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A Tale of Magic...
By Chris Colfer
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 4, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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BOOKS AND BREAKFAST
It was no mystery why all the monks in the Southern Kingdom’s capital were hard of hearing. Every morning at dawn, the city of Chariot Hills was subjected to ten minutes of uninterrupted, ear-piercing cathedral bells. Like the tremors of an earthquake, the clanking tones rattled the town square, then pulsated through the city streets and shook the surrounding villages. The monks purposely rang the bells in a manic and irregular manner to ensure every citizen was awake and participating in the Lord’s day, and once they finished waking all the sinners, the monks hurried back to bed.
Although not everyone in the area was affected by the cathedral bells. The monks would have been furious to learn a young woman in the countryside managed to sleep through their obnoxious ringing.
Fourteen-year-old Brystal Evergreen awoke the same way she did every morning—to the sound of banging on her bedroom door.
“Brystal, are you awake? Brystal?”
Her blue eyes fluttered open somewhere between the seventh and eighth time her mother pounded on the door. Brystal wasn’t a heavy sleeper, but mornings were a challenge because she was usually exhausted from staying up late the night before.
“Brystal? Answer me, child!”
Brystal sat up in bed as the cathedral bells played their final toll in the distance. She found an open copy of The Tales of Tidbit Twitch by Tomfree Taylor lying on her stomach and a pair of glasses dangling from the tip of her nose. Once again, Brystal had fallen asleep reading, and she quickly disposed of the evidence before she was caught. She stashed the book under her pillow, tucked her reading glasses into the pocket of her nightgown, and extinguished a candle on her nightstand that had been burning the whole night.
“Young lady, it’s ten past six! I’m coming in!”
Mrs. Evergreen pushed the door open and charged into her daughter’s bedroom like a bull released from a pen. She was a thin woman with a pale face and dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was pulled into a tight bun on top of her head, and like the reins of a horse, it kept her alert and motivated throughout her daily chores.
“So you are awake,” she said with one eyebrow raised. “Is a simple acknowledgment too much to ask for?”
“Good morning, Mother,” Brystal said cheerfully. “I hope you slept well.”
“Not as well as you, apparently,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “Honestly, child, how do you sleep through those dreadful bells every morning? They’re loud enough to wake the dead.”
“Just lucky, I suppose,” she said through a large yawn.
Mrs. Evergreen laid a white dress at the foot of Brystal’s bed and shot her daughter a scornful look.
“You left your uniform on the clothesline again,” she said. “How many times do I have to remind you to pick up after yourself? I can barely manage the laundry for your father and brothers—I don’t have time to clean up after you, too.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Brystal apologized. “I was going to get it after I finished the dishes last night, but I guess I forgot.”
“You’ve got to stop being so careless! Daydreaming is the last quality men look for in a wife,” her mother warned. “Now hurry up and get dressed so you can help me with breakfast. It’s a big day for your brother so we’re making his favorite.”
Mrs. Evergreen headed for the door but paused when she noticed a strange scent lingering in the air.
“Do I smell smoke?” she asked.
“I just blew out my candle,” Brystal explained.
“And why was your candle burning so early in the morning?” Mrs. Evergreen said.
“I—I accidentally left it on during the night,” she confessed.
Mrs. Evergreen crossed her arms and glared at her daughter. “Brystal, you better not be doing what I think you’re doing,” she warned. “Because I worry what your father might do if he finds out you’ve been reading again.”
“No, I promise!” Brystal lied. “I just like sleeping with a lit candle. Sometimes I get scared in the dark.”
Unfortunately, Brystal was a terrible liar. Mrs. Evergreen saw through her daughter’s dishonesty like a window she had recently cleaned.
“The world is dark, Brystal,” she said. “You’re a fool if you let anything tell you otherwise. Now hand it over.”
“But, Mother, please! I only have a few pages left!”
“Brystal Evergreen, this is not up for discussion!” Mrs. Evergreen said. “You’re breaking the rules of this house and the laws of this kingdom! Now hand it over immediately or I will fetch your father!”
Brystal sighed and surrendered her copy of The Tales of Tidbit Twitch from under her pillow.
“And the others?” Mrs. Evergreen asked with an open palm.
“That’s the only one I have—”
“Young lady, I will not tolerate any more of your lies! Books in your bedroom are like mice in the garden—there’s never just one. Now give me the others or I will fetch your father.”
