.
Yori stopped shuffling the cards. "Which one is the phoenix?" he shouted. The din of the off-key piano and men bellowing along to the foreign tune nearly swallowed his words. I placed a silver coin on the middle card. He flipped it, showing me the multi-colored bird, the symbol of our queen, her virtuousness and her power, gone perhaps forever from our land. Black smudged the curling, peacock-like tail. I sent a silent apology for Yori shoving her into the grime like that.
I turned to the sailors. "You look intrigued." I spoke their language for them and tried to make my voice feathery and cute—not so easy with all the noise. The stench of booze and sweat strangled me, the pressing heat like chains.
One grunted. The other ignored me. What I wouldn’t have given to be with my brothers, slinking through the darkness, instead.
Yori pushed me two silver coins. Now came the part where I persuaded these sailors to throw their money at the game, thus convincing Boss Seikuro I wasn't a completely incompetent con artist.