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  • Written by Libba Bray
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  • Written by Libba Bray
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On Sale: December 26, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-89060-4
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

* “A huge work of massive ambition.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father alaudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

The Order—the mysterious group her mother was once part of—is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A #1 Book Sense Bestseller
A
New York Times Bestseller
A
Publishers Weekly Bestseller
A
USA Today Bestseller
A 2008 New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
March 1896
SPENCE ACADEMY FOR YOUNG LADIES


There is a particular circle of hell not mentioned in Dante's famous book. It is called comportment, and it exists in schools for young ladies across the empire. I do not know how it feels to be thrown into a lake of fire. I am sure it isn't pleasant. But I can say with all certainty that walking the length of a ballroom with a book upon one's head and a backboard strapped to one's back while imprisoned in a tight corset, layers of petticoats, and shoes that pinch is a form of torture even Mr. Alighieri would find too hideous to document in his Inferno.

"Let us keep our eyes trained toward heaven, girls," our headmistress, Mrs. Nightwing, pleads as we attempt our slow march across the floor, heads held high, arms out like ballerinas.

The loops of the backboard chafe the sides of my arms. The block of wood is unyielding, and I am forced to stand as stiff as the guards at Buckingham Palace. My neck aches with the effort. Come May, I shall make my debut a full year early, for it has been decided by all parties involved that at nearly seventeen I am ready and that it would do me good to have my season now. I shall wear beautiful gowns, attend lavish parties, and dance with handsome gentlemen--if I survive my training. At present, that outcome is very much in doubt.

Mrs. Nightwing paces the length of the ballroom. Her stiff skirts whisk-whisk across the floor as if to rebuke it for lying there. All the while she barks orders like Admiral Nelson himself. "Heads held high!
Do not smile, Miss Hawthorne! Serene, somber expressions! Empty your minds!"

I strain to keep my face a blank canvas. My spine aches. My left arm, held out to the side for what seems hours, trembles with the effort.

"And curtsy . . ."

Like falling souffles, we drop low, trying desperately not to lose our balance. Mrs. Nightwing does not give the order to rise. My legs shake with exhaustion. I cannot manage it. I stumble forward. The book tumbles from my head and lands on the floor with a resounding thud. We have done this four times, and four times I have failed in some fashion. Mrs. Nightwing's boots stop inches from my disgraced form.

"Miss Doyle, may I remind you that this is the court, and you are curtsying to your sovereign, not performing in the Folies Bergere?"

"Yes, Mrs. Nightwing," I say sheepishly.

It is hopeless. I shall never curtsy without falling. I shall lie sprawled upon the gleaming floors of Buckingham Palace like a disgraceful stain of a girl, my nose resting upon the boot of the Queen. I shall be the talk of the season, whispered about behind open fans. No doubt every man will avoid me like typhus.

"Miss Temple, perhaps you will demonstrate the proper curtsy for us?"

Without ado, Cecily Temple, She Who Can Do No Wrong, settles to the floor in a long, slow, graceful arc that seems to defy gravity. It is a thing of beauty. I am hideously jealous.

"Thank you, Miss Temple."

Yes, thank you, you little demon beast. May you marry a man who eats garlic with every meal.

"Now, let us--" Mrs. Nightwing is interrupted by loud banging. She closes her eyes tightly against the noise.

"Mrs. Nightwing," Elizabeth whines. "How can we possibly concentrate on our form with such a terrible racket coming from the East Wing?"

Mrs. Nightwing is in no humor for our complaining. She takes a deep breath and clasps her hands at her waist, her head held high.

"We shall carry on, like England herself. If she could withstand Cromwell, the Wars of the Roses, and the French, surely you may overlook a bit of hammering. Think how lovely the East Wing shall be
when it is completed. We shall try again--steady! All eyes are upon you! It won't do to scurry to
Her Majesty like a timid church mouse."

I often imagine what sort of position Nightwing might seek out were she not currently torturing us as headmistress of Spence Academy for Young Ladies. Dear Sirs, her letter might begin. I am writing to inquire about your advert for the position of Balloon Popper. I have a hatpin that will do the trick neatly and bring about the wails of small children everywhere. My former charges will attest to the fact that I rarely smile, never laugh, and can steal the joy from any room simply by entering and bestowing upon it my unique sense of utter gloom and despair. My references in this matter are impeccable. If you have not fallen into a state of deep melancholia simply by reading my letter, please respond to Mrs. Nightwing (I have a Christian name but no one ever has leave to use it) in care of Spence Academy for Young Ladies. If you cannot be troubled to find the address on your own, you are not trying your very best. Sincerely, Mrs. Nightwing.

"Miss Doyle! What is that insipid smile you're wearing? Have I said something that amuses you?" Mrs. Nightwing's admonishment brings a flush to my cheeks. The other girls giggle.

We glide across the floor, trying our best to ignore the hammering and the shouts. The noise isn't what distracts us. It is the knowledge that there are men here, one floor above us, that keeps us jittery and light.

"Perhaps we could see the progress they've made, Mrs. Nightwing? How extraordinary it must be," Felicity Worthington suggests with a sweetness bordering on pure syrup. Only Felicity would be so bold as to suggest this. She is too daring by half. She is also one of my only allies here at Spence.

"The workmen do not need girls underfoot, as they are already behind schedule," Mrs. Nightwing says. "Heads up, if you please! And--"

A loud bang sounds from above. The sudden noise makes us jump. Even Mrs. Nightwing lets out a "Merciful heavens!" Elizabeth, who is nothing more than a nervous condition disguised as a debutante, yelps and grabs hold of Cecily.

"Oh, Mrs. Nightwing!" Elizabeth cries.

We look to our headmistress hopefully.

Mrs. Nightwing exhales through disapproving lips. "Very well. We shall adjourn for the present. Let us take the air to restore the roses to our cheeks."

"Might we bring our paper and sketch the progress on the East Wing?" I suggest. "It would make a fine record."

Mrs. Nightwing favors me with a rare smile. "A most excellent suggestion, Miss Doyle. Very well, then. Gather your paper and pencils. I shall send Brigid with you. Don your coats. And walk, if you please."

We abandon our backboards along with our decorum, racing for the stairs and the promise of freedom, however temporary it may be.

"Walk!" Mrs. Nightwing shouts. When we cannot seem to heed her advice, she bellows after us that we are savages not fit for marriage. She adds that we shall be the shame of the school and something else besides, but we are down the first flight of stairs, and her words cannot touch us.


From the Hardcover edition.
Libba Bray

About Libba Bray

Libba Bray - The Sweet Far Thing

Photo © Ingalisa Schrobsdorff

"I’m one of those people who has to write. If I don’t write, I feel itchy and depressed and cranky. So everybody’s glad when I write and stop complaining already."–Libba Bray

Libba Bray is the author of the acclaimed A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What is it about writing an author bio that gives me that deer-in-headlights feeling? It’s not exactly like I’m going to say “I was born in Alabama…” and somebody’s going to jump up and snarl, “Oh yeah? Prove it!” At least I hope not.

I think what gets me feeling itchy is all that emphasis on the facts of a life, while all the juicy, relevant, human oddity stuff gets left on the cutting room floor. I could tell you the facts–I lived in Texas for most of my life; I live in New York City with my husband and five-year-old son now; I have freckles and a lopsided smile; I’m allergic to penicillin.

But that doesn’t really give you much insight into me. That doesn’t tell you that I stuck a bead up my nose while watching TV when I was four and thought I’d have to go to the ER and have it cut out. Or that I once sang a punk version of “Que Sera Sera” onstage in New York City. Or that I made everyone call me “Bert” in ninth grade for no reason that I can think of. See what I mean?

God is in the details. So with that in mind, here is my bio. Sort of.

TWENTY-ONE THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT ME
by Libba Bray

1. I lived in Texas until I was 26 years old, then I moved to New York City with $600.00 in my shoe (’cause muggers won’t take it out of your shoe, y’know . . . riiiiight . . .) and a punchbowl (my grandmother’s gift) under my arm. I ended up using the punchbowl box as an end table for two years.

2. My dad was a Presbyterian minister. Yes, I am one of those dreaded P.K.s–Preacher’s Kids. Be afraid. Be very afraid . . .

3. The first story I ever wrote, in Mrs. McBee’s 6th grade English class, was about a girl whose family is kidnapped and held hostage by a murderous lot of bank robbers who intend to kill the whole family–including the dog–until the 12-year-old heroine foils the plot and saves the day. It included colored pencil illustrations of manly-looking, bearded criminals smoking, and, oblivious to the fact that The Beatles had already sort of laid claim to the title, I called my novel, HELP. My mom still has a copy. And when I do something she doesn’t like, she threatens to find it.

4. My favorite word is “redemption.” I like both its meaning and the sound. My least favorite word is “maybe.” “Maybe” is almost always a “no” drawn out in cruel fashion.

5. My three worst habits are overeating, self-doubt, and the frequent use of the “f” word.

6. The three things I like best about myself are my sense of humor, my ability to listen, and my imagination.

7. I have an artificial left eye. I lost my real eye in a car accident when I was eighteen. In fact, I had to have my entire face rebuilt because I smashed it up pretty good. It took six years and thirteen surgeries. However, I did have the pleasure of freezing a plastic eyeball in an ice cube, putting it in a friend’s drink, (“Eyeball in your highball?”) and watching him freak completely. Okay, so maybe that’s not going down on my good karma record. But it sure was fun.

8. In 7th grade, my three best friends and I dressed up as KISS and walked around our neighborhood on Halloween. Man, we were such dorks.

9. I once spent New Year’s Eve in a wetsuit. I’d gone to the party in a black dress that was a little too tight (too many holiday cookies) and when I went to sit down, the dress ripped up the back completely. Can we all say, mortified? The problem was, my friends were moving out of their house–everything was packed and on a truck–and there was nothing I could put on . . . but a wetsuit that they still had tacked to the wall. I spent the rest of the party maneuvering through throngs of people feeling like a giant squid.

10. I got married in Florence, Italy. My husband and I were in love but totally broke, so we eloped and got married in Italy, where he was going on a business trip. We had to pull a guy off the street to be our witness. It was incredibly romantic. Florence is still one of my favorite cities in the world.

11. I often write in longhand and type it into the computer later, editing as I go. Sitting in my favorite coffeehouse with a new notebook and a hot cup of java is my idea of heaven.

12. I’m related to Davy Crockett on my mom’s side. Honest.

13. I grew up doing theatre and spent a long time as a playwright. I still think very visually when I write.

14. Some of my favorite movies of all time (subject to change when I think of other movies I love) are All About Eve, Brazil, Blade Runner, Spinal Tap, Citizen Kane, Harold & Maude, To Kill a Mockingbird, Singin’ in the Rain, and probably a million more that I can’t think of right now. I have never made it through The Wizard of Oz without crying. Not once.

15. Naming my favorite books feels like naming a favorite child–impossible. But here’s my list of some Y.A. books I love as of 4:03pm today. Tithe by Holly Black. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (not really Y.A. but I read it when I was 16 and it rocked my world). Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Here’s what’s on my nightstand to read: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. Acceleration by Graham McNamee. The Literary Opus of Daniel Elam by Daniel Elam. By the Time You Finish this Book You Might Be Dead by Aaron Zimmerman.

16. I love to be scared. Not “hey, I think I smell smoke . . .” scared, but creepy, paranoid, what’s-that-out-there-in-the-dark, ghost story scared. It’s no surprise that I was the girl who got invited to the slumber parties because I could be counted on to tell a tale to scare the bejesus out of you.

17. In homage to a book I just read entitled, FIVE MEN WHO BROKE MY HEART, I submit: The first boy who broke my heart (age 6) didn’t want to sit next to me because I’d wet my pants in reading circle once and he thought I was gross. Damn my small bladder! The second boy who broke my heart (age 16) was a drummer with a band (the start of a trend, folks…) and he threw me over for a really cool chick I couldn’t even bring myself to hate. The third boy who broke my heart (ages 20—24, ay yi yi . . .) was a strapping hunk of bodaciousness with the mind of Einstein. We had the exact same birthday, same year and everything. So the time he forgot to wish me a happy birthday was kind of the beginning of the end, I think. The fourth boy who broke my heart (age 25) was also a drummer. I had to stop with the drummers. The fifth boy . . . well, I married him, and if he breaks my heart, I’m going to burn all his favorite, rare import punk vinyl in the middle of the living room, so he’s been warned.

18. I’m one of those people who has to write. If I don’t write, I feel itchy and depressed and cranky. So everybody's glad when I write and stop complaining already.

19. My Pennsylvania Dutch great-great-great grandmother was supposedly a psychic who could see and speak to the dead. Sort of a witch, I guess. Her husband was an undertaker, and she would have these visions of someone bringing in a string of a particular size (people were measured for their coffins in this way) and it would come true. Creepy stuff, but fascinating.

20. If I were stuck on a deserted island, the five indispensable CDs I’d take would be London Calling by the Clash, Quadrophenia by The Who, Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits, To Venus and Back by Tori Amos, and Elvis Costello’s Greatest Hits.

21. I hate doughnuts. Weird but true.
Praise | Awards

Praise

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, October 29, 2007:
“A huge work of massive ambition.”

Review, People, December 24, 2007:
"This is a rare treat that offers a bit of everything--romance, magic, history, Gothic intrigue--and delivers on all of it in 819 beautifully crafted pages."


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
WINNER Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year
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