The Wooden Prince


By John Claude Bemis

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The automa Pinocchio has always been duty-bound to serve in the floating palace of Venice’s emperor. So when Pinocchio finds himself locked in a trunk and delivered to a new master-a wanted criminal and alchemist named Geppetto-he is curious about everything around him. But most curious is the way Pinocchio seems to be changing from a wooden servant into a living, human boy. Before Geppetto and Pinocchio can uncover the mystery surrounding the automa’s transformation, Pinocchio is stolen away. Determined to find Geppetto again, Pinocchio begins a harrowing journey across the Empire, where danger in the form of half-beast outlaws and winged airmen abounds for a lost automa.

Meanwhile, Princess Lazuli, the daughter of the ruler of a magical kingdom called Abaton, is also on a quest through the emperor’s territory. Her father, Prester John, has been captured by the Venetian Empire, and Lazuli is desperate to rescue him. With the emperor’s airmen closing in fast, Lazuli learns the only hope for saving her father-and her beloved home-lies in Pinocchio and Geppetto. In a masterful reimagining of Pinocchio, John Claude Bemis weaves an enchanting, thrilling adventure for middle-grade readers in the first installment in the Out of Abaton duology.

Praise for The Wooden Prince

“Wow! John Claude Bemis hides new magic in old stories.” — Tom Angleberger, New York Times best-selling author of the Origami Yoda series

“Young readers will find this reimagined adventure an exhilarating and insightful journey.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Pinocchio gets a new look in this curious, complex novel of betrayal, rebellion, and loyalty. . .the world-building is impressive, and the captivating setting will likely attract fantasy, steampunk, and adventure fans alike.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Flying lions, fiery salamanders, chimera, sylphs, gnomes, men with wings, and an enormous sea monster all play roles in this fantastical retelling of Pinocchio.” — School Library Journal

“Pinocchio’s growth is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes heartwarming, and bound to entrance readers.” — Booklist


Copyright © 2016 by John Claude Bemis

Cover design by Maria Elias

Cover illustration © 2016 by René Milot

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4847-0737-1


For my father, whose greatest gift was his unconditional love

By the time Pinocchio arrived in the village of San Baldovino, he was bursting with impatience to get free. Being locked in a trunk shouldn’t have bothered him. He was an automa, after all. Back in the palace where he came from, Pinocchio had been locked in closets and stored away in cupboards with the other mechanical servants all the time. It had never bothered him before.

But since he’d been locked in this trunk, he was changing.

Pinocchio shouted and tried again to kick the inside of the trunk, but with his wooden knees pressed into his wooden chest, he was too cramped to make much of a kick. He wriggled and twisted, tangling his smock shirt and tearing his leggings, until he became aware of muffled voices outside the trunk.

“Let me out!” he cried.

A moment later came the sound of squealing nails being pried from the lid. Then the trunk was opened. Pinocchio stretched out his legs and sat up with a puff of relief.

Two figures stared at him. The closest was an automa butler with chipped paint on his wooden face, wearing a moth-eaten black suit. The automa butler held the ax that had been used to open the lid. The other was an elderly man with a bright red nose and watery red eyes that struggled to focus on Pinocchio.

“Otto, give us more light,” the old man wheezed.

The automa butler tipped back the crown of his head, exposing a gas flame that hissed to life from his skull. The orange light illuminated racks and racks of wine bottles filling a cobweb-draped cellar.

“It’s just an automa, Captain Toro,” the old man called. “Put down your gun. It’s no danger to us.”

Pinocchio realized that a third man was in the cellar. He turned to see an imperial airman in dingy armor, great mechanical wings folded against his back. He had a long-barreled musket aimed at Pinocchio.

The airman lowered his gun. “But, Don Antonio, why would someone try to sneak an automa into the village in the dead of night?”

“I have no idea,” Don Antonio said, his breath wet and raspy. “You didn’t see who they were?”