Brystal’s posture sank with her spirits. She stepped out of bed and led her mother to a loose floorboard in the corner of the bedroom where she kept a hidden collection. Mrs. Evergreen gasped when her daughter revealed over a dozen books in the floor. There were texts on history, religion, law, and economics, as well as fictional titles of adventure, mystery, and romance. And judging by the distressed covers and pages, Brystal had read each book multiple times.
“Oh, Brystal,” Mrs. Evergreen said with a heavy heart. “Of all the things for a girl your age to be interested in, why does it have to be books?”
Mrs. Evergreen said the word like she was describing a foul and dangerous substance. Brystal knew it was wrong to have books in her possession—the Southern Kingdom’s laws clearly stated that books were for male eyes only—but since nothing made Brystal happier than reading, she repeatedly risked the consequences.
One by one, Brystal kissed each book’s spine like she was saying good-bye to a small pet, then passed it to her mother. The books piled over Mrs. Evergreen’s head, but she was used to having her hands full and had no trouble finding her way to the door.
“I don’t know who is supplying you with these, but you need to cut ties with them immediately,” Mrs. Evergreen said. “Do you know what the punishment is for girls who get caught reading in public? Three months in a workhouse! And that’s with your father’s connections!”
“But, Mother,” Brystal asked, “why aren’t women allowed to read in this kingdom? The law says our minds are too delicate to be educated, but it isn’t true. So what’s the real reason they keep books from us?”
Mrs. Evergreen paused in the doorway and went silent. Brystal figured her mother was thinking about it, because she rarely paused for anything. Mrs. Evergreen looked back at her daughter with a long face, and for a brief moment, Brystal could have sworn she saw a rare spark of sympathy in her mother’s eyes—like she had been asking herself the same question all her life and still didn’t have an answer.
“If you ask me, women have enough to do as it is,” she said to bury the subject. “Now get dressed. Breakfast isn’t going to make itself.”
Mrs. Evergreen turned on her heel and left the room. Tears came to Brystal’s eyes as she watched her mother depart with her books. To Brystal, they weren’t just stacks of parchment bound by leather; her books were friends that offered her the only escape from the suppressive Southern Kingdom. She dried the corners of her eyes with the edge of her nightgown but her tears didn’t last very long. Brystal knew it was only a matter of time before she would rebuild her collection—her supplier was much closer than her mother realized.
She stood in front of her mirror as she applied all the layers and accessories of her ridiculous school uniform: the white dress, white leggings, lacy white gloves, a fuzzy white shoulder wrap, and white buckled heels, and to complete the transformation, Brystal tied a white ribbon in her long brown hair.
Brystal looked at her reflection and let out a prolonged sigh that came from the bottom of her soul. Like all the young women in her kingdom, Brystal was expected to resemble a living doll anytime she left her home—and Brystal hated dolls. In fact, anything that remotely influenced girls to want motherhood or marriage was instantly added to her list of things to resent—and given the Southern Kingdom’s stubborn views of women, Brystal had acquired a long list over time.
For as long as she could remember, Brystal had known she was destined for a life beyond the confinements of her kingdom. Her accomplishments would surpass acquiring a husband and children, she was going to have adventures and experiences that exceeded cooking and cleaning, and she was going to find undeniable happiness, like the characters in her books. Brystal couldn’t explain why she felt this way or how it would happen, but she felt it with her whole heart. But until the day arrived that proved her right, Brystal had no choice but to play the role society had assigned her.
In the meantime, Brystal found subtle and creative ways of coping. To make her school uniform bearable, Brystal put her reading glasses on the end of a gold chain, like a locket, and then tucked them into the top of her dress. It was doubtful she would get to read anything worthwhile at school—young women were only taught to read basic recipes and street signs—but knowing she was prepared to read made Brystal feel like she was armed with a secret weapon. And knowing she was rebelling, however slightly, gave her the energetic boost she needed to get through each day.
“Brystal! I meant breakfast TODAY! Get down here!”
“I’m coming!” she replied.
The Evergreen family lived in a spacious country home just a few miles east of the Chariot Hills town square. Brystal’s father was a well-known Justice in the Southern Kingdom court system, which granted the Evergreen family more wealth and respect than most families. Unfortunately, because their livelihood came from taxpayers, it was considered distasteful for the Evergreens to enjoy any “extravagances.” And since the Justice valued nothing more than his good reputation, he deprived his family of “extravagances” whenever and wherever possible.
