Read an Excerpt From Genoveva Dimova’s Foul Days

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Foul Days, a new fantasy novel by Genoveva Dimova, out from Tor Books on June 25th.

As a witch in the walled city of Chernograd, Kosara has plenty of practice treating lycanthrope bites, bargaining with kikimoras, and slaying bloodsucking upirs. There’s only one monster she can’t defeat: her ex, the Zmey, known as the Tsar of Monsters. She’s defied him one too many times and now he’s hunting her. Betrayed by someone close to her, Kosara’s only choice is to trade her shadow—the source of her powers—for a quick escape.

Unfortunately, Kosara soon develops the deadly sickness that plagues shadowless witches—and only reclaiming her magic can cure her. To find it, she’s forced to team up with a suspiciously honorable detective. Even worse, all the clues point in a single direction: To get her shadow back, Kosara will have to face the Foul Days’ biggest threats without it. And she’s only got twelve days.

But in a city where everyone is out for themselves, who can Kosara trust to assist her in outwitting the biggest monster from her past?

It was nearly midnight on New Year’s Eve, but the city inside the Wall didn’t celebrate. The people there knew the birth of a new year was— like any birth—difficult, painful, and dangerous.

Only one pub, nestled in the snowdrifts between Chernograd’s tall spires, was open that night. It was packed but hushed. The patrons huddled close together, rubbing shoulders as they lifted their glasses. The corner table, hidden in a cloud of pipe smoke, was particularly quiet. It was Kosara’s turn to bet, and she took her time.

Being the best at cards wouldn’t be enough to win tonight: she had to be the best at cheating. And to cheat, she needed that damned fireplace to burn brighter.

“Well?” Roksana said, plum rakia dripping down her chin. It landed on the table, glistening in the dim electric lamplight like droplets of amber. The two golden beads tying her thick braids glinted, contrasting against her tanned skin. Her fingers drummed on the deck of cards, ready to deal. “Are you in?”

All three of them—Roksana, Malamir, and the stranger—had their eyes fixed on Kosara. Don’t let the corners of your mouth twitch. Don’t swallow too loudly, don’t rub the sweat off your palms on your trousers, try to calm down your heartbeat

“Give me a second,” she said. “I’m thinking.”

“For fuck’s sake, Kosara!” Roksana slammed her tankard on the table. Several of the patrons at the other tables jumped. It was distressing seeing a woman her size lose her temper. “We haven’t got all night.”

Kosara didn’t let Roksana’s raised voice intimidate her. She could pretend all she wanted, but Kosara knew she wasn’t truly angry. It was clear to her that Roksana’s mind wasn’t in the game at all. Her eyes kept darting to the clock, whose hands crept closer and closer to midnight.

“Shush, you old grump.” Kosara looked down at her cards. The queen of clubs, she thought automatically, a woman with black hair and black eyes. It must be me. She also held a king of clubs and a five of diamonds. If only she could replace her five with an ace, she’d be holding the second-strongest combination in a game of Kral.

Kosara cast a glance towards the pile of logs in the fireplace. They’d been smouldering there for what felt like hours, occasionally hissing and sending a wisp of smoke into the air. She could gently encourage them, but was it worth the risk of getting caught?

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Foul Days
Foul Days

Foul Days

Genoveva Dimova

For a long moment, the only sounds were the gramophone playing quietly in the corner and the soft gurgling of Roksana’s pipe.

No risk, no gain. Kosara quietly clicked her fingers under the table. The fire cracked. Flames enveloped the logs.

She looked around. Roksana’s eyelids were half-shut as she pulled on her pipe. She’d left the last few buttons of her shirt open, and her many evil-eye and brass-bell necklaces peeked from underneath. Malamir and the stranger were both preoccupied with their own thoughts, biting their lips, rearranging their cards, counting their tokens.

At Kosara’s feet, her shadow grew larger, darker, and stronger from the light of the roaring flames. She did her best not to let her gaze follow it as it slid under the table.