“Outlaw vermin, most certainly. Why else would they have run when I came after them? Something suspicious is going on with this puppet.”

Don Antonio held a goblet of red liquid in his shaky hands. Pinocchio recognized this as wine. He had served it plenty back in the palace, but the guests usually sipped it. They didn’t guzzle it the way Don Antonio was doing.

Don Antonio wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “What scoundrels delivered you here, automa?”

As an automa, Pinocchio had to answer people honestly, even if they weren’t his master. Unless, of course, his master had given him orders to lie, but that wasn’t the case now, so he replied, “I don’t know, signore. I never saw them.”

“Then where is your master?” Don Antonio asked.

“I don’t know that either.”

Captain Toro gritted his teeth. “Do you even know who your master is?”

“Yes,” Pinocchio said with an eager smile, glad to be able to answer this question. “Geppetto is his name.”

Don Antonio gasped, sputtering some wine. “Your master is Geppetto? Geppetto Gazza…the traitor to the empire!”

“I don’t know,” Pinocchio said. “I’ve never actually met him. But before I was locked in the trunk, I was told I was being sent to my new master and that his name was Geppetto.”

“Is this Geppetto here in San Baldovino?” Don Antonio asked, his eyes wide.

Pinocchio was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the questions and the strange faces Don Antonio and Captain Toro kept making. He had never been any good at interpreting human expressions. No automa was—it wasn’t part of their design. Otto, thankfully, just stood placidly over by the wine racks with the ax, the flame flickering atop his head.

“I don’t know where Master Geppetto is,” Pinocchio said. “Please forgive me, signore.”

“Traitor, eh?” Captain Toro said. “If I’m not mistaken, this Geppetto is our lord doge’s high alchemist.”

Former high alchemist,” Don Antonio corrected. “He’s been on the run since his betrayal. You need to better keep up with the news from the capital, Captain Toro.”

Captain Toro made one of those strange expressions that Pinocchio was struggling to understand. Did lowering one’s eyebrows and gritting one’s teeth mean he was glad to get Don Antonio’s suggestions? Pinocchio was determined to figure it out.

“I keep up with news from Venice,” Captain Toro growled. “And I can assure you, I will get reassigned to our capital and away from this dusty backcountry one of these days.”

“I’m sure you will, Captain,” Don Antonio said. “Possibly sooner than later. Don’t you see? These weren’t half-beast outlaws who delivered the automa, not if it’s for the traitor Geppetto. They must have been Abatonian spies! And if you foil their attempts, then I suspect our lord doge will be very pleased with you, Captain Toro. Especially if, in fact, the traitor Geppetto turns out to be hiding in our very midst.”

Captain Toro jerked upright. “Yes, I should search for him now.”

Don Antonio held up a hand. “And risk failure? You are but one airman.”

“I can handle one former high alchemist.”

Don Antonio shrugged, a gesture that Pinocchio decided he liked. He tested the movement out a few times while Don Antonio spoke.

“Are you sure, Captain Toro? Would it not be more prudent to deliver the news to Venice and return with reinforcements?”

Captain Toro grumbled.

Pinocchio tried to mimic the noise. Both Captain Toro and Don Antonio looked at him with raised eyebrows. He decided to stay quiet.

“What about the automa?” Captain Toro asked.

“I’ll hold it here in my cellar,” Don Antonio said. “And just to be safe, I’ll order the guards to seal the village gates. No one will enter or leave until you get back.”

Captain Toro nodded approvingly. “It will take several days to reach Venice and return.”

“Then fly swiftly, good captain,” Don Antonio said, lifting his now empty goblet.

Captain Toro picked up his musket and hurried up the stairs.

Don Antonio poured another glass of wine. “Well now, my little automa friend, let’s see what we can do with you. Come over here so I can get a better look.”

Pinocchio climbed out of the trunk. Don Antonio wasn’t his master, but there was no reason not to obey his orders. He vaguely remembered that before he was locked in the trunk, back when he served in the palace, he had been given all sorts of orders: Bring the tray of spiced meats to the ballroom. Fetch the guests’ luggage. Wave the feather fan for Her Ladyship.

Pinocchio stood before Don Antonio. The old man broke into a wet cough that nearly doubled him over. Don Antonio wiped his knuckles across his mouth and wheezed, “Aren’t you just a mystery? I’ve never seen such a finely constructed automa. You’re no crude Hungarian model, like my Otto. No, you came from one of the great workshops of Florence or Milan, I’d gamble. Perhaps you are one of Master da Vinci’s Vitruvian designs. Just look at your frame.”

Something made Pinocchio suspect that Don Antonio wasn’t actually asking him to look at himself. But he decided that orders were orders, and held out his hands to inspect them. He’d never really noticed how he was designed before and certainly had no idea what workshop he’d come from.

“Mahogany for strength,” Don Antonio said. “And if my eyes don’t deceive me, there’s holly, too, for lightness. You must be geared inside with the most delicate of machined parts. The alchemist who designed you was a master. And his elementals, who transmuted your wood and metal to flex like muscle and skin…Oh, fine work indeed. And such rich clothes. You must be quite expensive, eh?”

Pinocchio shrugged.

Don Antonio gave a laugh that became the sickly cough again. “Funny expressions they’ve given you! Shrugging your shoulders. Ha! I’ve never seen an automa do that. Oh, to have an automa like you…But alas, there are better things than a princely servant.”

Don Antonio was eyeing him up and down in a way that made Pinocchio’s gearworks feel strange. He’d never felt this before. In truth, he’d never felt any sensation before his whole ordeal with the prisoner and the trunk. What was going on with him? Whatever it was, at that moment Pinocchio desperately wished he could get away from the old man.

But he was an automa, and automa had to do as they were told.

“Yes, there is a better use for you,” Don Antonio said, reaching a gnarled hand toward Pinocchio’s chest. “Your fantom. What I would give for that! Let’s just open you up and take a look—”

But before the old man could touch his chest panel, Pinocchio’s hand shot out and grabbed Don Antonio’s wrist. He hadn’t meant to do this, and it surprised him completely.

“ARGH!” Don Antonio cried out. “You’re crushing my bones! Let go of me, you fiend!”

Pinocchio couldn’t let go, no matter how much he wanted to. Something about Don Antonio reaching for his chest panel had caused him to grab the old man. Watching with horror as Don Antonio struggled to pull free, Pinocchio realized how strong his gearworks made him—so much stronger than a human, especially an old one.

“I’m sorry, signore. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I can’t help it! Really I can’t.”

His nose began to grow. Little by little it inched out from his face. Pinocchio knew what this meant. Automa weren’t supposed to hurt any person, unless their masters ordered it. And the mark of an automa who caused harm or wasn’t following orders properly was an elongated nose. Oh, why couldn’t he let go? Why couldn’t he be an obedient automa?

Don Antonio wailed in agony and dropped to his knees. “Otto, help me!”

The mechanical butler was there in an instant, struggling to pry Pinocchio’s grip from his master’s wrist. But it was no use. Pinocchio couldn’t get free.

“The…ax!” Don Antonio managed.

Otto picked up the ax and reared back with it. Pinocchio furiously tried to get his fingers to let go of Don Antonio, but they wouldn’t obey.

Otto swung. The ax bit deep into Pinocchio’s arm. Naturally it didn’t hurt, but as the iron blade lodged into his wood, Pinocchio felt his gearworks go slack and his vision dim. Direct contact with iron—or with lead or any other base metal—disrupted an automa’s functions. Pinocchio knew that well enough.

The blow from the ax finally allowed him to release Don Antonio. Pinocchio fell with a clatter on the stone floor. His vision came back into focus. He stared dimly up at the ceiling, past his horrid long nose. All sorts of feelings flooded through him, feelings that he had no name for, feelings that made the wooden surface of his face seem to burn and made his gears feel mangled.

