YA Historical Fantasy
In an alternate Victorian England where social prestige stems from blood, money, and magic, sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from the society she yearns for by her baffling lack of magic. Anna believes she can overcome her deficiency by marrying the lord she loves, but after destroying her sister’s debutante spells, Anna finds herself suitorless—and banished to Hungary.
Her life might well be over.
But in Hungary, nothing is what it seems. Fissures in the Binding that holds her world’s magic together are expanding, and the ancient creatures bound by that spell clamor for release. As revolutionary currents envelop Hungary, Anna’s unique ability to break spells becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, rebels, and gypsies, Anna has a choice: cling to the life she’s always wanted, or risk everything to free the creatures, win a rebellion, and change the face of magic itself.
First Five Pages
London, April 1847
I did not set out to ruin my sister’s debut.
Indeed, there were any number of things I deliberately did not do that day.
I did not pray for rain, as I knelt in the small chapel of our London townhouse that morning, the cold of the floor seeping into my bones. Instead, I listened to Mama’s petition for successful spells and sunshine. Peeking through my lashes at Elizabeth’s smug face, I yearned to ask for disquiet, disorder, and torrential downpours—calamitous words that might have eased, a little, the restless crawling in my heart. But I swallowed the words unsaid. Even should God heed such a treacherous prayer, my father would not. And though Papa’s weather magic would cost him a headache, my sister would dance under clear skies.
I did not argue with Elizabeth, when she banned me from the ballroom where she and Mama were laying the final grounding for her illusions. “You’ll break my concentration,” she said, “and spoil my spells.”
But then I did not go to the schoolroom, where I was expected to improve my sketching while James studied his Latin. Instead, I lingered (Mama would say loitered) in the lower hall, watching the servants scurry back and forth with their brooms and buckets and cleaning cloths, in feverish preparation for the ball. I did not rest, as Elizabeth did.
And because of those omissions, I was in the hallway when Lord Frederick Markson Worthing came calling. I heard Freddy’s signature knock—two short, three long—and my heart leapt.
Barton reached the door first and sent me a cross look down his long nose. He accepted a small white visiting card from Freddy, and I slipped into the open doorway.
“Lord Markson Worthing!” I smiled up at Freddy, remembering to use his formal name just in time. “Won’t you come in?”
I didn’t have to look at Barton to know his brows were lowering. Barton disapproved of forwardness in general and me in particular.
Freddy returned my smile. “Thank you, Miss Anna. Only for a moment. I don’t want to leave my horses standing too long in this wind.” In truth, Freddy had no need for horses. As a Luminate of the class Lucifera, he could compel the carriage with spells. But he preferred the aesthetic of horses.
Barton led us upstairs to the Green Drawing Room. “I will notify your mother, Miss Anna. And Miss Arden.”
Freddy and I sat on matching high-backed chairs near the window. Freddy leaned toward me, nearly crushing the bunch of roses he held.
“I hoped I might see you.”
My face grew warm as I met Freddy’s intent gaze. I had been alone with Freddy only a handful of times, usually moments stolen on walks through the park, but there was no one in the world I liked so well. I adored the way his hair curled a little above the collar of his coat. I admired his eyes, which were not really grey, but a band of blue around a center of brown. And I loved him for the way the corners of his lips trembled when he was impassioned: when he spoke about his plans for Parliament or his dreams of a salon in London where Luminate could mingle freely with artists, poets, politicians, scientists, even revolutionaries, where wit would trump magic and ideals would matter more than money.
There was little room in the real world for people like me, but there might be room in Freddy’s world.
“I have something I want to say to you. Will you be at the ball tonight?”
“I am not yet out,” I reminded him. And Mama does not trust me around magic.
“Then meet me. In the herb garden, at midnight.”
The heat in my cheeks deepened. I adjusted my skirts, pretending a composure I did not feel. “Very well.”
“Good girl.” Freddy stood then and adjusted his top hat. “I must go.” He thrust the flowers at me, roses of a red so deep their centers were almost black. The petals spilled over my fingers like blood.
In the doorway, Freddy spun around to face me. “The flowers are for Elizabeth. See that she gets them, will you?”
“Anna?” Grandmama stood in the doorway, her fingers tight around her cane. “Has Lord Markson Worthing gone already?”
I looked up from the flowers. “He couldn’t stay. His horses were waiting.”
“And you were with him alone this entire time?” Her mouth was tight, her Hungarian accent more pronounced. First Barton, now Grandmama. At least Grandmama’s disapproval stemmed from affection.
My shoulders lifted a little. “He left these for Elizabeth.” I held out the flowers and wondered if Grandmama would guess how much hid behind that small truth. What did Freddy mean, asking me to meet him at midnight but leaving me with my sister’s roses?
“Do not shrug. It is not ladylike.” Her dark eyes studied my face, guessing at my discontent. “And do not pine so for this Luminate society, for the magic and the dancing. In Hungary there is not this obsession. You are not yet seventeen, szivem. Your turn will come.”
“Mama would hide me in the country if she could.”
“Your mama loves you. She is afraid for you, is all.”
I did not believe that. Mama was afraid of me, of my strange lack of magic and my caprices. My fingers found a missed thorn on one of the roses, and I snapped it off.
Grandmama sighed. “Give me those flowers. I will take them to Elizabeth. You should go upstairs before your mama finds you.”
I relinquished the roses, but their scent followed me down the hall like a promise.
I sat on Elizabeth’s bed, hugging my knees to my chest. As children, we had often sat like this, watching Mama transform from an ordinary mother into something resplendent and strange. I suspected, however, that Elizabeth was not thinking of our old habit when she summoned me to help her dress, but of flaunting her debutante status.
Elizabeth’s maid attached a small coronet of pearls to my sister’s mahogany hair. Elizabeth surveyed her reflection in the ornate mirror, smiling at the effect. Her image seemed unfamiliar, her usual severity softened by the glass and the late afternoon light. My own face hovered behind my sister’s, a ghostly echo of hers, a pale smear of flesh with dark holes for eyes.
I disliked mirrors. Sometimes when I looked at my reflection aslant, I caught an uncanny doubled reflection, as if I were not one person, but two—as if I were a stranger in my own skin. I never knew if such reflections were a byproduct of my lack of magic, or merely a defect in my vision.
Elizabeth must have seen something in my look to mistrust, because she whirled suddenly. “Anna, you will be good, won’t you? You know how much tonight means.”
As if I could forget. “What would I possibly do? I won’t be anywhere near you.” Except at midnight, in the gardens.
“Strange things happen around you. You’re so very . . .” She paused, searching for the right word.
“Quixotic? Unconventional? Immodest?” All those, and worse, had been hurled at me by exasperated governesses in the past.
Her brows drew together, a faint tuck of disapproval. “You’ll never get a husband with that attitude.”
“Perhaps I don’t want one.”