Here’s an extract from The Rose and the Mask. If you like it, you’ll probably like the rest of the book, too!


Faustina approached it slowly, struggling to understand what she was looking at. In broad terms, it was a rose tree, but the words hardly did it justice. It was stunning: a slender stem stretching so high that she had to tilt her head back to see it give way to branches. These were long and graceful, arcing up to gleam in the white light of an overcast sky before trailing almost to the ground, and every weeping frond was heavy with petals, packed densely into fresh red blooms. In short, it would have brought a sensitive horticulturist to tears. Even Faustina, who generally viewed flowers with insouciance, was frozen by it for a moment, unable to move or look away.

She was still staring when the clouds broke, allowing a brief sliver of bright sunlight to fully illuminate it. The effect was startling. Catching this ray of light on their contours, the leaves glittered brightly—too brightly, as though they had been polished to an artificial sheen. The flowers, meanwhile, seemed to allow too much light through, detaining it only long enough to imbue it with a crimson glow. It almost looked as though the entire plant were made of glass.

But that’s impossible.

Or just highly improbable. A moment later, a tiny breeze disturbed the sweeping leaves and she heard the sound: a light tinkling, like hundreds of tiny bells. It was the sound of countless delicate glass leaves brushing into one another.

Faustina blinked hard several times, trying to clear the mirage from her retinas. But she was still looking at a glass rose tree. Kneeling down, she cupped a palm and swept up a handful of the leaves from the very tip of a branch. They collapsed into one another and she realised that the branches were made up of delicate glass tubes, threaded together like beads to give them a little flexibility. Each one was embellished with tiny thorns, narrowing to a pin-sharp point. She stared at them, equally amazed and confused. Someone had gone to an awful lot of trouble over this.

Why?

Straightening up, she circled the tree, staring at it from all angles. The slim trunk was solid glass, the leaves and branches tiny elements strung together. As for the roses—she supposed for a moment that they were moulded, which would explain why they were all so alike, but closer inspection revealed that they were far too intricate. Perhaps they were individual petals, cast one-by-one and then linked together? Hesitantly, she reached out for one. As her fingertips grazed the cool surface of one of the petals, she barely noticed the hot, sharp sensation of one of the exquisite glass thorns catching her skin. In that moment, she had forgotten everything—Giacomo, the boat, the clammy sensation of wet underclothes against wind-bitten skin. There was only sunlight, and one perfect glass bloom.

Then a deep, harsh voice behind her shouted, “What are you doing? Stop!” And the moment was over.