“Are you injured, my master?” Otto asked in his monotone voice.

Don Antonio whimpered. “My arm…I think I can move it. Nothing seems broken.”

“Very good,” Otto said. “What should I do with the automa?”

“Lock that thing back in the trunk,” Don Antonio snarled.

Pinocchio wanted more than anything not to go back in that dark, cramped box. But he couldn’t disobey. His nose was long enough already.

Movement was beginning to return to his gears, but Pinocchio allowed Otto to place him inside the trunk. As Otto began to hammer the nails back into the lid, Pinocchio heard Don Antonio say, “After you’re finished, send for Signore Polendina.”

“The shopkeeper?” Otto asked.

“Yes, the shopkeeper,” Don Antonio said with what almost sounded to Pinocchio like a chuckle. Why would he laugh? That was puzzling. “I’ve been wondering about our village’s new shopkeeper,” Don Antonio went on. “If we are properly persuasive, Otto, I suspect Signore Polendina might have much to reveal about the traitor Geppetto’s whereabouts.”

Trapped once again in the trunk, Pinocchio wished he could return to his old life. Back when he was a servant in the floating palace, he hadn’t had any of the confusing feelings that were churning through his insides now. What he would have given to be back simply following orders and serving the palace guests like a good automa. Not hurting anyone.

Soon muffled voices returned to the cellar. Pinocchio tried to hear what they were saying, but only snatches of words came through the trunk’s lid: “…Captain Toro found it…outside the village gates…flown back to Venice for orders…returning with airmen…”

At last the lid came off. At the sight of Otto and his ax, Pinocchio flinched down as flat as he could in the trunk.

“He looks frightened,” a man said.

Pinocchio peered up from the trunk. The man, who must have been the shopkeeper Signore Polendina, was about half the age of Don Antonio. He had a pointed mustache and streaks of silver in his black hair. He wasn’t nearly as well dressed as Don Antonio, but Pinocchio liked his face right away. He didn’t narrow his eyes or do those funny things with his eyebrows.

“Frightened?” Don Antonio chuckled in his wheezy voice. “Don’t be ridiculous, man. An automa can’t be frightened.”

Pinocchio wondered if in fact that was how he was feeling. Frightened.

“Yes, of course.” Polendina stroked his mustache. “The automa’s nose has extended. What’s he done?”

Don Antonio gave a wet cough before saying, “That’s why I’ve brought you here, Signore Polendina. Have you heard what these automa have inside their chests?”

Polendina hesitated half a moment. “I know a little. A fantom, so I’ve been told? The springwork that the imperial alchemists use to animate these automa.”

“Exactly. But did you know that their fantoms can be used as elixirs? They can be turned into potions that extend life.” Don Antonio grinned. “What can I say? I was curious. I tried to open the automa’s chest to get its fantom.”

He gave Pinocchio an accusing frown and held up his bandaged arm. “But when I did, this fiend nearly broke my wrist! Even Otto was not strong enough to break its grip. He had to strike it with an ax to get it to let go of me.”

Polendina’s eyes searched until he spotted the tear in Pinocchio’s sleeve. Pinocchio brought his hand up to the spot, feeling the notch in his wooden arm. For an instant their eyes met, and Polendina gave Pinocchio a tilt of his head.

“I couldn’t help it, signore!” Pinocchio said all at once. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“Be silent,” Otto said, shaking the ax at him.

As Pinocchio shrank back, Signore Polendina’s gaze remained fixed on him.

“I assume you want me to keep quiet to Captain Toro that you’ve been curious about his captive?” Polendina said.

Don Antonio’s voice lowered. “I want more than that of you, Signore Polendina.”

“What do you mean?”

“I believe you know who this automa belongs to.”

Signore Polendina frowned. “Who?”

“The automa says its master is Geppetto.”

Signore Polendina blinked so placidly he might have been an automa. “I don’t know any Geppetto.”

“I think you do,” Don Antonio said with a strange smile. “When I learned that the automa was supposed to be delivered to the traitor and former high alchemist Geppetto Gazza, the pieces fell into place. You see, not many know this, but Geppetto Gazza’s wife and son recently lived here. In a fortified villa not far outside our walls. In fact, sadly, Geppetto’s family was murdered here, supposedly by a band of half-beast outlaws.”

Pinocchio watched, transfixed, struggling to make sense of what Don Antonio was saying. He found that his hands were fidgeting with something in his pocket. A key. Pinocchio vaguely remembered the prisoner giving it to him, but there was no time to wonder about that now.

“No one would have guessed that the fugitive Geppetto would return to his wife’s hometown,” Don Antonio continued. “Such a man would be better off taking refuge in the false pope’s court in France or fleeing into the deepest wilds of the Kongo. Coming here would be the act of a man with nothing left to live for, nothing left to lose. A man simply waiting for his inevitable capture. Still, he came, although none of us were the wiser.”

Don Antonio poured himself a glass of wine before continuing. “When you arrived in our village a few months back and set up your shop, Polendina’s Abatonian Imports and Refurbishments, I assumed, as any would, that you were simply a dealer in Abatonian magical goods. A nice business. A welcome addition to our little out-of-the-way town. But we don’t get many new citizens here. Our town is not the sort of place strangers come to start businesses. Let me speak plainly. You aren’t who you claim to be, are you, Signore Polendina?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Polendina said.

Don Antonio pointed to Polendina’s hands. “You always wear gloves indoors, signore. Why don’t you take them off and show me your fingers?”

Signore Polendina crossed his arms, tucking his gloved hands away.

“Are you afraid to show me your burned fingertips? Afraid to show that you have the marks of an alchemist, Master Geppetto?” Don Antonio said.

Pinocchio tried to make sense of this. Was Signore Polendina actually Geppetto? Was that why Don Antonio had brought the man here? A warm feeling surged through Pinocchio’s gears at the thought that this might be his new master.

Geppetto or Polendina or whoever he was gave a swift look back at Otto, his face momentarily showing that he was…what was the word? Frightened ? The automa butler stared blankly back at him, the ax held firmly across his chest.

“Don’t worry, dear man. I mean you no harm,” Don Antonio said. “Yes, you are in danger, but not from me, I can assure you. Captain Toro will return soon with a whole squadron of imperial airmen, if not Flying Lions. They will want to capture this Geppetto as a traitor to the empire. But it will take days for them to return all the way out here. We have time. We still have time.”

“Time for what?”

Don Antonio waved to Pinocchio. “For me to give you what is rightfully yours.”

“You have me mistaken for someone else, Don Antonio,” Signore Polendina said, walking quickly past Otto and toward the stairs. “I bid you good night.”

Don Antonio let him pass before saying, “And what shall I do with the automa? Give it over to Captain Toro? Let them take it back to Venice, where they’ll disassemble it to find out why it was sent to the traitor Geppetto?”

“No!” Pinocchio cried, leaping from the trunk.

This was his master! He was sure of it. He couldn’t let Master Geppetto go. But Otto reared up with the ax, waiting for Don Antonio’s orders. Pinocchio shrank back. “Please don’t let them do that to me, Master!”

The shopkeeper froze. He looked back over his shoulder at Pinocchio, his face pinched. “You fear being disassembled?”

“Yes, Master,” Pinocchio pleaded. “Don’t leave me here.”

The man slowly walked back toward Don Antonio. “Am I to believe that you would simply defy an officer of the empire and allow me to escape with this automa?”

Don Antonio smiled. “You are right, signore. It is a crime, is it not? But suppose the trunk was smashed open, and suppose I told Captain Toro that the prisoner escaped?”

“That might be believed.” The shopkeeper crossed his arms over his chest. “But you would be taking an enormous risk.”

“Yes, I would.” Don Antonio tapped his whiskery chin thoughtfully. “But suppose you made it a risk I was willing to take?”

“What do you want from me?”

“I am an old man,” Don Antonio wheezed. “I am nearing the end of my life. I’m not eager for it to be over. Who is? A few more years would be most welcome. A few more years to enjoy my glasses of Chianti and plates of pasta and roasted boar.”

“You want an elixir.”

Don Antonio gave him a playful poke in the chest. “My father, rest his soul, dabbled in alchemy. He told me all about how elixirs are made, although he was never able to make one himself. If you, sir, are the fabled alchemist Geppetto Gazza, then you would be able to make an elixir that could extend my life a few more years. Dare I hope even decades?”

“Possibly,” he answered. “But to make an elixir, I’ll need the fantom of an automa. Where would I get the fantom?”

Don Antonio held a hand toward Pinocchio.

The shopkeeper shook his head. “If I remove his fantom, he’ll no longer function. I’d never know why the automa was sent. What good would it be to take the lad if he no longer functioned?”

Pinocchio didn’t like how that sounded.

Don Antonio sighed. “I feared that might be the case. But you are quite right. Fortunately, we have another option.”

His eyes darted to Otto.

“I can always purchase a new butler,” Don Antonio said. “But the opportunity to make an exchange with an alchemist of your talents, Master Geppetto, does not come along often. You may use Otto’s fantom.”

Slipping off his gloves and exposing his blackened fingertips, Geppetto stepped toward Otto. The mechanical butler watched him impassively.

“Put down your ax, Otto,” Don Antonio ordered.

Otto laid the ax against the wall and faced Geppetto again. Geppetto pushed Otto’s cravat out of the way and unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a compartment in the middle of his chest. Geppetto turned the latch and opened the panel. In the hollow square gleamed a golden orb of gears and springs.

Pinocchio had never seen a fantom. In fact, he’d had no idea his kind even had them. He’d never wondered before about how he worked. But now curiosity was burning in him, and he watched eagerly.

Don Antonio seemed eager as well as he hissed, “Yes!” at the sight of the fantom.

Geppetto took Otto’s fantom in a firm grip and pulled it loose. Otto’s eyes dulled and his head tilted, the flame continuing its flickering from the open crown of his skull.

Pinocchio knew Otto was no longer functioning. An automa wouldn’t mind this. Automa didn’t mind anything. But something about seeing Otto this way now bothered Pinocchio deeply. It frightened him, and he didn’t like this new sensation.

“I have my father’s laboratory instruments,” Don Antonio said. “Tell me what you need, master alchemist.”

“I only need a glass,” Geppetto said drily. “A clean one.”

Don Antonio hurried back through the wine racks, wheezing noisily, to where he fetched a new wine goblet.

“Just hold on to it,” Geppetto said when he returned.

Don Antonio gripped the stem of the goblet, hands trembling terribly. Geppetto took a small leather case from his pocket.

“Is that a salamander’s tail?” Don Antonio asked, smiling. “My father had a fine collection of minor elemental creatures—”

“Quiet, so I can concentrate,” Geppetto said.

He clutched the case in one hand and cupped his other hand around the fantom, holding it over the shaking goblet. Geppetto closed his eyes, murmuring softly under his breath. Orange molten light grew at the seams of the case.


  • "Wow! John Claude Bemis hides new magic in old stories."
    Tom Angleberger, New York Times best-selling author of the Origami Yoda series

On Sale
Jun 6, 2017
Page Count
336 pages

John Claude Bemis

About the Author

John Claude Bemis is an award-winning author, musician, and educator. His novels include The Prince Who Fell from the Sky and the Clockwork Dark trilogy. John was chosen as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate for Children’s Literature. He lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC. Visit him online at

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