New York 1905—The Vanderbilts. The Astors. The Morgans. They are the cream of society—and they own the nation on the cusp of a new century. Thalia Cutler doesn’t have any of those family connections. What she does know is stage magic and she dazzles audiences with an act that takes your breath away.
That is, until one night when a trick goes horribly awry. In surviving she discovers that she can shapeshift, and has the potential to take her place among the rich and powerful.
But first, she’ll have to learn to control that power…before the real monsters descend to feast.
A magical and romantic tale set in New York’s Gilded Age, Caroline Stevermer’s The Glass Magician is available April 7th from Tor Books—read an excerpt below!
Spurred by her experience, Thalia returned to the Changing room. Now that the other part of her soul had become evident, Thalia was determined to learn how she Traded. The brandy might have contributed to her zeal.
Nell had told Thalia that she had learned to Trade when she found the common thread between her two forms. Thalia had already been eager to learn what her other form was. Now she knew it was vital she find out.
The pool in the Changing room had been designed with a walkway all around it, broad on the side with the stairs to the nursery, narrow on the other three. Thalia found this an ideal spot to pace. Pacing helped her think. Pacing also kept her mind off how cold it was.
Someone knocked at the double door at the far side of the pool. Thalia put her hand on the door frame. “Who is it?”
“Who do you think?” Nathaniel Ryker unlocked the doors, joined Thalia, and locked them again. “Rogers will let us know when the police get here. Nell is sending telegrams to find our family lawyers.”
Thalia rubbed her hands together. “If the police take me, I want Aristides as a bodyguard.”
“I’ll arrange it.” Ryker regarded her in silence.
Thalia tried to read his expression. His spectacles made it difficult to see his eyes. It was like trying to judge the depth of the pool by looking at the reflections of the gaslights, she thought. “Why are you doing this?”
Ryker didn’t attempt to feign incomprehension. “I’m helping you because you need it.”
“You’re helping me because I’m a Trader.”
“And you need it.” Ryker looked her over. He seemed to approve of what he saw. “You’re very calm for someone who was recently attacked by a manticore.”
“I am.” Thalia shivered. “I suppose I just haven’t had time to think about it. A week ago, I had a career. I knew who I was. Now I don’t know anything.”
Ryker took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders. Thalia was annoyed with herself for noticing how good he smelled. “You’ll learn.”
“Any year now.” Thalia didn’t try to hide her bitterness. “I want my life back.”
“Understandable.” Ryker gave Thalia’s shoulders a little pat, then stepped away. “You are in a devilish awkward situation.”
“I am.” Thalia frowned at him. “How long will you help me?”
“As long as it takes.” Ryker was entirely calm. “It’s all right.”
“Is it? Is it really? It’s all right that I sit here like a cuckoo in the nest for weeks and months and years? It’s all right that you feed me and house me indefinitely? I can’t stay here forever.”
“Forever is impossible, I admit,” said Ryker. “But I urge you to consider how long or short ‘the rest of your life’ might be. Don’t forfeit your time out of impatience.”
“How do you Trade?” Thalia demanded. “Tell me how to do it.”
“It won’t help you.” Ryker sounded embarrassed. “There are days when running the family business is wholly engaging. Sometimes it is even exciting. Those days don’t come very often. The rest of the time, things can get so boring. I feel how much more engaging it would be to Trade, how much more exciting. Then. I Trade.”
“But how did you begin to Trade?” Thalia took a step closer, intent on his answer. “Before you had business to be bored with? How did you do it the first time?”
Ryker had a sweet reminiscent look in his eyes. “We were staying at our house at the shore in Sag Harbor for the summer. It’s not as big as this house, but it has a stone wall all around to keep it safe. I was in the garden. It has a shallow pond I like. Middle of the summer, middle of the night. There was a full moon. I could hear the tide coming in… ” He trailed off, smiling at the memory.
Ryker shook his head. “It was more interesting to Trade to my other form. That’s all.”
Thalia sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Keep trying. Remember, your danger is not the only danger. Until you control your Trades, the manticores you attract will endanger my sister, too.” Ryker lifted his hand, as if to pat her shoulder again, but stopped himself. “I’ll be upstairs, waiting for the lawyers.” He let himself out the double doors and closed them firmly after.
Thalia was alone again. She told herself she was glad. She paced around the pool trying what others had tried. There was nothing amusing in her situation. Although Thalia suspected it would be possible to be bored with pacing eventually, she was sure as long as she was in this difficult situation, she would never be calm enough to be bored.
From one end of the chamber to the other, around and around the pool, Thalia paced. As she paced, her temper rose. What kind of nonsense was this?
On her fiftieth circuit of the pool, Thalia decided to change direction. As she turned, Ryker’s jacket fell from her shoulders. She stumbled as her foot caught in the crumpled fabric. Too close to the edge, she thought. She twisted to regain her balance. For a moment she was sure she could. She was wrong.
Thalia fell into the pool.
It was cold. It was deeper than it looked from above. She could not reach the side.
Thalia could not swim.
As she sank, Thalia watched wide-eyed as the bubbles from the air her clothing held rose past her eyes, at first so many they blocked her vision, then fewer, then none. As Thalia sank, the light above seemed to dim.
Thalia fought the water but it was too deep. She bobbed to the surface once, but sank before she could fill her lungs enough. Gasps and half breaths were all she could manage. She was filled with anger at her own stupidity. She would not end like this.
Yet Thalia could not fight her way back. The struggle lasted too long. Defeated, she exhaled. She knew it was only a matter of time. She could not keep from inhaling long. Then water was everything.
Thalia knew she was dying. She could feel her hands go numb. She tingled everywhere, but the strange sensation could not distract her from the underlying pain.
Thalia went cold to the bone. She flailed, still enraged, still determined to go out fighting.
Thalia’s vision was back. The water had released her. She could breathe freely. All pain was gone. The fear was gone. She was on the surface of the pool, but in no danger of drowning. She rode the dwindling ripples with ease.
The wicked cold was gone. The water moved up and down beneath her in a way she found pleasant until Thalia remembered these were the ripples she’d made when she was drowning.
Behind her, the double doors opened.
Thalia looked around without turning her body. It was no trouble to turn her head farther than she ever had before.
Ryker was standing on the threshold. The gaslight reflected on his spectacles, which made it hard to see his eyes, but he was smiling.
Beside him stood the two policemen, Inspector Ottokar and Officer Kelly. They were not smiling. Their eyes were wide. Their mouths were open.
Thalia turned to face them, spread her wings wide, and hissed at them with every iota of anger and aggression she could muster. It felt wonderful.
“As you see,” Ryker told the policemen, “we were telling you the truth. Miss Cutler is a Trader.”
Inspector Ottokar choked, “She’s turned into a goose!”
Ryker beamed. “In fact, Miss Cutler is a swan.”
Excerpted from The Glass Magician, copyright © 2020 by Caroline Stevermer