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The Magician's Daughter
By H. G. Parry
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- ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
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"That most rare and precious thing: a brand-new classic, both wholly original and wonderfully nostalgic." —Alix E. Harrow, New York Times bestselling author
In the early 1900s, a young woman is caught between two worlds in H. G. Parry's spellbinding tale of miracles, magic, and the adventure of a lifetime.
One night, Rowan fails to return from his mysterious travels. To find him, Biddy must venture into the outside world for the first time. But Rowan has powerful enemies—forces who have hoarded the world’s magic and have set their sights on the magician’s many secrets.
Biddy may be the key to stopping them. Yet the closer she gets to answers, the more she questions everything she’s ever believed about Rowan, her past, and the nature of magic itself.
Praise for The Magician's Daughter
"Brilliantly imagined. Parry blends mythic elements with wit and heart." —Lucy Holland
“A charming romp of an old-school coming of age fantasy about family and magic that will take your heart for a wild ride." ―NPR
For more from H. G. Parry, check out:
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep
The Shadow Histories
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
A Radical Act of Free Magic
Rowan had left the island again last night.
He had done so quietly, as usual. Had Biddy not been lying awake, listening for his light tread on the stairs outside her bedroom, she would have never known he was gone. But he had slipped out of the castle once or twice too often lately while she slept, and this time she was ready. She got out of bed and went to the window, shivering at the touch of the early-autumn chill, in time to see him cross the moonlit fields where the black rabbits nibbled the grass. Her fingers clenched into fists, knowing what was coming, frustrated and annoyed and more worried than she wanted to admit. At the cliff edge he paused, and then his tall, thin form rippled and changed as wings burst from his back, his body shriveled, and a large black bird flew away into the night. Rowan was always a raven when he wasn’t himself.
When she was very young, Biddy hadn’t minded too much when Rowan flew away at night. As unpredictable as Rowan could be, he was also her guardian, and however far he went she trusted him to always be there if she needed him. In the meantime, she was used to fending for herself. She did so all day sometimes, when Rowan was shut up in his study or off in the forest and had no time for things like meals or conversation or common sense. Besides, Rowan always left Hutchincroft behind to watch over things. Hutch couldn’t speak to her when he was a rabbit, it was true, but he would leap onto the bed beside her, lay his head flat, and let her curl around his soft golden fur. It made the castle less empty, and the darkness less hungry. She would lie there, dozing fitfully, until either she heard the flutter of feathers and the scrabble of claws at the window above hers or exhaustion won out and pulled her into deeper sleep.
And in the morning, Rowan would always be there, as if he’d never left.
That morning was no exception. When she woke to slanting sunlight and came downstairs to the kitchen, Rowan was leaning against the bench with his fingers curled around a mug of tea. His brown hair was rumpled and his eyes were a little heavy, but still dancing.
“Morning,” he said to her brightly. “Sleep all right?”
She would have let him get away with that once. Not now. She wasn’t a very young girl anymore. She was sixteen, almost seventeen, and she minded very much.
“What time did you get in?” she asked severely, so he’d know she hadn’t been fooled. He laughed ruefully.
“An hour or two before dawn?” He glanced at Hutchincroft, who was busily munching cabbage leaves and carrots by the stove. “Half past four, Hutch says. Why? Did I miss anything?”
“I was asleep,” she said, which wasn’t entirely true. “You’d have to tell me.”
She pulled the last of yesterday’s bread out of the cupboard, sneaking a look at Rowan as she did so. There was a new cut at the corner of one eyebrow, and when he straightened, it was with a wince that he turned into a smile when he saw her watching.
Biddy didn’t think there had ever been a time when she had thought Rowan was her father, even before he had told her the story of how she first came to Hy-Brasil. The two of them looked nothing alike, for one thing. Rowan was slender and long-limbed like a young tree, eternally unkempt and wild and sparkling with mischief. She was smaller, darker, with serious eyes and a tendency to frown. And yet he wasn’t an older brother either, or an uncle, or anything else she had read about in the castle’s vast library. He was just Rowan, the magician of Hy-Brasil, and as long as she could remember there had been only him and Hutchincroft and herself. She knew them as well as she knew the castle, or the cliffs that bordered the island, or the forests that covered it. And she knew when he was hiding something from her.
He knew her too, at least well enough to know he was being scrutinized. He lasted until she had cut the bread and toasted one side above the kitchen fire, and then he set his mug down, amused and resigned.
“All right. I give up. What have I done now?”
“Where did you go last night?” she asked—bluntly, but without any hope of a real answer.
She wasn’t disappointed. “Oh, you know. Here and there. I was in Dublin for a bit, then I got over to Edinburgh. And London,” he added, with a nod to Hutchincroft, conceding a point Biddy couldn’t hear. In her bleakest moments, she wished they wouldn’t do that. It reminded her once again of all the magic from which she was locked out.
“And when did you get hurt?”
“I didn’t—well, hardly. A few bruises. I got careless.” He looked at her, more serious. “If you’re worried, you don’t have to be. I’m not doing anything I haven’t been doing longer than you’ve been alive. I haven’t died yet.”
“Death isn’t a habit you develop, you know, like tobacco or whiskey. It only takes once.”
“In that case, I promise I’ll let you know before I consider taking it up. Is that toast done?”
“Almost.” She turned the bread belatedly. “But we need more milk.”
“Well, talk to the goats about it.” He checked the milk jug, nonetheless, and made a face. “We do, don’t we? And more jam. I need to take the boat out to the mainland for that.”
This gave her the opening she’d been hoping for. She picked the slightly burnt bread off the fork and buttered it, trying for careful nonchalance. “I could come with you.”
“No,” he said, equally lightly. “You couldn’t.”
“Why not? You just pointed out that you’ve been leaving the island at night since long before I was born, and you’re still alive. Why can’t I at least come to get the supplies in broad daylight?”
“Because you don’t go to the mainland, Biddy. I told you.”
“You told me. You also told me it wouldn’t be forever. You said I could go when I was older.”
He frowned. “Did I? When did I say that?”
“Rowan! You said it when I was little. Seven or eight, I think. I asked if I could come with you when I was grown up, and you said, ‘Yeah, of course.’”
She had held on to that across all the years in between, imagining what it would be like. Rowan clearly had no memory of it at all, but Hutchincroft nudged him pointedly and he shrugged. “All right. You’re not grown up yet, though, are you?”
She couldn’t argue with that. She had tried when she turned sixteen to think of herself as a woman, like Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennet or the multitudes of heroines who lived in her books, but in her head she wasn’t there. They were all older than her, and had all, even Jane, seen more of life. And yet she was too old to be Sara Crewe or Alice or Wendy Darling either. She was a liminal person, trapped between a world she’d grown out of and another that wouldn’t let her in. It was one reason why she wanted to leave the island so badly—the hope that leaving the place she’d grown up would help her leave her childhood behind. Not forever, not yet. But for a visit, to see what it was like.
“I’m not a child,” she said instead. Of that, at least, she was sure. “I’m seventeen in December. I might be seventeen already—you don’t know. I can’t stay on this island my entire life.”
“I know,” he said. “I’ll work something out, I promise. For now, it’s not safe for you.”
“You leave all the time.”
“It’s not exactly safe for me either, but that’s different.”
“Why?” She couldn’t keep frustration out of her voice. “It should be safer for me than for you, surely. You’re a mage. I’m nothing.”
“You’re not nothing,” he corrected her, and he was truly serious now. “Don’t say that.”
She knew better than to push that further. Rowan, like her, had no patience for self-pity, and she didn’t want to blur the lines of her argument by indulging in it.
“Well,” she amended. “I can’t channel magic. I’m not like you. I’m no different to any of the other millions of people living out there in the world right now, the ones I read about in books, and they’re safe and well. If there’s no threat to them, surely there’s no threat to me.” She hesitated, seized by doubt. “They are out there, aren’t they? It really is like in the books?”
He laughed. “What, you mean are we the only people left in the world?”
“How should I know?” she pointed out, defensive. “I’ve never seen anyone else.”
“There are millions of people out there. Of all shapes and sizes, colors and creeds, many of them very much like the people in books. Trust me. Where do you think the jam comes from?”
“I don’t know where the jam comes from!” This wasn’t strictly true—she knew both exactly how jam was made, thanks to the library, and how Rowan obtained it, thanks to Hutchincroft. But qualifying that would weaken her position, so she rushed on. “I’ve never seen that either. I’ve never seen anywhere except the island.”
“Well, none of the rest of the world have ever seen the island. So you’re not too badly off, considering.”
“That isn’t the point! I know why the rest of the world can’t see us. I don’t understand why I can’t see the rest of the world.”
“Biddy,” he said, and the familiar note was in his voice, quiet but firm, that had stopped her in her tracks since she was old enough to recognize her name. “That’s enough, all right?”
Against her own will, she fell silent, burning with resentment. It was directed at herself as much as anyone. Rowan rarely tried to guide any aspect of her behavior, and yet when he did she never dared to push back. No, dared was the wrong word—that sounded as though she was afraid of him, and Rowan had never done anything to make her so. The barrier came from inside her own head, from her own reluctance to lose Rowan’s approval when he and Hutch were the only people in her world. She hated it. The heroines in her books would never care what anybody thought. And she hated most of all the reminder that her world was so small.
Rowan must have seen it, because the lines of his face softened. “Look, Bid—”
“Never mind.” She laid down her butter knife and pushed her toast aside, trying for a dignified exit. It felt stiff and childish, only signifying that she had lost both the argument and, for some reason, her breakfast. “It was just a question, that’s all. I need to see to the goats.”
“All right.” Rowan didn’t sound happy, but he clearly had no intention of prolonging a discussion he himself had stopped. “I’ll be in the study if you need me. We’ll probably see you this afternoon?”
Biddy glanced at Hutch, who was watching her anxiously from the fireplace, and managed a wan smile for him. Then she went out the kitchen door, into the windswept courtyard where the chickens pecked. She wished, not for the first time lately, the hinges in the castle doors worked well enough to allow a remotely satisfying slam.
There were three rules to living on the Isle of Hy-Brasil, or so Rowan always said.
The first was to never set foot under the trees after dark. That one wasn’t much of a rule—Rowan broke it all the time. It was difficult not to in the short daylight hours of winter. The forest covered most of the island, tangled and grey green and wild, and they often needed to forage well into it to collect plants for food and spells. But certainly there was an edge of danger under the branches once the sun went down. The shadows had been known to misbehave; high lilting sounds like laughter or half-heard music drifted through the leaves when the wind was still. There were things in the depths of Hy-Brasil that none of them would ever know, not even Hutchincroft.
The second rule was to watch out for the Púca, and never accept a ride from it. Unlike the rule about the trees, which seemed something she had always known, Biddy could dimly remember being given this one when she was four years old. She had been picking dandelions in the fields beyond the castle, the summer’s grass swishing past her knees, when she had seen a black horse beyond the crest of the hill. There were no horses on Hy-Brasil: She had recognized it at once from pictures in her books, and her heart had thrilled. Its golden eyes had held her, beckoned her, and she had been venturing forward open-mouthed to touch its wiry mane when Rowan and Hutch had come from nowhere. She could recollect very little after that, but afterward Rowan had sat her down in the library for a rare serious talk and told her all about the Púca—that it was a shapeshifter, a trickster spirit who loved nothing better than to tempt unwary travelers onto its back, take them for a wild and terrifying ride, and dump them in a patch of thorns miles from home. She had found the thought more funny than scary at the time, but she had steered clear of any golden-eyed creature ever since.
The third was to never harm the black rabbits that speckled the long grass behind the castle, along the cliff paths up to the ruins. This one was the easiest of all. Biddy couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to harm a rabbit.
It wasn’t until she was a good deal older that Biddy had realized the fourth rule of living on Hy-Brasil, the unspoken one, the only truly inviolable ultimatum and one that applied only to herself. She was never to leave it.
It took her a long time to notice this, and even longer to mind. Hy-Brasil was hidden from the rest of the world by centuries-old magic, only able to be seen once every seven years and only reached by a chosen few. Nobody had ever come to its shores in her lifetime. As a child, she was curious about the world beyond the sea, but in a vague, half-sketched way, as she was curious about a lot of things she read in books. London and Treasure Island and horses and dragons were all equally imagined to her. She thought she would probably see them one day, when she was old. In the meantime, the island was hers to explore, and it took up more time than she could ever imagine having. There were books to read, thousands of them in the castle library, and Rowan brought back more all the time. There were trees to climb, caves along the beach to get lost in, traces of the fair folk who had once lived on the island to find and bring home. There was work to be done: Food needed to be grown and harvested; the livable parts of the castle, the parts that weren’t a crumbling ruin, needed to be constantly fortified against the harsh salt winds; the rocks needed to be combed for useful things when the tide went out. She was a half-wild thing of ink and grass and sea breezes, raised by books and rabbits and fairy lore, and that was all she cared to be.
She didn’t know now when that had changed—it had done so gradually, one question at a time wearing away at her like the relentless drops of rain on the ruins by the cliffs. She must have asked Rowan at some point how she had come to the island, but she couldn’t remember it. It seemed she had always known the story: a violent storm that churned up the ocean and strewn the shoreline with driftwood; Rowan and Hutchincroft walking along the clifftops the morning afterward; the battered lifeboat on the rocks, half-flooded, with the little girl that had been her curled up in the very bottom. Rowan had since shown her the spot many times at her request. She had been no more than a year old when they found her, with a mop of chestnut curls and enormous eyes, wet through and crying but unscathed. There was no trace of her parents, or the shipwreck that had likely killed them. It was as though the island itself had reached out into the deadly seas and snatched her to safety. She liked to think of that—that Hy-Brasil, which rarely let anyone come to its shores, had for its own reasons welcomed her. It had to mean something. Perhaps she was the daughter of somebody important, a queen or a brilliant sorcerer; perhaps, like the orphan girls in her books, she had some great destiny to fulfill. It made up in some small way for not being a mage.
She could, though, distinctly remember reading A Little Princess when she was ten or eleven and stopping short at the realization that Sara Crewe, at seven, was being sent from her home to school. She wasn’t sure why this struck her particularly—she had read other stories about children being sent to school, after all, without wondering why it didn’t seem to apply to her. Perhaps it was that Sara’s father, young and full of fun, reminded her a little of Rowan just as Sara reminded her a little of herself. Perhaps it was just that she was ready to question, and books, as they so often did, crystallized her questions into words.
She’d tracked him down to the library that evening. “Rowan?”
“Yes, my love?” he’d said absently. It probably wasn’t the right time—he was up on the bookshelves near the ceiling, balanced precariously as he tracked down a volume about poltergeists. Hutch lay on the rug by the fire, flopped on his side in a peaceful C shape.
“Why haven’t I gone to school?”
She thought he focused his attention a little more carefully on the books in front of him, but he might have just been trying not to fall to his death. “Do you want to go to school?”
It wasn’t what she had been asking, and the possibility had distracted her while she considered. “I think so,” she said at last. “Someday.”
“Well, then you will, someday,” he said. “It might be a while, though. I’ll see what I can do.”
It was no different to the kind of thing he’d said before, but for the first time, far too late, she realized what he wasn’t saying. He was telling her that she couldn’t leave yet, and she trusted that he had a good reason. He was telling her that she would leave one day, and she trusted that too. But he wasn’t telling her why. He never did.
Once she had noticed that, she began to notice other things he wasn’t saying, lurking like predators in long grass amid the things he was saying instead.
She knew, for instance, that Rowan had grown up on the distant shoreline she could see from the cliffs on a clear day, the one she used to think of as the beginning of the world. Actually, it was Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands. Beyond it was the coast of western Ireland, and beyond that was Great Britain and then the great mass of Europe, over which Rowan and Hutch had wandered before coming to the island. Rowan would give her all the books and maps she could ever want, and in the right mood he would talk to her for hours about the countries inside their pages. Yet when she pressed him on any stories from his own childhood or travels, he would turn elusive.
“It was a long time ago,” he said once, with a shrug.
“So was the Norman Conquest,” she reminded him. “And we were just talking about that.”
He laughed. “Well, it wasn’t that long ago!”
“How long was it, then?” she countered. “I know you’re a lot older than you look, because Hutch told me that magicians age slowly once they get their familiars. But he didn’t know how old that made you, because rabbits aren’t very good with time.”
“Neither am I. A hundred years or so? I lost count around the Boer War.”
She didn’t believe that for a minute. Rowan could misplace a lot of things, but surely not entire years. But she had learned to accept it. It was useless to try to make Rowan talk when he didn’t want to. And Hutchincroft, who when he could talk would do so happily at any time at all, knew Rowan too well to give Biddy information that she wasn’t supposed to have.
Lately, though, things had been different. It wasn’t only that she was getting older, more restless, her eyes pulled constantly to the bump of land on the horizon and her thoughts pulled even further. Rowan had been disappearing more and more often; he was bringing back a lot more injuries than he was artifacts, and some of them she suspected hurt more than he was letting on. Hutchincroft was restless when he wasn’t there, on edge, possibly in constant silent communication and certainly in silent worry. It was possible, she supposed, that these things had been festering under the surface of her life for a long time, and she was only lately becoming aware of them. Either way, she could feel a bite of danger in the air like the first frost of autumn, and she didn’t like it.
It should have been a perfect morning. The day had unfurled crisp and bright, the kind to be taken advantage of on Hy-Brasil, where wind was common but sun was rare, and she had gone up the cliffs with a rug, three undersized apples, and a battered copy of Jane Eyre. The wind ruffled her hair and the grass behind the castle; the black rabbits grazing there, infected with the chaotic joy of it, flicked their ears and jumped in the air. It made her smile, despite everything. And yet she hadn’t been able to focus as she usually did. The argument had tainted the morning like smoke, leaving an acrid taste in her throat and a grey pall over the sky. The world of her book seemed impossibly far away, full of strangers and schools and romances when she had never seen anything of the kind. Her self-righteous fury at Rowan’s treatment of her gave way, predictably, to doubts about her own behavior, and then to guilt. It was a relief when shortly after midday a shadow fell across the pages.
“Hello,” Rowan said. At his side, Hutchincroft nudged her book experimentally with his nose. “What are you up to, then?”
She shrugged, determined not to give him the satisfaction of a smile quite yet. “Not a lot.”
“You’re not still sulking, are you?”
“I don’t sulk. You two sulk. I was reading.”
She glanced down at her book. “‘It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth.’”
His eyebrows went up. “And that’s you not sulking, is it?”
“It’s Charlotte Brontë, not me!” In fact, that part had been a few chapters earlier, but she had remembered it to make a point. “I’m just reading what she says.”
“Well, tell her to lay off.” He must have seen that pretending they hadn’t argued wasn’t working. She heard a faint sigh, and then he settled down beside her on the grass. “Look, I know it’s not fair. I know it’s lonely here for you. For what it’s worth, I’m sure I did say you could come with me when you were older, and I’m sure I meant it. I thought things would be different by now. They might be soon—I’ll do what I can, I promise—but I need more time. All right?”
It wasn’t, really. But she knew Rowan was apologizing in his own way, and she wanted to apologize too. She didn’t want there to be undercurrents of tension and struggle between the two of them, as there seemed to be more and more often these days. There never had been before. Oh, when she was thirteen and a prickly ball of existential angst, she would shout at him that he didn’t understand her, and he would retort, a little frustrated and a lot more amused, that she was bloody right about that, and she would storm off fuming. But that had been about her own emotions flaring, easily solved once they settled down again. This was about Rowan, and she had enough common sense to see that if he wasn’t going to budge, she could do nothing except keep pushing or back down.
And so she nodded, and tried to mean it.
“Thank you.” His voice was so unexpectedly quiet and sincere that it caught her off guard. It was as though a curtain had flickered aside, and beyond it she could glimpse something shadowed and troubled. Then the moment passed, and he was stretching and getting back to his feet in one sure movement. “What time is it, by the way?”
Biddy resigned herself to the subject being closed and checked her coat pocket for her watch. “Ah… almost two.”
“That late?” He glanced down at Hutch. “You were right. We do need to get a move on if we want to get back before tonight.”
“Are you going somewhere tonight?” She made her voice deliberately innocent, and his look suggested he knew it.
“I might be. For now, I’m going out to the oak. Do you fancy a walk?”
