Levi Jacobs was born in North Dakota and grew up in Japan and Uganda, so he was bound to have a speculative take on modern life. Currently marketing his award-winning novel Empire of Resonance series, and at work on three more, he runs a small fruit company to pay the bills.

Beggar's Rebellion by L.W. Jacobs

They call him the Blackspine. The one rebel the Councilate couldn't kill, even as they conquered his people. The one beggar no gang would touch, for fear of his power. If only they knew.

Tai Kulga has survived this long by fighting against his power, and the madness that comes with it. The last time he gave in, it killed his best friend—so every day he doesn't is a victory, now. But when trouble with the Councilate lands his gang in a prison camp, he faces an awful choice: give up on his only friends, or summon the power that could destroy them all.



  • "It did not take long for Jacobs' easy prose and intriguing plot lines to scoop me up... he could be a big voice in this genre."

    – Fantasy Book Critic
  • "Beggar's Rebellion by Levi Jacobs is an incredible epic fantasy…whether it's the magic, the concepts and topics Jacobs is touching on, or the authentic and relatable characters, this novel shines in so many ways."

    – Fantasy Book Review
  • "Phenomenal in its originality and complexity, particularly the many different aspects of its magic system. The themes it deals with (economic expansion, cultural erasure, rebellion and inequality) put me in mind of Malazan, while Ella's resolution to change the system from within was reminiscent of Mara in the Empire trilogy. It's definitely ambitious, and I admire that."

    – Fantasy HiveĀ 



Ellumia Aygla leaned against the ship's wood rail, fingers of wind in her hair. It was a warm afternoon, even for the chilly south, and the sun's light played off the river water, glinting like gems in a jeweler's market. Scents of roast fish and lamb rolled from the top deck over the clatter and rattle of men taking second tea. The Swallowtail Mistress was one of the finest riverboats to ply the Ein, offering its passengers song and drink and game on the three-month journey from the capital through the provinces. Most were bound for the last stop, Ayugen, center of the swelling trade in power-inducing yura moss, along with more traditional deforestation and slave collection.

She could smell the slaves, the sour odor of the galley ahead pulling them up the current, indentured men and women made to row six years for their crimes. It was disgusting, but so much about the Councilate was disgusting: its worship of money, its flagrant excess, its destruction of cultures and people for the sake of material gain.

It was disgusting, and it was home.

Or, it had been—the Swallowtail was home now, a floating escape from her past. For two years, she'd been traveling the river, balancing the books of rich passengers to pay her berthage and save toward crossing the sea. It was glorious, in allowing her to make money without attachment to House or husband. Glorious too in the access it gave her to all the ports and peoples of the continent.

Glorious and maddening. From the Ein river you could reach all six of the colonies, either directly on the banks or up a tributary. The Swallowtail stopped at all of them, and for a few hours every few weeks, she could mingle with the people of the docks, hear their tongues and try their foods and admire the strangeness of their crafts. For a few precious hours, she could add sight and smell and touch and taste to the travelogues she'd been reading since youth. Then it was back on the ship, back to the bureaucrats and dull ledgers and long afternoons of watching the world roll by.

She was, as far as she knew, the only tax calculor working the river. It made sense for the bureaucrats, who tended to leave the capital with personal and business ledgers in need of calculating. They could arrive in port with books ready for audit, and meeting about financial strategy gave them something to do in the long months of transit. It made sense for her too—she was able to travel, to save money toward studying at the Thousand Spires, and the lack of competition meant she didn't have to worry about other calculors lowering rates.

That, and they'd know she was a fake.

Not that she was a fake, exactly—she kept up with the tax codes, knew the loopholes to maximize her clients' savings, and produced clean-enough books that clients regularly offered to hire her. She just didn't have a license. She'd taught herself calculism, working under her brother's guidance. And when he died, spending five years getting licensure training in the city had been impossible. Besides, it was fun to spit in the eye of Councilate law.

Currents knew they'd spit in hers.

Ella turned back to the rail. They were passing through southern Yatiland now, the hilltribe's iconic circular settlements topping the scattered hills of the river valley. The Councilate had conquered them twenty-odd years before, and already their port looked like Worldsmouth, their people spoke passable Yersh, and their children traveled to the capital for jobs and training. Who or what the city had been before was gone. Out here, though, days from any port or Councilate stronghold, the hilltribes held to the old ways. Squinting against the light on the water, she could make out red-haired men and woman at work in the dog kennels and terraces ringing their wooden hilltop settlements, grasses green and lush in midsummer.

"Wild beasts they are, wild beasts," she spoke, quoting one of her favorite travelogues. "The Yati war and kill and procreate with all the abandon of a pack of curs." She had only been in their major port, but the Yati she met never struck her as bestial.

"Aye, and beasts they are, Miss Ella." She turned to find Captain Ralhens, pipe clenched in a broad smile. "Never let 'em on the Swallowtail, not once."

She quirked her eyebrow at him. "Perhaps we are the ones who seem uncivilized to them, Captain, rowing ourselves up and down this river in search of coin, when they have all they need in the space of one hilltop."

He shook his head. "That's fine, if all you want is sheep and sour beer. Sounds to me like you've been reading too many of those books."

"What else is a lady to do with her time at water?"

The captain hitched his leg on the lower rail. "You might find yourself a man on one of these voyages. Plenty of fine men headed south in this economy."

Ella snorted. "All they see in me is free calculism and a set of hips."

Ralhens reddened—the Yersh were notoriously prudish. "I think some of them would be a great improvement to the House Aygla."

"Oh, I don't doubt that." Aygla was the false name she'd taken, a bastard mix of major Houses Alsthen and Galya, a family working for the Houses without direct lineage. By marrying a real Alsthen or Galya, or even closer bastards like Alson or Gaya, a calculor could improve her standing—and that of her children. It was the reason many women studied in the first place, to turn wealthy clients into husbands.

She'd rather die. Ella smiled at the captain. "Soon enough."

Ralhens frowned around his unlit pipe. "You've what, twenty-five summers now?"


"Descending Gods, but you're young still!"

She stood a bit straighter. "I've lived a full life."

"I don't doubt it, ma'am." Ralhens cleared his throat, no doubt remembering the condition in which she first came to him. "There's a soiree tonight, last of the voyage. You might think of going—I believe Lieutenant Warmsmith is recently widowed."

"What do you think all this is for?" Ella gestured at her dress, one of the Brinerider gowns she kept for special occasions.

"Oh, ah, yes." He cleared his throat, reddening now for a different reason. She had that effect on men. "Well." He tipped his hat to her.

Ella smiled, watching him go. They had some version of this talk on every voyage, and she believed he was genuinely concerned for her. Naive, and no idea who she was even after two years, but a good man nonetheless. He was the closest thing she had to a friend here.

I'm almost offended, her voice said.

Her smile turned wry. "You're hardly a friend, LeTwi. More like a virulent and inescapable pest."

At least I'm not trying to marry you off. His tone was educated and world-weary, as if speaking was barely worth the effort.

"Ralhens means well. He just can't see past the ideas of his parents."

Ah. And you can?

"I can see the whole thing is fishscat, if that's what you mean. You did too!" Before dying and becoming her voice, LeTwi had been a highly respected scholar, one of the advisors to the Council, though he hadn't much involved himself in politics. She'd read everything he wrote.

My approach was slightly different. I said everything is fishscat, to use your terms. The challenge is to be brave enough to live with that knowledge.

"I—" Ella cut off, a man coming from top deck and passing by. Councilate culture held that voices were childish fancies, something to be suppressed by adulthood. Though she knew other cultures viewed them differently, it was still embarrassing to be caught talking to herself. "And you think I don't have that courage?"

I think your search for meaning in primitive cultures is a clever way of running from the facts. But no, if you must know.

"And if I find something out there that is truly different than Councilate fishscat?"

LeTwi sighed—he was good at sighing. There is a certain inertia to history, dear. Even if you do find something, it will take a long time to change minds.

"Not if I become an advisor." The Council had just gotten its first female Councilor, Salea Deyenal. It wasn't so far off to imagine she could become an advisor.

Ah yes. The old irony of hating the Councilate but intending to work for it.

"To make it better. What else can I do? The whole world will be under its control before long."

There is nothing else, my dear. Though I did find solace in dreamtea. Speaking of which, aren't there husbands you're meant to be wooing? The band had struck up a song on the top deck.

"Clients, LeTwi." She stood from the rail—there were still a few men on board who hadn't come to her for bookkeeping. "One last job would bring us to a nice even total for the voyage."

And you say you're above Councilate money-grubbing.

Ella opened her mouth, then turned for the top deck. LeTwi had an annoying way of getting the last word.

The soiree was held under the canopy on the top deck, polished wood floorboards reflecting the warm light of lanterns as the sun sank over the port rail. Musicians played at the rear, Worldsmouth strings and tuned Seinjialese drums, while smoke rolled from lemon-basted perch and lamb over open coals. Ella's stomach rumbled. There were perks to working on a top-class riverboat—the lower classes ate beans and rice the entire voyage.

Ella scanned the clusters of men, looking for those she hadn't done books for. Colonel Olgsby stood near the bar with two House men she hadn't done books for—Odril and Gettels, she thought they were. Ella approached them. "Gentlemen. I'm glad to see concerns of the coming port haven't dampened your spirits."

Odril grinned, showing too many teeth. "Never."

The old Colonel inclined his head. "You're referring to the so-called rebellion? Hardly worth losing a supper for, my lady. Would you care to join us?"

She gave them a practiced smile. "I would love to." She had already done Olgsby's books, but perhaps she could get one of the others to bite.

They took a table near the bow, star tinting the sunset a brilliant purple. "I don't know why you don't just quash them," Odril was saying. He was a midlevel bureaucrat with a sallow complexion and beady eyes. "I thought the rebels were wiped out years ago."

"This is a new breed," Olgsby waved his hand as though brushing aside gnats. "Guerilla fighters. Cowards, hiding down in the yura mines. They haven't done much more than property damage—fifty, maybe a hundred untrained fighters, maximum. If they try anything real the garrison will sort them out."

"Well I say we bring the Titans in. Crush 'em." Odril watched her as he said this, and Ella kept a polite smile on her mouth. Male posturing among men old enough to be one's father was a professional hazard.

"Perhaps what they need is to be included in the political process," she said, arranging a napkin on her lap.

"An Achuri House?" the old colonel spluttered. "Never! We only just began recognizing Seinjialese Houses last year!"

"With the costs I read of troop deployment and maintenance, it might save us money in the long run to just let them have a small say in things." She didn't need LeTwi's snide remark to know how likely the idea was to fall on deaf ears, but she had to try.

Odril gave her a patronizing smile. "Oh, we hardly need to save money. With the amount we're making in yura, the whole city could rise up and it wouldn't dent our profits."

Profitability was a point of pride among these men, and one of contention between the Houses. Perhaps if she could start them boasting about money, she could talk one of them into some calculism. "So Alsthen is doing well, then?"

The sallow bureaucrat puffed up. She had noticed men, when they were competing for a woman's attention, tended to act like preening turkeys. Odril certainly fit the bill at present. "Extremely well. Ninety percent of the construction in New Ayugen is ours."

Was that a light of jealousy in Gettels' eyes? "Mr. Gettels, I hear your House has been turning quite a profit on dried winterfoods of late."

He puffed his own chest out. "We have, it—"

"Passing fad," Odril cut in. "It'll never match yura for demand."

"On the contrary," the other said, back straightening, "it appears the two complement each other quite nicely."

Ella nodded. "Recent broadsheets are theorizing the reason so many of us can't use yura, or only weakly, is the lack of winterfoods in our diet. You can't get uai without them, and without uai, yura has no power."

Odril glanced between them, deflating slightly. "Well, yura will always be more important."

Ella took a bubbling glass of ginseng and lime from a serving man. "I suppose the measure of that would be whose House is doing better."

Gettels eyed Odril. "We're doing remarkably well."

Odril eyed him back. "Alsthen is doing extremely well."

Ella struck an innocent expression. "You must have so many books to calculate."

"Oh, piles and piles."

She smiled. "You know I'm offering calculism aboard the ship, if you'd rather arrive with books ready for audit."

Gettels paused, fully inflated and caught in her trap. But Odril waved a hand. "I have my own calculors."

"How disappointing." She turned her shoulder to him, knowing it would appear to the other men that he'd lost her favor. "And you, Mr. Gettels? Have you any need? I am free tomorrow. We could meet midmorning."

"I—well, I don't have much with me, but I suppose—"

"I'll take that meeting, Miss Aygla," Odril cut in, glaring at the other man. "I have quite a few books that need calculating, and it couldn't hurt to have some done early."

She smiled at him, while LeTwi made some sarcastic comment and the colonel goggled at the whole affair. A little competition could work wonders. "Excellent. Have them sent over, and I'll calculate them by tomorrow evening."

Odril's smile was oily. "I'll bring them myself."

Another professional hazard—men mistaking an offer of services for something more. Fortunately, she had a supply of yura and a resonant ability no one could match, should things go wrong.

Commotion at another table caught her attention—a dark-haired serving boy was sprawled on the deck, one of the white-coated military men standing over him, wine staining his kurta. "I'll have the price of that out of your hide, boy!"

The other men at the table chuckled, apparently enjoying the show. The "boy" was not much younger or smaller than the soldier, but he stayed where he was on the floor, clearly aware none of his options were good.

Ella stood. "Unhand him, sir."

The soldier turned, startled, then softened on seeing her. "Ah. My apologies, madam—this is no sight for a lady. But justice must be had."

She cocked her head. "Do you think he did it to you on purpose?"

"I wager he did, the mud-haired lout!"

"And to what advantage would that have been? Not only are you armed with military training and blade but with money and background he could never hope to achieve."

"Why, for spite itself, if naught else," the man rejoined, but he was deflating some as more began to watch.

"And have you previous offense with this man to cause such spite? Nay, good sir, this was accident alone. And if accident it was, there is no crime for which to demand justice."

"And my kurta?" he demanded, gesturing to the stain spreading across the long, split-sided tunic. "Shall I pay for it out of pocket?"

Ella scoffed. "If you are too mean to cover such damages, I shall pay for them myself, sir. Have the bill sent to my room."

The soldier stuttered, then with a stiff bow said, "That won't be necessary." The serving boy, sensing his opportunity, scrambled away.

Ella couldn't keep a satisfied grin from her face as she sat back down. The Colonel nodded to her. "I'll see no harm befalls the boy. The man was overreacting."

"Quite right," Gettels put in, and Odril nodding, watching her with new attention.

Ella smiled to them. Who said you couldn't change the world with a different set of ideas?

Odril sent his books over the next morning, and she spent the day working the ledgers, taking breaks to eat or stand at the rail, watching the passage from the Ein to the narrower Genga that lead to Ayugen. It was dry work, but she found a certain satisfaction in ordering disparate accounts and logbooks into tidy forms the Councilate inspectors could audit.

The sallow bureaucrat came for his books that evening, then lingered unpleasantly in her cabin.

She gave him a smile, tonguing the yura ball in her upper lip, in case she'd need it. "Thanks again for your business. Now I really ought to do some packing before Ayugen."

He hovered inside the door, nearly the only place to stand in the cramped cabin. "Yes. Though you—look quite settled here."

She knew it looked odd—in contrast to most of the Swallowtail's sparsely furnished cabins, she had a bureau, bookshelves and a writing desk all crammed between the mattress and the wall. "Well, a lady should be comfortable."

He smiled, eyes darting glances at her body. "Yes. You know, I could easily find work for you in Ayugen. And likely pay you a lot more than you make here."

This sort of offer was common. "That's very kind of you, but I enjoy the freedom."

He didn't look pleased at the answer. "I imagine it keeps prying eyes away, too."

Her heart clenched. "I'm—not sure what you mean." Did he know she wasn't licensed?

"Nothing, my darling." His hand reached up to brush her cheek, and Ella flinched back. "But let me know if you ever change your mind."

He moved toward the door. Finally. "Will do. Thanks again!"

She shut the door and locked it after him, then took a moment to shudder the slime from her. Odril was an unpleasant man. Then again, most bureaucrats were.

He knows, Ella.

She took Odril's money from the bureau top. "He doesn't know. He was probably talking about having a lie with me."

He was thinking about having a lie with you. He was talking about why a licensed calculor would work on a riverboat instead of dry land.

She bit her lip. "Well, he's not the first to wonder. It's only a few days to port, anyway."

LeTwi gave the mental equivalent of a shrug. I'd just keep your yura handy.

Ella rolled the ball of moss in her mouth, outer coating of beeswax keeping it from digesting until she chewed on it. Yura was too expensive to use except in real need. "Always do." There were men who had gone farther than Odril, who thought that her services implied more. They'd learned their lesson.

Ella sat down on the bed. Odril would likely be her last customer of the voyage—she'd balanced books for most of the men on board, and those remaining likely had wives or House associates who would do it cheaper in port.

Still, it had been a profitable voyage. Ella took a bust of Markels from her nightstand and flipped it to reveal a cleverly hidden latch. Inside were three more balls of yura and a mess of red-gold coins. She set them on the bed in neat rows of ten: six thousand one hundred sixty moons. After paying her return fare and picking up some sundries in Ayugen, that would leave her forty-three hundred or so. Not a bad profit for a few months' work. Two trips more, or three, and she would have enough for tuition and passage across the sea.

And a chance for real scholarship.

"Yes." She lay back, imagining the journey across the open sea, a trip precious few managed to book with the reclusive Brineriders, and then the Thousand Spires beyond, amongst a people famed for their science and untouched by the Councilate. She'd read accounts of the Gyolla, but what would they be like? How different their systems of merit and mass labor? Would they accept her application? Most of the Council's advisors had studied with them, though they were famously close-lipped about their experiences. Maybe it was because—

A noise at the window made her look up. She caught a glimpse of something pale on the dark walkway outside—a face?—then it was gone.

"Stains!" she cursed.


"A face. I thought I saw a face at the window." Fear clicked a moment later, and her heart started beating hard.

A bird, maybe.

Ella looked hard at the porthole. "It didn't look like a bird." It looked like a face watching from outside the window. From the hull of the ship?

She swept up her pile of coins and put the ball of yura back in her mouth. "I should have closed the curtains."

She did now, and checked the lock on the door. Her little cabin suddenly felt vulnerable, her place on this ship full of men insecure, and she drew out the metal shank she kept under her pillow. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered, packing the money away. She would hide the money elsewhere—in a hollow in the mattress this time. Ella tensed at every sound, jumped at every creak, but nothing more happened.

She lay back down. "Just a couple of days left, anyway. It was probably nothing."

Maybe it was the Descending God finally returned to earth.

She laughed. "Come to peep in at me? How flattering." She lay back on the bed and willed herself to relax. "It probably was just a bird. And if it wasn't"—she tongued the yura in her mouth—"I guess it's their bad luck."