All the Evergreens’ belongings, from their clothes to their furniture, were hand-me-downs from friends and neighbors. None of their drapes had the same pattern, their dishes and silverware came from different sets, and every chair had been made by a different carpenter. Even the wallpaper had been peeled off the walls of other houses and was a chaotic mix of different designs. Their property was large enough to employ a staff of twenty, but Justice Evergreen believed servants and farmhands were “the most extravagant of extravagances,” so Brystal and her mother were forced to complete all the yard work and household chores by themselves.
“Stir the porridge while I make the eggs,” Mrs. Evergreen ordered Brystal when she finally arrived in the kitchen. “But don’t overstir them this time—your father hates soggy oats!”
Brystal tied an apron over her school uniform and took the wooden spoon from her mother. She was at the stove for less than a minute when a panicked voice called to them from the next room.
“Moooother! Come quick! It’s an emergency!”
“What’s the matter, Barrie?”
“One of my buttons has popped off my robe!”
“Oh, for the king’s sake,” Mrs. Evergreen muttered under her breath. “Brystal, go help your brother with his button. And make it fast.”
Brystal retrieved a sewing kit and hurried into the sitting room beside the kitchen. To her surprise, she found her seventeen-year-old brother seated on the floor. His eyes were closed and he rocked back and forth while clutching a stack of notecards. Barrie Evergreen was a thin young man with messy brown hair and had been wide-eyed and nervous since the day he was born—but today, he was exceptionally nervous.
“Barrie?” Brystal addressed him softly. “Mother sent me to fix your button. Can you take a break from studying or should I come back later?”
“No, now is fine,” Barrie said. “I can practice while you sew.”
He got to his feet and handed his sister the detached button. Like all students at the Chariot Hills University of Law, Barrie wore a long gray robe and a square black hat. As Brystal threaded a needle and stitched the button back onto his collar, Barrie glanced down at the prompt on his first notecard. He fiddled with the other buttons of his uniform while he concentrated, and Brystal slapped his hand away before he caused more damage.
“The Purification Act of 342… the Purification Act of 342…,” Barrie read to himself. “That was when King Champion VIII charged the troll community with vulgarity and banished their species from the Southern Kingdom.”
Satisfied with his answer, Barrie flipped the first notecard over and read the correct answer written on the back. Unfortunately, he was wrong, and reacted with a long, defeated moan. Brystal couldn’t help but smile at her brother’s frustration—he reminded her of a puppy chasing its own tail.
“This isn’t funny, Brystal!” Barrie said. “I’m going to fail my examination!”
“Oh, Barrie, calm down.” She laughed. “You’re not going to fail. You’ve been studying the law your entire life!”
“That’s why it’ll be so humiliating! If I don’t pass the examination today, then I won’t graduate from the university! If I don’t graduate from the university, then I won’t become a Deputy Justice! If I don’t become a Deputy Justice, then I won’t become a Justice like Father! And if I don’t become a Justice, I’ll never become a High Justice!”
Like all the men in the Evergreen family before him, Barrie was studying to become a Justice in the Southern Kingdom’s court system. He had attended the Chariot Hills University of Law since he was six years old, and at ten o’clock that morning, he would take the grueling examination that would determine whether he would become a Deputy Justice. If he was accepted, Barrie would spend the next decade prosecuting and defending criminals on trial. Once his time as a Deputy Justice was over, Barrie would become an official Justice and preside over trials, like his father. And should his career as a Justice please the king, Barrie would be the very first Evergreen to become a High Justice on the King’s Advisory Council, where he would help the sovereign create the law.
Becoming a High Justice had been Barrie’s dream since he was a child, but his path to the King’s Advisory Council would end today if he didn’t pass the examination. So for the last six months, Barrie had studied his kingdom’s law and history every possible moment he could, to ensure a victory.
“How will I ever look Father in the eye again if I don’t pass?” Barrie worried. “I should just give up now and spare myself the embarrassment!”
“Stop catastrophizing,” Brystal said. “You know all this stuff. You’re just letting your nerves get to you.”
“I’m not nervous—I’m a wreck! I was up all night making these cards and I can barely read my own handwriting! Whatever the Purification Act of 342 was, it’s definitely not what I said!”
“Your answer was really close,” Brystal said. “But you’re thinking of the Declawing Act of 339—that was when Champion VIII banished trolls from the Southern Kingdom. Unfortunately, his army mistook the elves for trolls and kicked out the wrong species! So to validate the mix-up, Champion VIII introduced the Purification Act of 342 and banished all talking creatures besides humans from the kingdom! The trolls, elves, goblins, and ogres were rounded up and forced into the In-Between! Soon, it inspired the other kingdoms to do the same thing and led to the Great Cleansing of 345! Isn’t that terrible? And to think, the most violent period of history could have been avoided if Champion VIII had just apologized to the elves!”