“Oh my God!” Kosara said, her gaze fixed on the barred window: on the snow whirling outside, the searchlights piercing the sky, and beyond them, the shadow of the Wall. From a distance, it looked like granite, dark and solid. Close up, it resembled something alive— swirling and rippling, as if thousands of fingers tried to break through from the other side.

Any other day, her opponents would have seen right through Kosara’s obvious distraction attempt. Tonight, their eyes immediately followed hers.

“Are they here already?” Roksana’s fingers slowly drew out her pistol from its holster. It seemed strangely small in her large hand.

Malamir’s leather trousers squeaked as he fidgeted in his seat. Kosara almost felt guilty when she saw the panic in his face. Almost.

“They can’t be here,” he mumbled. “It’s too early.”

The stranger kept pulling on his polka-dot neckerchief, as if he’d tied it too tightly. His eyes darted between the window and Roksana’s pistol. His mouth hung half-open, as if a question was just about to roll out of it. In the end, he swallowed it hard.

Kosara’s shadow extended one dark finger over the table’s edge and flicked through the deck so quickly it was a blur, until it found the card it looked for. It disappeared back under the table.

“I can’t see anything,” Malamir said, his large eyes made even larger by the thick lenses of his glasses, blinking fast.

“No.” Suspicion crept into Roksana’s voice. “Me neither.”

The shadow handed Kosara the ace under the table. She quickly swapped it for the five.

“Oh no, sorry.” Kosara tried to sound genuinely nervous. She didn’t have to pretend much. “I must have imagined it. Perhaps it was a stray cat.”

Malamir gave her a pointed look over the golden rims of his glasses. She would have felt bad, if she wasn’t certain he also cheated. As did the stranger: no one had that much luck. And if all of them were cheating, she reasoned, it was as if no one was.

“Sorry,” she said again. “We’re all a bit on edge tonight, aren’t we?” Roksana’s pipe bobbed up and down in her mouth as she considered this. The smoke grew so thick it made Kosara’s eyes water. The air seeped with the stench of spilled beer, full ashtrays, and too many people in too tight a space, but beneath that floated the sweet odour of seer’s sage. Kosara would recognise it anywhere—a potent sedative she used in all her potions for good dreams. It came in wafts every time Roksana pulled on her pipe, sliding into Kosara’s nostrils and making her eyelids heavy.

She would have called Roksana on trying to put them all to sleep, but she knew better than to argue with the dealer.

“Should we get back to the game, then?” Kosara gave her a winning smile.

Roksana sighed and returned the pistol to its holster. “You never told me if you’re in.”

“I’m in.”

“Wasn’t that difficult, was it? Malamir?”

“It’s getting late.” Malamir’s watch slid between his trembling fingers and swung on its chain. Kosara felt a strong compulsion to double her bet.

Would you look at that! A hypnotising watch. Kosara had never seen one of those in the wild before.

“Where did you get that from?” she asked.

Malamir grinned, his white teeth glinting. “My watch? It’s nice, isn’t it? I won it at cards.”

No wonder the old rascal was doing so well. If he hadn’t already given up, Kosara would have gladly ratted him out to Roksana. As it was, she stashed this information in case it came in handy later.

“Alright,” Roksana said. “And what about you, mister…”

“My name isn’t important,” said the stranger.

Kosara rolled her eyes. He was trying way too hard with the “dark and mysterious” act. He didn’t utter a word unless it was to raise the bet. When he wasn’t inspecting his cards, he stared at Kosara, as if he waited for her to do something. As if he’d never seen a witch before.

“So, Mr. My-name-isn’t-important.” Roksana chuckled at her own joke. “Are you in?”

“I might be in.” The stranger twisted the knot of his neckerchief. The toes of his red brogues tapped on the dusty floor. “I might be in, if we make things a bit more interesting.”

Kosara looked down at her pile of tokens. She’d done well tonight. The silver ones were enough for her to eat like a queen for a month. With the bronze ones she could buy that dress she’d spotted in the tailor’s window: velvet and black as midnight. With the iron tokens she’d order everyone in the pub a drink tomorrow—to celebrate, if they survived tonight.

She scratched the scar on her cheek, three raised scrapes. Every self-respecting witch had a few battle scars. “How much?”

“I don’t want your money,” said the stranger.

“What do you want, then?”

Slowly, he untied his neckerchief. Roksana whistled.

On a thin chain around the stranger’s neck hung a string of black beads. He brushed them with his palm, and they trembled like candle flames in the wind.

Kosara bit her lip hard, almost to blood. The stranger wore a necklace of witches’ shadows.

“I want your shadow,” he said.

Through the haze of seer’s sage smoke and alcohol, Kosara felt the sharp sting of alarm. She shook her head so quickly, her hair hit her across the face. “No. I can’t.”

“Think about it. You’ll bet one shadow. I’m offering you”—he weighed them in his hand—“eleven. It’s a good deal.”

“I’m a witch. Without my shadow, I’m nothing.”

“You’re a mediocre witch. I’m offering you true power.”

A mediocre witch. She’d be offended if it wasn’t true. She could heat up her coffee with a snap of her fingers and ask her shadow to fetch her coat. On a good day, she could conjure a firework or two. Parlour tricks.

If she won, she’d become a real witch, like the ones from the old fairy tales. She’d pay all the inns, cafes, and restaurants with alchemists’ gold. She’d weave herself a dress from moonlight. She’d turn the river into wine and give the entire city a free drink.

But if she lost…

Everyone knew what happened to witches who’d lost their shadows: they slowly turned into shadows themselves. It could take years or even decades, but it was unavoidable. Was it worth betting her corporeal body for the possibility of almost unlimited power?

“Come on, Kosara,” said the stranger. “Just think what you could do with so much magic. You could cross the Wall and escape this cursed city. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Kosara chewed on her lip. The stranger had read her completely wrong. She didn’t want to cross the Wall, which—she was aware— made her a minority in Chernograd. She couldn’t leave her city to be ravaged by its monsters while she lived happily ever after on the other side.

No, what she truly wanted was for the monsters to be dealt with, once and for all. And with such power, she could finally achieve that.

“Don’t do anything stupid, doll.” Malamir’s horrified eyes searched hers.

“No risk”—Roksana shot a cloud of smoke at her—“no gain.”

“Well?” said the stranger. “I’ve been told you can’t resist a good gamble.”

“Who told you that?” Kosara asked.

“One of your friends.”

Kosara raised her eyebrows at Roksana and Malamir. She would hardly call them “friends.” More like good acquaintances.

Roksana smirked, her face half-hidden behind a curtain of smoke. “Wasn’t me.”

“Me neither,” Malamir said quickly. “I’d never.”

“How many years have we known each other?” Roksana asked. “I’ve never said a bad word about you.”

“Me neither,” added Malamir. “Never.”

Kosara let out a puff of air through her nostrils. Dirty liars. They were lucky she liked them.

She looked down at her cards, blurring slightly in her trembling fingers. Her hand was nearly unbeatable. The only way the stranger could win was if he held a queen, a king, and an ace of spades.

Kosara had bet on much worse chances before, but she’d never bet anything so precious.

“Come on, Kosara,” the stranger said again.

He wouldn’t give up easily. A witch’s shadow couldn’t be stolen—it had to be given willingly. He’d already convinced eleven other witches to give him theirs.

Kosara downed her glass of plum rakia in one go. It burned her tongue and seared her throat, but it did nothing to calm her nerves.

“Kosara, doll.” Malamir rested a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t look at him. In the corner of her eye, she saw his hypnotising watch swinging in the dark hollows of his coat. “I really don’t think this is a smart—”

“Stop pestering her, for fuck’s sake,” Roksana snapped. “It’s her decision. Our Kosara knows what she’s doing.”

Do I? Kosara struggled to keep her hands steady. Her heart thumped in her ears, fast and loud. So loud, she almost didn’t hear the chiming of the clock.

It was midnight.

For a bizarre second, Kosara felt relieved—she didn’t need to decide tonight. Then her heart beat even louder. It was midnight.

“Well?” said the stranger. “What do you say?”

Kosara gave him a grim look. “We’ll have to continue the game some other time.”


“It’s midnight.”


He had to be joking. There was no way he didn’t know.

“What’s the matter? What’s going on?”

Kosara nodded towards the window. At first, it was quiet. The only noise was the distant hissing and popping of fireworks on the other side of the Wall. Chernograd slept under its blanket of snow.

Then the nightmare began.

The spotlights grew brighter, moving faster and faster, frantically searching the black sky. A siren sounded, so loud even the curtain of snow couldn’t dampen its wails.

The monsters descended on the walled city. High in the sky, their oily wings glistened in the moonlight, and their eyes shone like lanterns. As they landed, their curved talons screeched against the cobblestones.

Kosara quickly patted her trousers’ pockets, to make sure all her talismans were ready. There was one she itched to try, crafted from a rabbit’s paw and a cockerel’s comb—it would choke anyone or anything who tried to land a hand on her.

Let them come. Her eyes were fixed on the window. The streetlights flickered, revealing and hiding the dark shadows of the monsters. Let them come.

There was a scratch at the door and a low purr.

“Is that a stray cat?” the stranger asked, the words tumbling out fast. “Please tell me that’s just a—”

The purr grew into a growl. Something heavy slammed against the door. The hinges creaked, straining under the pressure. Talons slashed at the wood, sinking deep enough for their sharp tips to protrude on the other side.

Malamir crossed himself. Roksana cocked her gun.

“What the hell is that?” the stranger shouted.

Kosara’s fingers gripped the talisman in her pocket, the magic words ready on her lips. If the ward she’d drawn in front of the door didn’t work…

A loud shriek sounded, as if from an animal that had been badly burned.

Kosara smiled. The ward had done its job. That had been its first test tonight, undoubtedly the first of many. She tiptoed closer to the window, careful to stay hidden behind the curtain.

Several furry figures dashed across the street, leaving deep tracks in the fresh snow. One could mistake them for children in the dark— that was how small they were—if it wasn’t for their teeth the size of daggers. As they ran past the milliner’s, all the mirrors in the shop window shattered.

“Karakonjuls,” she said when she returned to her seat. “They’re gone now. They must have smelled easier prey elsewhere.”

Kara-what?” the stranger asked. “What are those? Some kind of feral dogs?”

Roksana laughed loudly, her golden tooth glinting. “Where have you seen a horned, blood-sucking dog? The varkolaks are the dogs.”

“No, they’re not,” Kosara snapped. “The varkolaks transform into wolves. Christ, Roksana, you’re a monster hunter, you should know that.”

Another loud noise came from outside. The stranger jumped. “And what was that?”

Something thumped on the roof, making the light swing. Dust rained from the ceiling.

“A yuda, most likely,” Kosara said. “They sometimes nest on the roofs.” The stranger still looked petrified, so she added, “Nothing to worry about, unless you hear them calling your name.”


“It means you’ll die. Didn’t you receive your educational pamphlet?”

“My what?”

Simply unbelievable. The Witch and Warlock Association released one every year, containing detailed information on the different types of monsters and how to fight them. Kosara had spent hours licking all the envelopes shut before they got sent out to every household in Chernograd.

Yet, year after year, she discovered that no one bothered to read them.

Chernograd would never get rid of its monsters if it kept refusing to listen to its witches. Yes, it was much easier to buy an “anti-monster” necklace from a charlatan than to carve aspen stakes and distil holy water, but the difference was, the latter worked, while the former didn’t.

The stranger swallowed, his Adam’s apple bouncing. “Wait, you’re trying to tell me that there’s some kind of large prophetic bird—”

“Half woman, half bird.” Kosara listened. Actually, it didn’t sound much like a yuda. It seemed to be hooves, rather than talons, drumming on the roof tiles. “Or it could be a samodiva. They like riding those damned gold-horned deer of theirs all over the place.”

That last sentence, she had to shout. The barkeep banged on the ceiling with the handle of his rifle until whatever had landed there flew away.

The stranger looked around, as if he couldn’t believe no one else was making the sort of scene he was. The other patrons kept drinking in silence.

“What the hell is a samodiva?” he asked.

“Beautiful women who force you to dance with them,” Kosara said.

“That doesn’t sound that bad.”

“Until you die from exhaustion.”

“Oh.” A drop of sweat rolled down the stranger’s forehead and landed in his eye. He blinked fast. “But why? Why are all the monsters here?”

Roksana laughed. “It’s New Year’s Eve, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“The Foul Days have begun,” Malamir said gravely, as if reciting from some ancient tome. He’d had a brief stint as an actor back in the day, and he’d never shaken off his taste for the dramatic. “The New Year was born, but it hasn’t been baptised yet. The monsters roam the streets freely.”

Kosara narrowed her eyes at the stranger. “You’ve never heard of these monsters before? Really?”

“I have,” the stranger said. “Of course I have. But I didn’t realise they just fell down from the sky like that. Like, like, the world’s sharpest-toothed hailstorm.”

“Not all of them do,” Kosara said. “Those are the intruders. The karakonjuls, the samodivas, the yudas… Oh, and the rusalkas.”

“The rusalkas?”

“Fish people,” Roksana supplied.

“Not quite,” Kosara said. “But close enough.”

“Right,” the stranger said. “So those are the intruders.”

Malamir continued in his grave tone, “They are only allowed to come here during the Foul Days, when the boundary between our world and theirs is hair-thin.”

“And the rest?” asked the stranger.

“The rest are our homegrown monsters,” Kosara said. “They simply become more active during the Foul Days—and more powerful. All the upirs rise from their graves, all the wraiths wake up, all the varkolaks transform into wolves…”

“I don’t know how you manage to keep them all straight.”

“It’s quite easy, really.” Kosara squinted at the stranger. This went way beyond educational pamphlets. Had he slept through every New Year’s Eve? “I can’t believe you don’t know any of this.”

“I’d heard rumours, of course, but I’d assumed you people were all exaggerating. You’re known for being superstitious folk. No offence.”

You’d be superstitious too if it was a matter of life and death. Knowing your amulets from your talismans could save your skin in a monster attack.

Then Kosara realised what the stranger had said. You people…

“You’re from the other side of the Wall, aren’t you?” she asked. When the stranger remained silent, she knew she was right.

Now that she thought about it, he obviously wasn’t a local. He seemed older than her, maybe mid-thirties, but his skin was smooth and unscarred. He wore a light coat—in the middle of winter! Instead of boots, he had on a pair of suede brogues. His feet would freeze in the snow outside.

Poor bastard. Of all days, he’d decided to come to Chernograd on New Year’s Eve. He was either very brave or completely clueless. Judging by what she’d seen so far, Kosara would bet on clueless.

“The other side of the Wall?” Malamir pushed his glasses up his nose with one long index finger. “How did you get here?”

“That’s none of your business,” the stranger snapped.

Kosara measured him with her eyes. How, indeed? How had the clueless foreigner ended up on this side of the Wall, with eleven witches’ shadows tied around his neck?

Crossing the Wall was dangerous. Its tentacles slashed at the air high above it, preventing anyone from flying over. Its roots sank deep into the ground, stopping anyone from burrowing under.

But dangerous didn’t mean impossible. There were amulets that could teleport you across, and talismans which protected you from the Wall’s wrath. Neither came cheap. Kosara knew several people who’d traded everything they owned to escape Chernograd.

The rich crossed the Wall all the time, she’d heard, coming back with silk-woven foreign clothes and strange-smelling imported alcohol to serve at their exclusive parties. Kosara had little chance to encounter “the rich” to ask them. They were about as rare in Chernograd as a sober man on a Friday night.

She’d never met anyone, however, who’d crossed the Wall in the opposite direction. Someone from Belograd.

The Belogradeans were all cowards. That was why they’d built the Wall in the first place: to keep the monsters out of their precious city. The people they’d trapped with them be damned.

In fact, Kosara suspected the Belogradeans saw it as a bonus. What better way for rich Belograd to get rid of its poor neighbours once and for all? For them, Chernograd was a cancerous growth that needed to be isolated before it could infect the rest of the world.

The stranger shifted in his seat. “So, what are you going to do?”

Kosara shrugged. “What we do every New Year’s Eve. We’ll sit tight and wait for it to pass.”

“We’ll do our best to survive,” Malamir said.

Roksana raised her glass in the air. “Personally, I intend to get absolutely plastered.”

“As I said”—Kosara flashed her a quick look—“what we do every New Year’s Eve.”

“For how long?” the stranger asked.

“Until the first rooster’s crow on Saint Yordan’s Day,” Malamir said. “Saint Yordan the Baptist.”

“Twelve days,” Kosara added since the stranger still seemed confused.

“Twelve days!” The stranger’s voice grew higher and higher pitched. “You mean to tell me that for the next twelve days monsters will roam the streets and you’ll just sit here and drink?”

“It’s as good a place to barricade in as any,” Kosara said. “Plenty of bedrolls, tinned food, bright lights to keep the yudas away, garlic to scare off the upirs.”

“Plenty of booze,” Roksana added.

The stranger looked around the pub. “You’re all insane! How can you be so calm?”

Believe me, I’m anything but. Kosara was pleasantly surprised the stranger couldn’t hear the thumping of her heart.

Roksana patted the stranger on the shoulder, making him stagger. “You’ll get used to it soon enough.”

“I really don’t think I will.”

“You’ll be fine,” Kosara said. “We’ll all be fine.”

Yes, the monsters were terrifying, but they weren’t unbeatable. They all had their weaknesses: karakonjuls hated riddles they couldn’t answer, yudas couldn’t stand to see their own image in the mirror, samodivas were easily distracted by music. It came down to knowing what those weaknesses were, and no one knew monsters better than a witch. Kosara had a talisman ready for any possible turn of events, any possible enemy…

Any, except for one. One of the monsters couldn’t be defeated, as she knew from painful experience. One of them made shivers run down her spine and cold sweat break on her skin, and she’d be glad to never see him again—

“Is this all the monsters, then?” the stranger asked, his fist still tight around his neckerchief. He must have seen something in Kosara’s face. “Have all of them come?”

“No,” Kosara said. “That’s not all of them.”

“Why, what’s left?”

Who’s left.” Kosara took a deep breath. How ridiculous that she couldn’t even utter his name without bracing herself first. As if by simply saying it, she might summon him. “The Zmey. The Tsar of Monsters.”

She couldn’t stop herself from glancing out the window, half-expecting to see his pale face framed by the dark street.

He wasn’t there. Of course he wasn’t there yet. The Zmey always arrived last.

Sometimes, Kosara wondered if he did it just to torture her. If he waited a tad longer each year because he knew she’d let herself hope that, maybe this time, he wouldn’t come.

But surely, the Tsar of Monsters had more important things to do than to torture her?

“What’s so special about him?” the stranger asked. “That Zmey of yours? Is he the biggest and most monstrous of them all?” He giggled nervously.

I’m glad you’re finding the humour in the situation, Belogradean.

“No.” Kosara gripped the talisman in her pocket even tighter. “He’s the most human.”

Excerpted from Foul Days, copyright © 2024 by Genoveva Dimova.

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