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Because he doesn’t know. Not really.
Everything changed on The Day. The day the Icon appeared in Los Angeles. The day the power stopped. The day Dol’s family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn’t know it was fighting.
Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside with fellow survivor Ro-safe from the shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can’t avoid.
They’re different. They survived. Why?
When the government discovers their secret, they are forced to join faint-hearted Tima and charismatic Lucas in captivity. Called the Icon Children, the four are the only humans on Earth immune to the power of the Icons. Torn between brooding Ro and her evolving feelings for Lucas, between a past and a future, Dol’s heart has never been more vulnerable. And as tensions escalate, the Icon Children discover that their explosive emotions-which they’ve always thought to be their greatest weaknesses-may actually be their greatest strengths.
Bestselling author Margaret Stohl delivers a thrilling novel set in a haunting new world where four teens must piece together the mysteries of their pasts-in order to save their future.
I start to dream as my mother's heart stops beating.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME
"Dol? Are you okay?"
The memory fades at the sound of his voice.
I feel him somewhere in my mind, the nameless place where I see everything, feel everyone. The spark that is Ro. I hold on to it, warm and close, like a mug of steamed milk or a lit candle.
And then I open my eyes and come back to him.
Ro's here with me. He's fine, and I'm fine.
I think it, over and over, until I believe it. Until I remember what is real and what is not.
Slowly the physical world comes into focus. I'm standing on a dirt trail halfway up the side of a mountain—staring down at the Mission, where the goats and pigs in the field below are small as ants.
"All right?" Ro reaches toward me and touches my arm.
I nod. But I'm lying.
I've let the feelings—and the memories—overtake me again. I can't do that. Everyone at the Mission knows I have a gift for feeling things—strangers, friends, even Ramona Jamona the pig, when she's hungry—but it doesn't mean I have to let the feelings control me.
At least that's what the Padre keeps telling me.
I try to control myself, and usually I can. But I wish I didn't feel anything, sometimes. Especially not when everything is so overwhelming, so unbearably sad.
"Don't disappear on me, Dol. Not now." Ro locks his eyes on me and motions with his big tan hands. His brown-gold eyes flicker with fire and light under his dark tangle of hair. His face is all broad planes and rough angles—as solid as a brambled oak, softening only for me. He could climb halfway up the mountain again by now, or halfway down. Holding Ro back is like trying to stop an earthquake or a mud slide. Maybe a train.
But not now. Now he waits. Because he knows me, and he knows where I've gone.
Where I go.
I stare up at the sky, spattered with bursts of gray rain and orange light. It's hard to see past the wide-brimmed hat I stole off the hook behind the Padre's office door. Still, the setting sun is in my eyes, pulsing from behind the clouds, bright and broken.
I remember what we are doing and why we are here.
My birthday. It's my seventeenth birthday tomorrow.
Ro has a present for me, but first we have to climb the hill. He wants to surprise me.
"Give me a clue, Ro." I pull myself up the hill after him, leaving a twisting trail of dried brush and dirt behind me.
I turn to look down the mountain again. I can't stop myself. I like how everything looks from up here.
Peaceful. Smaller. Like a painting, or one of the Padre's impossible puzzles, except there aren't any missing pieces. In the distance below, I can see the yellowing patch of field that belongs to our Mission, then the fringe of green trees, then the deep blue wash of the ocean.
The view is so serene, you almost wouldn't know about The Day. That's why I like it here. If you don't leave the Mission, you don't have to think about it. The Day and the Icons and the Lords. The way they control us.
How powerless we are.
This far up the Tracks, away from the cities, nothing ever changes. This land has always been wild.
A person can feel safe here.
I raise my voice. "It'll be getting dark soon."
He's up the trail, once again. Then I hear a ripple through the brush, and the sound of rolling rock, and he lands behind me, nimble as a mountain goat.
Ro smiles. "I know, Dol."
I take his calloused hand and relax my fingers into his. Instantly, I am flooded with the feeling of Ro—physical contact always makes our connection that much stronger.
He is as warm as the sun behind me. As hot as I am cold. As rough as I am smooth. That's our balance, just one of the invisible threads that tie us together.
It's who we are.
My best-and-only friend and me.
He rummages in his pocket, then pushes something into my hands, suddenly shy. "All right, I'll hurry it up. Your first present."
I look down. A lone blue glass bead rolls between my fingers. A slender leather cord loops in a circle around it.
It's the blue of the sky, of my eyes, of the ocean.
"Ro," I breathe. "It's perfect."
"It reminded me of you. It's the water, see? So you can always keep it with you." His face reddens as he tries to explain, the words sticking in his mouth. "I know—how it makes you feel."
Peaceful. Permanent. Unbroken.
"Bigger helped me with the cord. It used to be part of a saddle." Ro has an eye for things like that, things other people overlook. Bigger, the Mission cook, is the same way, and the two of them are inseparable. Biggest, Bigger's wife, tries her best to keep both of them out of trouble.
"I love it." I thread my arm around his neck in a rough hug. Not so much an embrace as a cuff of arms, the clench of friends and family.
Ro looks embarrassed, all the same. "It's not your whole present. For that you have to climb a little farther."
"But it's not even my birthday yet."
"It's your birthday eve. I thought it was only fair to start tonight. Besides, this kind of present is best after sundown." Ro holds out his hand, a wicked look in his eyes.
"Come on. Just one little hint." I squint up at him and he grins.
"But it's a surprise."
"You're making me hike all this way through the brush."
He laughs. "Okay. It's the last thing you'd ever expect. The very last thing." He bounces up and down a bit where he stands, and I can tell he's practically ready to bolt up the mountain.
"What are you talking about?"
He shakes his head, holding out his hand again. "You'll see."
I take it. There's no getting Ro to talk when he doesn't want to. Besides, his hand in mine is a good thing.
I feel the beating of his heart, the pulse of his adrenaline. Even now, when he's relaxed and hiking, and it's just the two of us. He is a coiled spring. He has no resting state, not really.
A shadow crosses the hillside, and instinctively we dive for cover under the brush. The ship in the sky is sleek and silver, glinting ominously with the last reflective rays of the setting sun. I shiver, even though I'm not at all cold, and my face is half buried in Ro's warm shoulder.
I can't help it.
Ro murmurs into my ear as if he is talking to one of the Padre's puppies. It's more his tone than the words—that's how you speak to scared animals. "Don't be afraid, Dol. It's headed up the coast, probably to Goldengate. They never come this far inland, not here. They're not coming for us."
"You don't know that." The words sound grim in my mouth, but they're true.
He slips his arm around me and we wait like that until the sky is clear.
Because he doesn't know. Not really.
People have hidden in these bushes for centuries, long before us. Long before there were ships in the skies.
First the Chumash lived here, then the Rancheros, then the Spanish missionaries, then the Californians, then the Americans, then the Grass. Which is me, at least since the Padre brought me back as a baby to La Purísima, our old Grass Mission, in the hills beyond the ocean.
The Padre tells it like a story; he was on a crew searching for survivors in the silent city after The Day, only there were none. Whole city blocks were quiet as rain. Finally, he heard a tiny sound—so small, he thought he was imagining it—and there I was, crying purple-faced in my crib. He wrapped me in his coat and brought me home, just as he now brings us stray dogs.
It was also the Padre who taught me the history of these hills as we sat by the fire at night, along with the constellations of the stars and the phases of the moon. The names of the people who knew our land before we did.
Maybe it was supposed to be like this. Maybe this, the Occupation, the Embassies, all of it, maybe this is just another part of nature. Like the seasons of a year, or how a caterpillar turns into a cocoon. The water cycle. The tides.
Chumash Rancheros Spaniards Californians Americans Grass.
Sometimes I repeat the names of my people, all the people who have ever lived in my Mission. I say the names and I think, I am them and they are me.
I am the Misíon La Purísima de Concepción de la Santísima Virgen María, founded in Las Californias on the Day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, on the Eighth Day of the Twelfth Month of the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred Eighty-Seven. Three hundred years ago.
Chumash Rancheros Spaniards Californians Americans Grass.
When I say the names they're not gone, not to me. Nobody died. Nothing ended. We're still here.
I'm still here.
That's all I want. To stay. And for Ro to stay, and the Padre. For us to stay safe, everyone here on the Mission.
But as I look back down the mountain I know that nothing stays, and the gold flush and fade of everything tells me that the sun is setting now.
No one can stop it from going. Not even me.
RESEARCH MEMORANDUM: THE HUMANITY PROJECT
CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET / AMBASSADOR EYES ONLY
To: Ambassador Amare
From: Dr. Huxley-Clarke
Subject: Icon Research
We still can't be sure how the Icons work. We know, when the Lords came, thirteen Icons fell from the sky, one landing in each of the Earth's mega-cities. To this day, we still can't get close enough to examine them. Our best guess is that the Icons generate an immensely powerful electromagnetic field that can halt electrical activity within a certain radius. We believe it is this field that enables the Icons to disrupt or disable all modern technology. It appears the Icons can also shut down any and all chemical processes or reactions within the field.
Note: We call this the "shutdown effect."
The Day itself proved the ultimate demonstration of this capability, when, as we all know, the Lords activated the Icons and ended all hope of resistance by making an example of Goldengate, São Paulo, Köln-Bonn, Cairo, Mumbai, and Greater Beijing … the so-called Silent Cities.
By the end of The Day, the newly arrived colonists gained complete control of all major population centers on the Seven Continents. An estimated one billion lives ended in an instant, the greatest tragedy in history.
May silence bring them peace.
By the time we reach the top of the hillside, the sky has turned dark as the eggplants in the Mission garden.
Ro pulls me up the last slide of rocks. "Now. Close your eyes."
"Ro. What have you done?"
"Nothing bad. Nothing that bad." He looks at me and sighs. "Not this time, anyway. Come on, trust me."
I don't close my eyes. Instead, I look into the shadows beneath the scraggly trees in front of me, where someone has built a shack out of scraps of old signboard and rusting tin. The hood of an ancient tractor is lashed to the legs on a faded poster advertising what looks like running shoes.
That's what the bodiless legs say, in bright white words spilling over the photograph.
"Don't you trust me?" Ro repeats, keeping his eyes on the shack as if he was showing me his most precious possession.
There is no one I trust more. Ro knows that. He also knows I hate surprises.
I close my eyes.
"Careful. Now, duck."
Even with my eyes shut, I know when I am inside the shack. I feel the palmetto roof brush against my hair, and I nearly tumble over the roots of the trees surrounding us.
"Wait a second." He lets go of me. "One. Two. Three. Happy birthday, Dol!"
I open my eyes. I am now holding one end of a string of tiny colored lights that shine in front of me as if they were stars pulled down from the sky itself. The lights weave from my fingers all across the room, in a kind of sparkling circle that begins with me and ends with Ro.
I clap my hands together, lights and all. "Ro! How—? Is that—electric?"
He nods. "Do you like it?" His eyes are twinkling, same as the lights. "Are you surprised?"
"Never in a thousand years would I have guessed it."
He moves to one side. Next to him is a strange-looking contraption with two rusty metal circles connected by a metal bar and a peeling leather seat.
"Sort of. It's a pedal generator. I saw it in a book that the Padre had, at least the plans for it. Took me about three months to find all the parts. Twenty digits, just for the old bike. And look there—"
He points to two objects sitting on a plank. He takes the string of lights from my hand, and I move to touch a smooth metal artifact.
"Pan-a-sonic?" I sound out the faded type on the side of the first object. It's some sort of box, and I pick it up, turning it over in my hands.
He answers proudly. "That's a radio."
I realize what it is as soon as he says the words, and it's all I can do not to drop it. Ro doesn't notice. "People used them to listen to music. I'm not sure it works, though. I haven't tried it yet."
I put it down. I know what a radio is. My mother had one. I remember because it dies every time in the dream. When The Day comes. I touch my tangled brown curls self-consciously.
It's not his fault. He doesn't know. I've never told anyone about the dream, not even the Padre. That's how badly I don't want to remember it.
I change the subject. "And this?" I pick up a tiny silver rectangle, not much bigger than my palm. There is a picture of a lone piece of fruit scratched on one side.
Ro smiles. "It's some kind of memory cell. It plays old songs, right into your ears." He pulls the rectangle out of my hand. "It's unbelievable, like listening to the past. But it only works when it has power."
I shake my head. "I don't understand."
"That's your present. Power. See? I push the pedals like this, and the friction creates energy."
He stands on the bike pedals, then drops onto the seat, pushing furiously. The string of colored lights glows in the room, all around me. I can't help but laugh, it's so magical—and Ro looks so funny and sweaty.
Ro climbs off the bicycle and kneels in front of a small black box. I see that the string of lights attaches neatly to one side. "That's the battery. It stores the power."
"Right here?" The enormous ramifications of what Ro has done begin to hit me. "Ro, we're not supposed to be messing with this stuff. You know using electricity outside the cities is forbidden. What if someone finds out?"
"Who's going to find us? In the middle of a Grass Mission? Up a goat hill, in view of a pig farm? You always say you wish you knew more about what it was like, before The Day. Now you can."
Ro looks earnest, standing there in front of the pile of junk and wires and time.
"Ro," I say, trying to find the words. "I—"
"What?" He sounds defensive.
"It's the best present ever." It's all I can say, but the words don't seem like enough. He did this, for me. He'd rebuild every radio and every bicycle and every memory cell in the world for me, if he could. And if he couldn't, he'd still try if he thought I wanted him to.
That's who Ro is.
"Really? You like it?" He softens, relieved.
I love it like I love you.
That's what I want to tell him. But he's Ro, and he's my best friend. And he'd rather have the mud scrubbed out of his ears than mushy words whispered in them, so I don't say anything at all. Instead, I sink down onto the floor and examine the rest of my presents. Ro's made a frame, out of twisted wire, for my favorite photograph of my mother—the one with dark eyes and a tiny gold cross at her neck.
"Ro. It's beautiful." I finger each curving copper tendril.
"She's beautiful." He shrugs, embarrassed. So I only nod and move on to the next gift, an old book of stories, nicked from the Padre's bookcase. Not the first time we've done that—and I smile at him conspiratorially. Finally, I pick up the music player, examining the white wires. They have soft pieces on the ends, and I fit one into my ear. I look at Ro and laugh, fitting one in his.
Ro clicks a round button on the side of the rectangle. Screaming music streams into the air—I jump and my earpiece goes flying. When I stick it back in, I can almost feel the music. The nest of cardboard and plywood and tin around us is practically vibrating.
We let the music drown out our thoughts and occupy ourselves with singing and shouting—until the door flies open and the night comes tumbling inside. The night, and the Padre.
"DOLORIA MARIA DE LA CRUZ!"
It's my real name—though no one is supposed to know or say it—and he wields it like a weapon. He must be really angry. The Padre, as red-faced and short as Ro is brown and long, looks like he could flatten us both with one more word.
But I've given Ro his own turn with the earphones, and the music is so loud he can't hear the Padre. Ro's singing along badly, and dancing worse. I stand frozen in place while the Padre yanks the white cord from Ro's ear. The Padre holds out his other hand and Ro drops the silver music player into it.
"I see you've raided the storage room once more, Furo."
Ro looks at his feet.
The Padre rips the lights out of the black box, and a spark shoots across the room. The Padre raises an eyebrow.
"You're lucky you didn't burn down half the mountain with this contraband," he says, looking meaningfully at Ro. "Again."
"So lucky." Ro snorts. "I think that every day, right before dawn when I get up to feed the pigs."
The Padre drops the string of lights like a snake. "You realize, of course, that a Sympa patrol could have seen the lights on this mountain all the way down to the Tracks?"
"Don't you ever get tired of hiding?" Ro glowers.
"That depends. Do you ever get tired of living?" The Padre glares back. Ro says nothing.
The Padre has the look he gets when he's doing the Mission accounting, hunched over the ledgers he fills with rows of tiny numbers. This time, he is calculating punishments, and multiplying them times two. I tug on his sleeve, looking repentant—a skill I mastered when I was little. "Ro didn't mean it, Padre. Don't be angry. He did it for me."
He cups my chin with one hand, and I feel his fingers on my face. In a flash, I sense him. What comes to me first is worry and fear—not for himself, but for us. He wants to be a wall around us, and he can't, and it makes him crazy. Mostly, he is patience and caution; he is a globe spinning and a finger tracing roads on a worn map. His heart beats more clearly than most. The Padre remembers everything—he was a grown man when the first Carriers came—and most of what he remembers are the children he has helped. Ro, and me, and all the others who lived at the Mission until they were placed with families.
Then, in my mind's eye, I see something new.
The image of a book takes shape.
The Padre is wrapping it, with his careful hands. My present.
He smiles at me, and I pretend not to know where his mind is.
"Tomorrow we will speak of bigger things. Not today. It's not your fault, Dolly. It's your birthday eve."
And with that, he winks at Ro and draws his robed arm around me, and we both know all is forgiven.
"Now, come to dinner. Bigger and Biggest are waiting, and if we make them wait much longer, Ramona Jamona will no longer be a guest at our table but the main dish."
As we slide our way back down the hillside, the Padre curses the bushes that tug at his robes, and Ro and I laugh like the children we were when he first found us. We race, stumbling in the darkness toward the warm yellow glow of the Mission kitchen. I can see the homemade beeswax candles flickering, the hand-cut paper streamers hanging from the rafters.
My birthday eve dinner is a success. Everyone on the Mission is there—almost a dozen people, counting the farmhands and the church workers—all crammed around our long wooden table. Bigger and Biggest have used every cracked plate in the shed. I get to sit in the Padre's seat, a birthday tradition, and we eat my favorite potato-cheese stew and Bigger's famous sugar cake and sing old songs by the fire until the moon is high and our eyes are heavy and I fall asleep in my usual warm spot in front of the oven.
When the old nightmare comes—my mother and me and the radio going silent—Ro is there next to me on the floor, asleep with crumbs still on his face and twigs still in his hair.
My thief of junk. Climber of mountains. Builder of worlds.
I rest my head on his back and listen to him breathe. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. What the Padre wants to tell me.
Bigger things, that's what he said.
I think about bigger things until I am too small and too tired to care.
EMBASSY CITY TRIBUNAL AUTOPSY
CLASSIFIED TOP SECRET
Performed by Dr. O. Brad Huxley-Clarke, VPHD
Note: Conducted at the private request of Amb. Amare
Santa Catalina Examination Facility #9B
Also see adjoining DPPT in addendum file.
Deceased Personal Possessions Transcript
Deceased classified as victim of Grass Rebellion uprising. Known to be Person of Interest to Ambassador Amare.
Age: Estimate mid-to-late teens. Postadolescent.
Slightly underweight. Brown hair. Blue eyes. Skin characterized by some discoloration indicative of elemental exposure. Exhibits human protein markers and low body weight indicative of predominantly agrarian diet. Staining patterns on teeth consistent with consumption habits of local Grass cultures.
Distinguishing Physical Markings:
A recognizable marking appears inside the specimen's right wrist. At the Ambassador's request, a specimen of the has been removed, in observance of security protocols. .
Cause of Death: .
Survivors: No identified family.
Note: Body will be cremated following lab processing.
Embassy City Waste Facility Assignment: Landfill .
THE PIETÀ OF LA PURÍSIMA
Feelings are memories.
That's what I'm thinking as I stand there in the Mission chapel, the morning of my birthday. It's what the Padre says. He also says that chapels turn regular people into philosophers.
I'm not a regular person, but I'm still no philosopher. And either way, what I remember and how I feel are the only two things I can't escape, no matter how much I want to.
No matter how hard I try.
For the moment, I tell myself not to think. I focus on trying to see. The chapel is dark but the doorway to outside is blindingly bright. That's what morning always looks like in the chapel. The little light there prickles and stings my eyes.
Like in the Mission itself, in the chapel you can pretend that nothing has changed for hundreds of years, that nothing has happened. Not like in the Hole, where they say the buildings have fallen into ruins, and Sympa soldiers control the streets with fear, and you think about nothing but The Day, every day.
Los Angeles, that's what the Hole used to be called. First Los Angeles, then the City of Angels, then the Holy City, then the Hole. When I was little, that's how I used to think of the House of Lords, as angels. Nobody calls them alien anymore, because they aren't. They're familiar. We never see them, but we've never known a world without them, not Ro and me. I grew up thinking they were angels because back on The Day they sent my parents to heaven. At least, that's what the Grass missionaries told me, when I was old enough to ask.
Heaven, not their graves.
Angels, not aliens.
But just because something comes from the sky doesn't make it an angel. The Lords didn't come here from the heavens to save us. They came from some faraway solar system to colonize our planet, on The Day. We don't know what they look like inside their ships, but they're not angels. They destroyed my family the year I was born. What kind of angel would do that?
Now we call them the House of Lords—and Ambassador Amare, she tells us not to fear them—but we do.
Praise for Icons:"Fans of Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series will find many of the same elements here -- paranormal romance, a fast pace, and intriguing characters -- but within a distinctly science-fiction setting. The strong messages of questioning authority, daring to resist injustice, and loyalty to one's group will resonate with teens who loved The Hunger Games."—Booklist
- "Dol's narrative voice is particularly vivid . . . Will keep readers engrossed."—Publisher's Weekly
- "Stohl's dystopia is well-written and well-structured. Action balances with character and world development, and interspersed documents reference deeper mysteries, gradually hinting at how the 'icon children' came to be. The multi-layered characters are mostly sympathetic, believably flawed and driven..."—VOYA"Icons is epic in scale and exquisite in detail-a haunting, futuristic fable of loss and love."—Ally Condie, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Matched
- "I love this book. It's raw and riveting, a scorched-Earth future vision that feels frighteningly real. It's full of passion and deep truths and the kind of power that people only find when they're driven far, far past their limits."—Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author ofThe Magicians—Richelle Mead, New York Times bestselling author of the Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series"Margaret Stohl is a genius when it comes to characters and their emotions. ICONS had me hooked on the first page, and I can't wait to read the sequel!"—Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author of the Modern Faerie Tales series"An action-packed, smart thriller that shows an excitingly different side of Stohl's writing and opens up a fascinating new world."
- "The ultimate compliment I can give this book: I hate that it was written by someone else. It's just awesome. I hope this one gets made into a movie."—James Dashner, New York Times bestselling author of the Maze Runner trilogy
- "Short sentence structure adds to the tension, and the Embassy reports add a level of intrigue. Readers will be waiting for the next book in the series."—Library Media Connection
- On Sale
- Apr 8, 2014
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers