As a ‘laowai’ or foreigner with blonde hair and clear blue eyes, I’m used to getting stared at. Curious glances are often glued to my face, clothes, and chest. I’m the only white girl in town and often the first westerner local people have ever come across. After nearly a decade in southwest China, I’ve lost the urge to stop dead, turn around, and scream. “Has no one ever taught you that it’s rude to stare?!” Being ‘special’ and a social outcast is part of life in this area. As is jumping over blobs of phlegm in the street, dodging men and women on high speed, but deadly silent, motorbikes, and picking out a live chicken at the market whenever I feel peckish for drumsticks. Nowadays, I even find inspiration in the strangeness of my life.
The streets are teeming with women in colorful costumes. Their long, flared skirts dance in the wind. Their silver jewelry reflects the bright sun. Men stand around the market place, often selling or buying goats. They are Black Yi, or Nosu, an ancient tribe that dwells in Northern Yunnan and Southern Sichuan. For millennia, they’ve ruled their territory with a kind of force that reminds me of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, minus the horrible human sacrifices. The Black Yi were robbers, bandits, kings, horse masters, and above all revered by the other peoples of China. Their community has ever been impenetrable to outsiders. Their bloodlines stay pure, for they believe that their black (superior) blood does not mix with the unworthy. Never before was a Black Yi man allowed to marry a non-Yi woman. Not until Anzi Aku turned my world upside down and made me his Nosu bride.
For what felt like an eternity, Anzi and I battled for the clan’s acceptance. It’s still hard and our relationship is subject to scrutiny wherever we go. I’m not sure what eventually changed his family’s mind about our marriage. Perhaps they finally realized that our love was unbreakable. Maybe they simply gave up. But after nearly five years of struggle, they finally gave us their blessing.
My life has changed dramatically. Clan life means forsaking your individual ambitions. Striving for the prosperity of the tribe is key, a concept that was completely alien to me. But even though this way of living is sometimes insufferable, it also serves as a great source of inspiration for the writer in me. Reborn, a different woman altogether from the selfish Dutch brat I once was, I’ve gained access to the Nosu’s greatest mysteries. I mingle in their world of shamans and ancient stories of spirits, demons, and worlds unknown.
My latest novel, The Fire of Dawn (although set mostly in Europe and Siberia), is a direct result from my encounters with the paranormal in China’s Wild West.
For more information about V.V. AKU’s life in China or upcoming releases, please visit www.fireofdawn.com or follow her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/VVAKU.
About the Author
V.V. Aku has always believed in beautiful stories. She found the man of her dreams and her way in complex China, and wrote a fairytale of her own: The Fire of Dawn－a scintillating tale about strength, self-discovery, and a girl who dared to follow her heart.
Born and raised in The Netherlands, V.V. Aku (Veerle Ackerstaff) soon discovered that the world was a place worth exploring. After graduating high school, she set out to travel the globe until she finally touched down in China. On the border of Tibet she met Anzi Aku, a wild Black-Yi man who lives at the foot of the Himalayas. She has joined his clan and tries to find her place among the tribe and its shamans. When she’s not researching the clan’s mythology on vampires, she shamelessly gives in to the compulsion to write about the countless characters that haunt her dreams.
V.V. Aku is the author of The Fire of Dawn and Black Dusk. She has been the creator of stories since the age of three, and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults from The University of Cambridge ESOL. After nearly a decade of working as an English language teacher and TEFL trainer in China, Thailand, The Netherlands, and the UK, she now devotes all her time to writing, her family, and practicing Kung Fu. The Fire of Dawn is her debut novel.
It’s the last day of the summer holiday in The Hague when Leah Koopmans’s carefree life as a teen is brutally flipped upside down. Her pale skin turns a dazzling gold, her senses heighten, and her muscles possess an uncanny strength. But with these exhilarating new powers comes a thirst that can only be quenched by one thing: human blood.
While her body craves for fresh victims and her heart drowns in guilt, she meets inhumanly handsome Max Machiavelli, who claims that Leah is immortal like him. Infatuation ignites into blistering passion when she joins his coven in Amsterdam. But as the mysteries shrouding her sudden change to immortality unravel, Leah quickly learns that her aversion to taking life isn’t the only thing that sets her apart from this group of herculean strangers.
From the picturesque canals of Amsterdam to Corsica’s limestone cliffs and the untamed Siberian wilderness; from first loves to fierce battles, The Fire of Dawn is an extraordinary tale packed with romance, betrayal, and bloodsucking suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the very last page.
Find the Author
Buy the Book
V.V. Aku was kind enough to give me two excerpts from her book for the stop. Enjoy!
‘Something’s wrong!’ Max gasped, sitting up in bed so quickly that the unexpected movement sent me over the bed’s edge. I caught my balance before I smashed onto the walnut parquet. We had dozed off about an hour ago. Outside, the sun had risen.
Max was panting, his face filled with fear. ‘We’ve got to get out of here!’
‘What’s going on?’ I yawned, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
‘They’re near! Pietro can hear them.’
He had said ‘they’ with such abhorrence that it could only have meant one thing. He got to his feet, scrambling for his clothes that were scattered over the floor together with mine. I had never seen him this alarmed. The bedroom door flung open and Pietro and Sam barged into the room, both in the same frantic state as Max was.
‘How did they find us?’ Max shrieked.
‘I don’t know, but we must leave immediately!’ Pietro yelled.
We left the house and darted toward the city center. The streets were deserted. Livorno was still asleep. In the morning sunlight, our legs were heavy, moving tediously slow while Pietro broadcast the thoughts of the advancing Brotherhood as they tracked where we ran－his voice without emotion. ‘There are four: two males, two females… They have entered the boulevard. Stand by for confirmation... They have turned right on Via Grande.’
Then Pietro’s face twisted in horror. ‘Stop,’ he whispered, his voice shaking. ‘They’re here.’
‘Where’s Leah?’ Max spun around. ‘She was right behind me!’
The sound of rotating blades thundered overhead as the blue helicopter lifted into view, banked north, and disappeared behind Livorno’s rooftops.
Max ran back toward the piazza. ‘Leah! Leah!’
The square was empty. The only evidence remaining of the struggle were the rusty pools of blood that smeared the cobblestones. The agents had been able to clear the scene in a matter of minutes.
‘Leah, where are you? Leah!’
‘She isn’t here,’ Pietro’s sad voice called from behind him.
‘No! Leah!’ Max frantically turned into the nearest street, panic cleaving into him. Soon, his steps became heavy as the horror of the situation dawned on him. ‘Leah!’
‘Max, she’s gone,’ Pietro called again, his voice as dead as the girl in his arms.
Max came to a halt, his expression twisted as if with the most excruciating pain. His knees buckled and he shakily slumped to the ground. Hope faded from his eyes. Pietro sat down beside him and together they stared into the empty distance. Minutes passed. Noises came from inside the surrounding houses. Livorno was waking up.
‘Andiamo,’ Pietro finally said, breaking the forlorn silence. ‘We cannot linger. The others must be informed.’
Max nodded, still in shock. ‘You’re right,’ he breathed, slowly getting back to his feet. ‘If we come back tonight, we might still be able to track those men.’ Determination returned behind his eyes. ‘Leah is still alive. I can feel it.’
I regained consciousness with a throbbing headache, in an unfamiliar room, facing a large mirror. The faint smell of rotten meat wafted through the tiny fissures in its frame. Another ashy fragrance hung in the air. It took me a minute to realize that it was coming from me. Large spotlights, their brightness stinging my eyes, hung from steel, grid-like frameworks on the gray ceiling and walls, which seemed to have been lined with lead. It was hot, as if the sun itself had descended from the heavens. I gasped shallow breaths, hardly able to inhale. A screaming agony slid down my windpipe with every draw.
With great effort, I managed to rotate my head. A small metal washbasin was to my right. A camera hung in the corner right above it. On my left a glassless, grated window decorated the otherwise bare wall. Raindrops streamed down the bars and ominous clouds darkened the afternoon sky outside. Cold iron pinched my wrists and I realized that my hands were bound behind the back of the metal chair I sat on. In terror I tried to squirm free and doing so sent an excruciating pain into my hands. But the feeling barely registered next to the rising panic that clogged by throat.
Horrifying images of Sam’s dead body swirled through my head, and Max’s deformed hands. Where is he? Did they get him too? Did they kill him? I forced my mind back to that last moment together in Livorno, but it was nearly impossible to see anything through the hot vapor that steamed my brain. The only memory that remained clear was the sharp zapping sound I had heard prior to waking up here.
I knew why things had gone so awry. Elena. The thought of her sent a jolt of fury through my entire body, which heated up in reflex.
Another bright light suddenly struck my face. It was blinding and disorienting. A fresh surge of weariness washed over me and my heat instantly subsided.
The man who had flipped the switch and was pointing this hellish inferno at me stepped out of the shadows and into the light, mercifully blocking me from the menacing glare. His wrinkled face was complacent and he was accompanied by the overbearing smell of rotten garbage and hair mousse, which glued his white, greasy hair to his scalp. His gray eyes were on me－devoid of emotion.
‘You must be hungry,’ he said.
There was something in his harsh words that repulsed me. His smug grin made me want to snap his neck. I struggled in my bonds, but my muscles didn’t work with me.
‘You want to take a bite out of me, don’t you?’
I gagged, smelling his foul breath. The idea of having his nauseating stench in my mouth churned my stomach. But he was right about one thing. I definitely wanted to take a bite at him.
He laughed and stepped out of the light. Once again it seared my face. I tried to turn away, but the light was everywhere. There was no escaping it. He edged toward me, holding up a syringe, grabbed a tuft of my hair, and yanked my head sideways. I screamed in agony as he brought his fist down on my neck and felt the needle penetrate my skin. Then there was only darkness again.