Nothing suits October quite like a dark academia story — except maybe a dark academia fantasy story. So it’s time to get up to speed on the “Atlas” series.
Fans of author Olivie Blake are eagerly awaiting the third and final installment to her popular novels that follow a group of young and talented magic wielders invited to compete to join a prestigious society of powerful magicians. It’s dark and twisted and all sorts of gripping, and “The Atlas Complex” will wrap the trilogy when it drops Jan. 9, 2024. But in the meantime, Blake and her publishers at Tor Books gave TODAY.com an exclusive excerpt below.
“For the first time since being recruited to the Society, the six Alexandrians have returned to the world outside of the archives to reap the benefits of their newfound power,” Blake tells us. “With so many enemies mobilized against their cohort, however, Parisa Kamali finds freedom to be a mixed blessing.”
For those in need of a recap: The first book in the series, “The Atlas Six,” gained a bit of a cult following when Blake self-published it in 2020. Tor Books then snapped it up after a bidding war, published a revised version in 2022 and then put out its sequel, “The Atlas Paradox,” later the same year. Now, Deadline reported Amazon is adapting “The Atlas Six” into a show. So yes, this is one book series you’ll want to know.
Check out an excerpt from “The Atlas Complex” below.
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Read an excerpt from ‘The Atlas Complex’
— Parisa —
Parisa Kamali entered the warm bronze lobby of her tasteful Manhattan hotel on a cloud of buoyancy and birdsong, and also, pigs were fluttering down Fifth Avenue and somewhere (surely Atlas Blakely knew where) hell was a balmy sixty-eight. Read: Parisa was in a mood, tediously hovering in the realm of malcontent most closely associated with hunger or men who do not arrive where they are meant to. In this case, a little bit of both.
It had been one month to the day since Parisa had stepped outside the walls of the Alexandrian Society’s manor house. Somehow, despite this very reasonable timeframe, she had not yet been apologized to, groveled before, or otherwise in receipt of what she considered to be even marginally her due. Which was why, perhaps, upon sensing the presence of three to four greatly aspirational assassins folded within the hotel she’d selected on the basis of its exquisite styling, she felt a stirring in her veins most comparable to arousal.
She’d been very well-behaved, after all. Very good, very quiet, lurking politely in the shadows and hardly making anyone cry for purposes of sport—which was precisely the sort of subtlety she’d recently been accused of failing to possess.
“You’ll be bored, you know” had been Atlas Blakely’s parting attempt at psychological pugilism in the days before Parisa exited the Society’s transport wards (destination: Osaka, per the Reina Mori terms of their cohort’s strategic defense). Atlas had paused her as she’d been traversing the library to the gardens, biding her time with idleness until their contracted period of independent study ran its course. By then, two days before departure, her things had been packed for nearly a week.
“In case it has escaped your notice, outside this house is only more of the same,” Atlas courteously reminded her. “The world is exactly the same series of disappointments as it was before I brought you here.”
It was meaningful, most likely, the order in which he spoke his words; the implication that Parisa was one of his chosen flock and not, more flatteringly, a person of free will and/or meaningful institutional value. “I’m quite capable of keeping myself entertained,” Parisa replied. “Or do you really think I’d go back into the world without a very, very interesting agenda?”
Atlas paused for a moment then, and Parisa wondered if he knew already which of his trinkets she planned to steal, like rifling through the house’s silver. Would he have guessed that Dalton planned to join her despite her insistence to the contrary?
Perhaps he did. “You do know I am capable of finding you,” Atlas murmured to her.
“How fascinating,” she replied, adding a fashionably sardonic, “whereas I would clearly have great trouble finding you.” She gestured around the walls of the house that they both understood him to be incapable of abandoning. If not for vocational reasons, then for personal ones.
“It isn’t a threat,” said Atlas. (Leave it to Atlas Blakely to make an obvious lie sound as mild-mannered as a breakfast order.)
“Certainly not,” Parisa agreed, to which Atlas arched a brow. “You couldn’t find Rhodes,” she pointed out in clarification. “Or the source of your . . . little problem. Ezra, I believe his name is?” Atlas very cleverly didn’t flinch. “So forgive me, then, if I do not tremble where I stand.”
“You misunderstand me. It’s not a threat, Miss Kamali, because it’s an invitation.” Atlas bent his head in as sly a motion as she had ever seen from him, concealing something so recreationally petty she couldn’t quite name it at first. “After all, what will you do without me to rail against?” he asked. (Mirth, Parisa decided. It was definitely mirth.) “I give it six months before I find you at my door again.”
There was a flash of images behind her eyes then, like a maelstrom of déjà vu. Someone else’s sweets filling the cupboards; jewels she didn’t even like; two sets of cups in the kitchen sink. The tedium of an old argument, a story relayed too many times, hollow apologies to keep the peace. She’d never be able to prove whether it came from Atlas’s mind or her own.
“Now that,” Parisa said, finding her heart in a sudden vise, “was a taunt.”
“Or a promise,” said Atlas, whose lips twisted up in a smile she’d never considered handsome because handsomeness, like most things, was nothing. “I’ll see you very soon, Miss Kamali. Until then, I wish you every satisfaction.” A parting benediction from Atlas Blakely was rather like a gauntlet thrown. “Unfortunately, I don’t think you have any idea what that looks like.”
“Atlas, are you suggesting I don’t know how to have fun?” had been Parisa’s feigned reply of shock at the time. “Now that’s just insulting.”
And it was. Though, perhaps fun was something Parisa had been woefully short on in recent weeks.
Now, standing in the hotel lobby with Sam Cooke crooning soulfully overhead, sublimely behaved and not-at-all-bored Parisa felt a sudden, pressing need to turn her day around.
Darling, you send me, sang Sam earnestly as Parisa allowed herself a long moment’s perusal, taking stock of the scene with an eye to a bit of . . . what did Atlas call it?
Ah, yes. Satisfaction.
Parisa scanned the room, reconsidering the landscape of the lobby as if it were a battlefield. Oh, Parisa wasn’t a physicist—she wasn’t a fighter. She wasn’t trained in much as far as combat went, though she wasn’t without her talents for theater. And what a stage! The hotel was a beautiful conversion from its former life as a pre-medeian power plant, unnecessarily large, brutalism expressed in opulence. Gilded Age in splendor, if not in architectural devotion. The high ceiling was left exposed, naked beams framing its crown jewel: a bar that was exquisitely crafted from a single piece of wood and topped with a gleam of self-illuminating brass. A real centerpiece, and manned by a bartender so unapologetically trendy he seemed written for the part. Mahogany shelves lined the mirrored back wall, set back from draping black curtains; moody lighting glistened, jewel-like, off the laudable selection of spirits. The chandelier overhead was grand without being antiquated; a winding spiral of exposed bulbs that hung like suspended tears. The walls were cavernous, raw concrete swathed in velvet. It lent the whole place a sense of being deep underground, as if its guests descended the high street for hours instead of seconds.
A lovely tomb, as it were. For someone with less of Parisa’s joie de vivre.
She sensed danger at her back, angling her head ever so beguilingly to catch a glimpse of her oncoming attacker. The first of her assassins wore a cloyingly old-fashioned bellhop uniform; he was withdrawing a pistol from the inner lining of his jacket. Two people were looking at her breasts. No, three. Fascinating. She pondered how long to let things go on; whether to ruin the dress, which was silk. Dry clean only, and who had the time?
Sam sang tenderly on from the lobby’s speakers, momentarily distracting her. Parisa glanced to her left to lock eyes with the attendant behind the front desk (he, sweet thing, was looking at her legs).
“Be a doll,” she requested graciously, hand snapping out to pause the murderous bellhop just as she felt his thoughts taking aim at the back of her head. “Speed this up, would you?” she asked, referencing the music playing overhead. “Oh,” she added on second thought, sensing the intensity of a moment’s calculation as the bellhop’s finger gently stroked his trigger, “and kill the lights.”
Darling, you s—
Darling, you s-send—
The lobby went dark just as the shot rang out. Then the bass dropped.
To Parisa’s very great pleasure, Sam’s crooning met up with a heavy, synthetic hip-hop beat, a fitting affair of soul and funk in tandem. The shift in atmosphere offset the sudden handful of panicked screams and became—to Parisa’s immense satisfaction—something she could actually dance to.
The lights flickered back on just as Parisa had grooved her shoulders to the left, beckoning the bellhop to dance with a nod. He, uncooperatively, stood dazed at her back, staring with great bewilderment at the wild shot he’d taken courtesy of some expertly deployed telepathic subterfuge. Behind the bar, champagne now flowed freely from the bottle on the top shelf, collecting in a reflective pool atop the brass countertop. “Oh, come on,” purred Parisa, hooking him with a finger from afar. “Don’t make a lady dance alone.”
The bellhop’s eyes narrowed as his hips began to undulate against his will. His body rolled awkwardly to the beat while Parisa shimmied to the right, enjoying the feel of the song pulsing in her chest.
Only three figures had failed to move in the wake of the bellhop’s shot, too professional to blink at the sound of a bullet. The other assassins, then, had revealed their exact positions in the room, however unintentionally. (Easy to tell that the very young woman who’d taken cover below her stool and the businessman who’d all but pissed himself beneath the flow of champagne were nothing more than a pair of unlucky onlookers. Cosmic punishment, Parisa thought, for conducting a sordid affair under a roof of such impressive workmanship.)
She’d just begun to really feel the bass when the second of her assassins—the bartender, whose mustache curled up at the tips for a somewhat cartoonish sartorial effect—leapt over the bar, pistol brandished in her direction. Parisa, tiring of her current dance partner’s limitations (he seemed, for whatever reason, not to like her), swung in a graceful pirouette to stage left, the bullet grazing the place her cheek would have been had she not been so expertly choreographed. With an idle command—drop it, there we go, good boy—the pistol fell to the floor, sliding conveniently in her direction. She swept it up in a dazzling backbend just a breath before the bellhop wrenched himself out of his trance mid-shimmy and dove, leaving him to land, stunned, in a heap at her feet.
“Someone ought to enjoy this view,” Parisa informed him, lifting her right foot to drive his cheek sideways into the polished concrete floors. Then she rolled her body to the steady hip-hop bass, swaying rhythmically beneath the arc of the bartender’s oncoming knife.
She dug her heel deeper into the bellhop’s cheek as she reached for the bartender’s tie and beckoned to the concierge, who had recently finished compiling the various pieces of the rifle he’d been concealing behind the desk. “Darling, you thrill me,” Parisa sang, a little off-key, and then gave the bartender’s tie a swift tug, yanking his hips flush against hers just as a quick buzz-roll of bullets drilled out like a parade band snare. Their tango now cut regretfully short, Parisa slipped under the bartender’s flailing arm, grinding her heel until she felt the gravelly surrender of the bellhop’s cheekbone giving way beneath her shoe. The bartender’s chest, meanwhile, rattled with the impact of the bullets intended for her, dappling the bar’s bronze sheen with a stain of freshly spilled blood.
The woman was no longer screaming, so presumably she’d put two and two together and left. The person at the front desk was frantically trying to evacuate what remained of the guests and staff. Five stars, thought Parisa, impressed. Proper hospitality could be so hard to find.
Another round of shots was fired, the bar’s velvet curtains crashing perilously down as Parisa slipped behind one of the concrete pillars, sighing to herself about waste. It was such a shame, really, to damage such tastefully selected pieces. As the din of artless warfare continued to escalate within the lobby courtesy of the concierge’s rifle, Parisa determined that a minor instance of telepathic discombobulation might not be breaking any ceremonial rules of combat. After all, what was an automatic weapon against one tiny, unarmed person? Unfair was what it was. So she gave the concierge something more useful to think about, such as the nature of perfect fusion and, as an added bonus, the task of solving the so-called homeless problem on whatever the city was calling a social service budget these days.
The concierge’s mind now put to more nuanced use, obstacles yet remained. The bellhop, who had scrambled away on all fours beneath the hail of careless gunfire, was now imminently on deck. Parisa put a little sway in her hips as the bellhop stumbled to his feet, rushing her at the same time that her fourth assassin—a maintenance worker in full janitorial splendor, who had been wisely steering clear of his accomplices’ more lethal shots—withdrew a wrench from his toolkit and threw it wildly, without thought. Parisa, less mad than, say, disappointed, paused to pick up the knife that had long since plummeted from the bartender’s hand (he was busy dying an ugly death) and turned, intending the blade to find a home between the eyes of the oncoming maintenance man. He, however, was somewhat quicker than the others. He dodged the knife and caught her wrist, spittle flying as he tackled her backward into the concrete pillar.
Parisa hissed in surprise and annoyance, her exposed back meeting cold stone. The knife had fallen from her hand from the force of the maintenance man’s impact, the blade clattering to the floor just out of reach. To say the assassin had a few pounds of force on her was something of an understatement. She struggled to move, to breathe, augmenting the necessity for cooler heads when he suddenly wrenched her arm with bruising force. Parisa’s combat style, after all, was theatrical but not stupid. Better not discover what a man in his position might do next.
Parisa spat in the maintenance worker’s face and beckoned the bellhop with a little tug to his mind. His posture went rigid, first in opposition, then in submission to the force of her overriding command. With a grimace, the bellhop marched tightly forward and lifted a heavy boot, landing a hard stomp to the center of the maintenance man’s hamstring and leaving him to collapse around Parisa’s legs.
Parisa snapped the maintenance man’s neck backward with a hard impact from her knee to his jaw, the sudden rush of blood in her ears joining up with the pulsing bass that still played over the hotel speakers. As the maintenance worker dropped, execution-style, to his knees, the knife skittered up from the floor into her hands, no less recalcitrant than the straining bellhop. Parisa grimaced; relieved, briefly, that Nico wasn’t there to witness the limits of her physical magic. She discovered that she’d hate to lose any shine in his eyes, which was quite frankly disgusting.
Parisa drove the knife’s blade into the maintenance worker’s clavicle, repulsed with herself. He collapsed sideways on the art deco runner she’d so admired, convulsing once before falling still beside the beautiful, blood-sprayed bar.
The dress was ruined, too. Disappointing.
Two down, two to go. Behind the concierge desk, the most trigger-happy of her assassins was still sweating over municipal budgets, one hand clutched despairingly around the rifle like a child with a toy. The bellhop, meanwhile, shook off the effects of her telepathic command, one eye visibly obscured from the swelling of his cheek. She’d most definitely broken his face.
“Why should I let you heal?” she asked the bellhop. (Never let it be said she was a bully.)
“Fuck off,” he spat in reply, or so Parisa was forced to assume, because it wasn’t in English. She didn’t recognize the language, which didn’t really matter. Anyone could be bought. Regardless, the subsequent “bitch” was so obvious in intonation she didn’t require translation, much less anything meriting debate.
“Well, it was fun while it lasted,” she lamented with a sigh, bending to fetch the knife from the maintenance worker’s gurgling neck. Overhead, Sam Cooke was fading gradually into tinny, uncertain silence. There was a slight ringing in Parisa’s ears, some nausea. The beginnings of a migraine. She felt the bellhop’s presence at her back as she bent to retrieve the knife, and for fuck’s sake, the things that crossed his mind. As if it made a difference that she had the goddamn glutes of Aphrodite. To him she was nothing, nothing more than an object, something to be used or fucked or destroyed.
This was the world, she reminded herself. Atlas was right.
Suddenly, everything felt substantially less festive.
Parisa rose to her feet and flicked the blade across the bellhop’s throat; a tight, efficient slash to his carotid. He staggered, then hit the ground with a thud. She stepped over him, panting, and swiped a slick lock of hair from her forehead with the back of her hand. Then she walked past the unmoving bartender to pause before the concierge.
He was still lost in thought—or, more aptly, trapped in it. He looked stricken as she withdrew the automatic rifle carefully, almost gingerly from his hands. Presumably he found the puzzle she’d given him to be very punishing indeed.
“Let me put you out of your misery,” Parisa suggested, licking blood from the corner of her mouth.
The kick of the chamber discharging was really something. Then again, he should have known it wasn’t a weapon meant for close range.