She was half tempted to refuse, just to show she wasn’t letting him off as easily as all that. But she did fancy a walk, and what was more, she fancied their company after her morning alone. So she got to her feet, brushing grass from her skirt.
“It isn’t only about me leaving the island,” she couldn’t help adding. “I worry about you when I wake up at night and you’re not there.”
“I know you do. But you don’t have to, I promise. I can take care of myself. I’m always back by morning.”
“That doesn’t mean you always will be.”
“It doesn’t mean I won’t be either,” he pointed out, which was technically accurate if infuriating.
They walked through the trees, the two of them on foot and Hutch scampering beside them before Rowan scooped him up to settle him against his shoulder. At this time of year, the path was like a dark green cathedral, dappled with sun, and Biddy told the other two about the words the Japanese had for different kinds of light: Light through leaves was called komorebi. Her mood lifted, and the trapped, resentful feeling sank back down in her chest where it belonged.
When they passed the familiar track where the elm trees grew, Rowan stopped.
- "The Magician's Daughter is that most rare and precious thing: a brand-new classic, both wholly original and wonderfully nostalgic. It's an absolute treasure." —Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January
"[D]elightful and whimsical...Another gem of a novel from a talented writer."
- "Brilliantly-imagined. I love the way Parry blends mythic elements with wit and heart. A fast pace, period detail and an intriguing cast of real, flawed people make The Magician's Daughter a book to be absolutely devoured."—Lucy Holland, author of Sistersong
- "The Magician's Daughter is innovative fairy tale and deftly researched historical fiction in one, full of captivating magic and richly drawn characters. HG Parry crafts an evocative world rife with a struggle for equity, justice, and the occasional miracle that readers won't be able to forget."—Rowenna Miller, author of Torn
- "A compelling journey into a world of fading myth and mystery, evoking the magic of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by way of The Dark is Rising. The old magic runs deep in H. G. Parry's veins. The Magician's Daughter is a true delight."—Cameron Johnston, author of The Maleficent Seven
- "Draws you in and makes you believe that magic does exist. Animal familiars, an island that only appears on certain days, and a young heroine who learns the depths of her strength. I absolutely adored it!"—Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter
- "The Magician's Daughter casts a spell with its warm and subtle prose. Parry has created an enchantment of a novel―a coming-of-age story teeming with magic, with characters striving to change an unjust world―this is a book to be savoured."—E. J. Beaton, author of The Councillor
- "[F]illed with heartbreak and wonder. Highly recommended for fans of heroine's journeys, steampunk alternate worlds, and stories about what happens after the magic goes away." —Library Journal
- "Parry continues her hot streak of well-researched historical fantasy with this mix of bildungsroman and love letter to the 19th-century English canon...The magic system—which posits magic as a nonrenewable resource—works wonderfully as a metaphor for capitalism after 19th-century industrialization. Parry’s fans will not be disappointed."—Publishers Weekly
- "Parry has written another winning fantasy novel full of adventure, found family, and magic. This is a fully realized world that feels like a homage to the classic fantasy tales of Diana Wynne Jones...For readers who love a great fantasy adventure."—Booklist
- "Beautifully crafted...Even devotees of fantasy’s darker corners will take solace in The Magician’s Daughter, a little paean to storybook endings and happily ever afters."—BookPage
"The Magician’s Daughter is a delightful little fantasy that pulls at all the right heartstrings...For those who fondly remember the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett or Lewis Carroll, this novel will definitely be your (bread, butter and) jam."—Wall Street Journal
"The Magician’s Daughter is a splendid piece of writing...If you’re looking for something to recapture some magic in your life, something that touches the bit inside all of us that dreams impossible dreams, then I can’t recommend this book enough."—Lightspeed
- "A charming romp of an old-school coming of age fantasy about family and magic that will take your heart for a wild ride."—NPR
"A gorgeously atmospheric coming-of-age novel...The Magician's Daughter is a triumph of skill and technique. [Biddy's] story is a journey of discovery, a coming-of-age into a wider world that leaps off the page in vivid, heart-rending detail."
- On Sale
- Feb 28, 2023
- Page Count
- 400 pages