Brystal could tell her brother was half thankful for the reminder and half embarrassed it came from his little sister.
“Oh, right…,” Barrie said. “Thanks, Brystal.”
“My pleasure,” she said. “It’s a real shame, too. Can you imagine how exciting it would be to see one of those creatures in person?”
Her brother did a double take. “Wait, how do you know all of this?”
Brystal glanced over her shoulder to make sure they were still alone. “It was in one of the history books you gave me,” she whispered. “It was such a fascinating read! I must have read it four or five times! Do you want me to stay and help you study?”
“I wish you could,” Barrie said. “Mother will be suspicious if you don’t return to the kitchen. And she’ll be furious if she catches you helping me.”
Brystal’s eyes twinkled as a mischievous idea popped into her head. In one swift move, she yanked all the buttons off Barrie’s robe. Before he could react, Mrs. Evergreen charged into the sitting room, as if she sensed her daughter’s mischief in the air.
“How long does it take to sew one button?” she reprimanded. “I’ve got porridge in the pot, eggs in the pan, and rolls in the oven!”
Brystal shrugged innocently and showed her mother the handful of buttons she had plucked.
“Sorry, Mother,” she said. “It’s worse than we thought. He’s really nervous.”
Mrs. Evergreen threw her hands into the air and moaned at the ceiling.
“Barrie Evergreen, this house is not your personal tailor shop!” she scolded. “Keep your twitchy hands off your robe or I’ll tie your hands behind your back like when you were a child! Brystal, when you’re finished, go set the table in the dining room. We’re eating in ten minutes—buttons or not!”
Mrs. Evergreen stomped back into the kitchen, muttering slurs under her breath. Brystal and Barrie covered each other’s mouths as they laughed at their mother’s dramatics. It was the first time Brystal had seen her brother smile in weeks.
“I can’t believe you did that,” he said.
“Your examination is more important than breakfast,” Brystal said, and began sewing the rest of the buttons. “And you don’t need your cards—I’ve practically memorized all the old schoolbooks you’ve given me. Now, I’ll name a historical act and you tell me the history behind it. All right?”
“All right,” he agreed.
“Good. Let’s start with the Border Act of 274.”
“The Border Act of 274… the Border Act of 274…,” Barrie thought out loud. “Oh, I know! That was the decree that established the Protected Paths through the In-Between so the kingdoms could participate in safe trade.”
Brystal winced at his answer. “Almost, but no,” she said gently. “The Protected Paths were established with the Protected Paths Act of 296.”
Barrie groaned and pulled away from Brystal while she was in the middle of sewing. He paced around the sitting room and rubbed his face with his hands.
“This is pointless!” he grumbled. “I don’t know any of this! Why do there have to be so many numbers in history?!”
“Oh, that’s a really interesting story, actually!” Brystal happily informed him. “The Southern Kingdom developed a calendar system when the very first King Champion was crowned! It was so efficient that the other kingdoms began using the same—Oh, I’m sorry, Barrie! That was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it?”
Her brother had dropped his arms and was staring at her in disbelief. He had meant it as a rhetorical question, but after hearing his sister’s explanation, he realized he was wrong about the invention of the calendar, too.
“I give up!” Barrie declared. “I’m going to quit the university and become a shopkeeper! I’m going to sell rocks and sticks to small children! I won’t make much money, but at least I’ll never run out of materials!”
Brystal was losing patience with her brother’s attitude. She grabbed his chin and held his head still so she could look him in the eye.
“Barrie, you need to snap out of it!” she said. “All your answers are coming from the right place, but you keep putting the cart before the horse. Remember, the law is history, and history is just another story. Each of these events had a prequel and a sequel—a cause and an effect. Before you answer, put all the facts you know on an imaginary timeline. Find the contradictions, focus on what’s missing, and then fill in the blanks the best you can.”
Barrie went quiet as he thought about his sister’s advice. Slowly but surely, the seed of positivity she had planted in him began to grow. Barrie gave Brystal a determined nod and took a deep breath like he was about to dive off a high cliff.
“You’re right,” he said. “I just need to relax and focus.”
Brystal released Barrie’s chin so she could continue repairing his wardrobe while she also repaired his self-confidence.
“Now, the Border Act of 274,” she said. “Give it another try.”
Barrie concentrated and didn’t make a sound until he was certain he had the right answer.
“After the Four Corners World War of 250, all four kingdoms agreed to stop fighting over land and their leaders signed the Border Act of 274. The treaty finalized the borders of each kingdom and established the In-Between zone between nations.”
“Very good!” Brystal cheered. “What about the In-Between Neutralization Act of 283?”
Barrie thought very carefully, and his eyes lit up when the answer came to him.
“The In-Between Neutralization Act of 283 was an international agreement to neutralize the In-Between zone so none of the kingdoms could claim it as their territory! As a result, the In-Between was left with no authority and became a very dangerous place. Which then led to the Protected Paths Act of 296—OUCH!”
Brystal was so proud of her brother she had accidentally poked him with her sewing needle.
“That’s correct!” she said. “See, you have all the information you need to pass the examination! You just have to believe in yourself as much as I do.”
Barrie blushed and color finally returned to his face.
“Thank you, Brystal,” he said. “I’d be lost in my own head if it weren’t for you. It’s really a shame you’re… well, you know… a girl. You would have made an incredible Justice.”
Brystal lowered her head and pretended she was still sewing the final button so he didn’t see the sadness in her eyes.
“Oh?” she said. “I’ve never really thought about it.”
On the contrary, it was something Brystal wanted more than her brother could ever imagine. Being a Justice would allow her to redeem and elevate people, it would provide a platform to spread hope and understanding, and it would give her the resources to make the world a better place for other girls like her. Sadly, it was highly unlikely a woman would have any role but wife and mother in the Southern Kingdom, so Brystal extinguished her ideas before they turned into hopes.
“Maybe when you’re a High Justice, you could convince the king to let women read,” she told her brother. “That would be a great start.”
“Maybe…,” Barrie said with a weak smile. “For now, at least you have my old books to keep you entertained. That reminds me, did you finish The Tales of Tidbit Twitch yet? I’m dying to talk to you about the ending but I don’t want to give anything away.”
“I only had seven pages left! But then Mother caught me this morning and confiscated all my books. Could you stop by the library and see if there are any old books they’re getting rid of? I’ve already thought of a new hiding spot to keep them in.”
“Certainly. The examination will last until late this afternoon, but I’ll stop by the library tomorrow and…” Barrie’s voice trailed off before he finished his thought. “Actually, I suppose it’ll be more difficult than it used to be. The library is next to my university, but if I get accepted into the Deputy Justice program, I’ll be working at the courthouse. It may be a week or two before I can sneak away.”
Until this moment, Brystal had never realized how much her brother’s pending graduation was going to affect her. Barrie would no doubt pass his examination with flying colors and be put to work as a Deputy Justice right away. For years to come, all his time and energy would be spent prosecuting or defending criminals at the courthouse. Supplying his little sister with books would be his last priority.
“That’s all right,” Brystal said through a forced smile. “I’ll find something to do in the meantime. Well, all your buttons are attached. I better set the table before Mother gets upset.”
Brystal hurried into the dining room before her brother noticed the anguish in her voice. When he said weeks, she knew it might be months or even a year before she had another book in her hands. So much time without a distraction from her mundane life would be torturous. If she wanted to keep her sanity, she would have to find something to read outside their home, and given the kingdom’s harsh punishments for female readers, Brystal would have to be clever—very clever—if she didn’t want to get caught.
“Breakfast is ready!” Mrs. Evergreen announced. “Come and eat! Your father’s carriage will be here in fifteen minutes!”
- Praise for A Tale of Magic...
- "A dynamic, engrossing fantasy that will have readers staying up late and dreaming big."—School Library Journal
- "...a thoroughly satisfying adventure..."—Publishers Weekly
- "...will please fans of the series while offering an entry for new readers as well."—Booklist
Praise for the Land of Stories series:A #1 New York Times BestsellerA Barnes & Noble Best Kids' Book of the Year
- "A magical debut."—Family Circle
- "Captivating"—Teen Vogue
- "In The Land of Stories, Colfer showcases his talent for crafting fancifully imaginative plots and multidimensional characters."—Los Angeles Times
- "There's more in Colfer's magic kingdoms than Disney has dreamt of."—USA Today
- "It will hit big with its combination of earnestness and playful poise."—The New York Times Book Review
- "It's hard not to love a book dedicated to the Glee star's grandmother...Colfer gets off many good lines [and] the nifty ending ties the plot's multiple strands up while leaving room for further fairy tale adventures."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Aug 4, 2020
- Page Count
- 512 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers