Published by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) on August 3, 2021
Genres: Middle Grade
In Heather Kassner's spine-chilling fantasy novel, reminiscent of Serafina and the Black Cloak, an orphaned girl chases a thieving boy into a magician's land of starless, moonless gloom where other children have gone missing before her.Though the darkness is indeed plentiful, this book gleams with an eerie magic, its characters burning bright and fierce. A visual treat of a tale. --Stefan Bachmann, international bestselling author of Cinders and Sparrows
In order to survive on her own, twelve-year-old Rooney de Barra collects precious moonlight, which she draws from the evening sky with her (very rare and most magical) lunar mirror. All the while she tries to avoid the rival roughhouse boys, and yet another, more terrifying danger: the dreaded thing that's been disappearing children in the night.
When Trick Aidan, the worst of the roughhouse boys, steals her lunar mirror, Rooney will do whatever it takes to get it back. Even if it means leaping into a pool of darkness after it swallows Trick and her mirror. Or braving the Plentiful Darkness, a bewitching world devoid of sky and stars. Or begrudgingly teaming up with Trick to confront the magician and unravel the magic that has trapped Warybone's children.
A Few Hours Earlier
Stardust was trickier to catch than moonlight. In fact, Rooney de Barra had never caught a speck of it. It danced far out of reach, little gems in the evening sky that taunted her with their bright sparkling.
Even on overcast nights like this one, they glittered through the gray.
Standing in the darkened alleyway, Rooney ran a thumb over the round metal case in her hand—the exact size of her small palm. A thorny stem was etched on the lid, and she cracked it open. It might have looked like a chainless pocket watch, but nestled within lay a very special mirror.
A lunar mirror.
Some said these rare mirrors were made from the moon itself, tiny slivers of the dead rock fallen to Earth. Rooney thought that notion silly, because she knew the truth.
Magic touched the glass.
Oh, it was a most extraordinary mirror. The silvery surface rippled like the sea, then settled smooth and shiny once again. She tucked her dark hair behind her ears and tipped her face over the glass. Her freckled white cheeks, her arrowed eyebrows, and her bark-brown eyes left no reflection.
The only face the mirror would reveal was that of the moon.
Rooney polished the glass with the frayed sleeve of her coat, checking for nicks or scratches, removing fingerprints and thumb smudges. When she was through, the mirror shone.
Its reflected light exposed the blackened bricks of the buildings to each side of her, the grime-coated windows, and the mold stuck in the cracks. Rooney wrinkled her nose and inched away from the walls so she stood in the very center of the alleyway.
A thread of silver fell between the old buildings and glanced upon her cheek. She took one step back, and another half step, lifting her right arm and holding it steady with the left. Quite precisely, she angled the mirror toward the sky. It reflected the dark clouds above and sieved a smidgen of moonlight, which spiraled down through the air, wispy and blue.
Rooney held very still so the mirror would not tilt. One little twitch might spill the light instead of capture it, and she needed every last drop.
A breeze swept by, scampering through the alley and swooping up, up, up into the sky. Rooney kept her feet firmly planted. Her raised arm never wavered. But the clouds shifted when pushed, and the moon disappeared behind them.
She frowned, turning the mirror this way and that, but it did no good. The moonbeams could no longer reach her.
And of course, the stardust only teased her, a glimmer beyond the fog.
Rooney closed the mirror and tucked it into the pocket of her long coat. With a huff, she stalked down the alleyway. It was undoubtedly the worst place to catch moonlight, but it was the one place in Warybone she felt safest.
Yes, it was dark. (Very.) Yes, it was crooked and foul and dank. (Very, very, very.) But it was quiet too. A hushed space that Rooney had all to herself.
The rats gathered here too. Thick furred and long tailed, they skittered through the shadows, unbothered and right at home. No one troubled them in the alley. No one shrieked or kicked them out of the way like the gents and ladies and roughhouse boys did in the cobbled streets. All those hard-knuckled boys scared of getting bitten, while Rooney slept beside the little beasts without suffering a single scratch or nibble.
In unspoken agreement, the Montys—which was what she called the rats, a collective name for all of them, as she could hardly tell one hairy creature from another—behaved quite politely, and she offered them the same courtesy.
She could not say the same for the roughhouse boys. She’d rumbled with them a time or two. They were all bruises and teeth.
Rooney watched for them now (the boys, not the rats) as she emerged from the alleyway and hesitated on the darkened street. At each corner, lamps glowed blue in the misty air, moonlit sparks wavering behind the glass, and within each house, moonlit flames leaped in the hearths, for when moonlight touched wood or wick, it warmed, and when it touched metal or glass, it cooled.
It was much safer than the outdated use of fire or gas, which could as easily warm a house as burn it to the ground. Spilled moonlight would only glimmer harmlessly before it eventually faded away.
She cast a look over her shoulder. Usually the boys made enough noise in their coming that she heard them before she saw them, but it was still wise to be cautious.
Her boots fell softly on the street as she crept forward. One of the Montys followed her the length of a block and then another, keeping close to her ankles. It was a skinny thing (like Rooney herself) with a scruffy black coat and a splotch of white on its nose.
Rooney glanced up at the sky. She licked her finger and held it out in front of her, trying to gauge which way the wind would carry the clouds. That-a-way (she did not know north from south), she guessed, and turned left down Cider Street.
Best to stay on the busier avenues as long as she could, where the laughter and music from the taverns spilled out into the night. (At this hour, there were still more smiles than fists.)
The Monty continued to follow her. It must have felt safe in her shadow, hoping she’d spare a crumb. One it wouldn’t have to fight over with its sharp-toothed brothers and sisters.
“I’ve got nothing for you, I’m afraid.” Her stomach grumbled. “And nothing for me, unless I gather a mirror-full of moonlight to trade for my supper.”
It was probably only a shadow falling across its snout, but the rat seemed to frown.
“As though you could do any better in weather like this,” she scoffed, then sighed. “If only I could figure out how to capture stardust, I’d never go hungry again.”
If moonlight gleamed like glass, starlight would glitter like diamonds.
And like diamonds, it would be worth so much more.
Both forms of light could be cut and shaped into sparkling necklaces and delicate rings; into golden or silver-blue thread, ribbon, and rope; into glinting ever-lit chandeliers. But whereas moonlight was fleeting, starlight was forever.
At least, that’s what all the stories whispered in the streets of Warybone told.
Rooney wasn’t sure about all that, but gathering a twinkling from the stars above would prove a thing or two to those roughhouse boys. That she was as good as them.
That she was better than them. For they’d never caught a bit of starlight either. They would beg her to show them how she’d done it.
“One day,” she muttered.
Rooney kicked a stone in her path and stuffed her hands into her pockets. Thistle Hill stood in the distance. The highest point in all of Warybone, it was the perfect place for catching moonlight, but it was also the spot the roughhouse boys had claimed as their own.
She would just have to avoid them as best she could.
The Monty followed her up the narrowed street, its little claws scratching over the stones. Rooney’s eyes flicked to the Tower of Thistle, rising dark and straight into the night. The roof shimmered.
“Do you think the stories are true? That starlight sturdies the tower?” The rat made no reply and only slipped closer to her heels. “Well, I think it’s true. Come on.”
The hill inclined slowly, with cottages sitting crooked on its slope. Where the land was too rocky or the hill too steep, blackberry bushes grew untamed, and in these open spaces Rooney felt most wary.
Maybe the Monty did too. It skittered away, as if something had scared it off. Rooney froze. A tap-tap-tapping pelted the cobblestones. She looked all around, ready to dart off after the rat.
Then a scraping sound split the night. Rooney trembled.
After all, these days there were even worse things on the streets than the roughhouse boys.
Copyright © 2021 by Heather Kassner
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