Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…
We’re trilled to share the first chapter of Samatha Cohoe’s Bright Ruined Things, a new YA fantasy novel inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest—out February 15th from Wednesday Books.
Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…
The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the island’s magic and its spirits. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her.
But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether—a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.
When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae realizes that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers—including a secret about Mae’s past. As Mae and her friends unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.
I ran up the path as dawn broke. I didn’t need the light for my feet to land sure on this trail. Light or dark, I knew every step of this island.
They were all coming home today, all the Prospers. The ones I loved and longed for and the ones I did my best not to. It was First Night. Every last lovely, loathsome one of them would be here soon, sipping whatever they felt like and settling into their beautiful rooms. Breathing in the familiar scents of the island, listening to the gentle music of the spirits above the crashing of the sea, and thinking how good it was to be home.
Home. Even though they were only here a few times a year.
I had never left.
I ran along a cliff face. The path was narrow and cut down sharply into white rocks. Below, waves smashed against them with enough force to send the mist thirty feet up, where it clung to my already damp and salty skin. The rising sun’s lavender light spilled across the water, and the spirits’ morning music swelled at Lord Prosper’s command. The path went upward, steep, but my breath was as steady as my pace. I was good at this, unquestionably. Even if no one cared but Coco, it steadied me to do something I knew I could do well first, before I plunged into a day full of things I wasn’t sure I could.
Like make Miles notice I had grown up and wasn’t just a dirty kid he was nice to in the summer.
Like convince him he wanted me at his side when he asked his grandfather to train him.
Like convince him to ask.
I wasn’t sure I could, but I had to. I had to find a way to make a place for myself here, before it was too late. Before Lord Prosper noticed his promise to my dead father had expired, and they finally sent me away from their island.
From my island.
The thought of it spiked my pulse more than the running could. I turned a corner, and the house came into view below me. My heart clutched at the beauty of it. Familiar as this scene was, I never grew tired of looking at it. The house rose out of the soft green spring grass, tall and white and ele- gant. From here, the swimming pool shone as blue as the sea, surrounded by pink bougainvillea. I could see Apollonia’s balcony overlooking it, and above that, the fifth floor, topped with its glinting glass dome.
Lord Prosper and Ivo would be under that dome now, working the morning’s magic. If I could be there with them—helping Lord Prosper, as essential as Ivo, or more—I would never have to worry about losing all of this. If I were a magician, I would never have to worry that the rest of me wasn’t impressive or interesting enough. What could be more interesting and impressive than doing magic? I would do anything to be under that dome every morning. Calming the sea and taming the storm that had kept humans away from the island and its secrets for so long.
This patch of ocean had been a dead zone, once. Ships had sailed around for miles to avoid it. Cartographers had marked it with the image of a storm and the word tempest.
Lord Prosper had changed all that. Now, I rarely saw a cloud.
My steps slowed. I tried to imagine tonight, if everything went as I hoped. I’d find Lord Prosper, maybe after the fireworks. Miles, his grandson, at my side. His strong hand in mine.
Unbidden, Ivo’s scowling face rose in my mind. I grimaced and banished the thought. We would just have to find Lord Prosper when he was alone, without his eldest grandson. It shouldn’t be that hard tonight. Ivo always made himself scarce on First Night. He wasn’t one for parties.
I turned from the house, pushing Ivo from my mind, and stared out toward the mainland. There was a black spot on the lightening horizon. A ship, already? It was early for that. The only Prospers who got up early were the ones who lived here year-round: Lord Prosper, Ivo, and Lady Vivian. The rest of them stayed up late and slept later. Even Coco rarely made it up in time to run with me in the summer, despite her promises. What she really wanted to do was lie in bed and eat breakfast off a spirit-borne tray, like the rest of them. I didn’t blame her for it. If I had her room and the spirits served me in it, I would do the same.
The black spot moved quickly, and in a few moments, I was certain it was a Prosper boat. It moved through the waves against the wind without sail, steam, or smoke. Aether-powered. It flew the island’s gold pennant flag, fluttering back toward England.
I picked up my pace again. Then a wind blew against me, pushing me toward the cliff face.
My foot slipped. My feet never slipped.
I wasn’t running anymore, but the ground wasn’t right. Wasn’t there. I rose, pushed up by the wind, limbs kicking and grasping and finding only wind and air. There was a high-pitched giggle in my ear.
His wind hit me, knocking me sideways off the path. I reached for the cliff face, caught nothing.
I couldn’t believe this. My mind was a blank scream of terror and denial.
The pounding waves rushed toward me. And then they didn’t.
The same wind that had blown me off the trail now blew up from the sea. It caught me just as my feet broke the surface and flung me quickly up and over a towering wave. It pushed me toward the bluff, then dropped me unceremoniously back in the dirt, where I landed in a tangle of long, skinny limbs.
“Aeris!” I screamed, jumping to my feet. I pointed a trembling, furious finger at his nearly human form standing a few feet away. “You aren’t allowed!”
“Not allowed to save a silly girl who falls into the water?” asked the spirit in an innocent tone. “Should watch your feet, Mouse. What would have happened if Aeris had not been near?”
Aeris shuddered, his human form dissolving in a ripple into pure light, then rearranged into false flesh again.
“You nearly killed me, you wretched sprite!”
“Didn’t,” said Aeris.
“I’ll tell Lord Prosper,” I said. My voice shook with powerless rage. Aeris was always an irritation, but he’d never terrified me like this before. His binding shouldn’t have allowed it. I might be the least important human on the island, but I was still a human. I started down the path, toward the big house.
“Oh, yes, go tell Lord Prosper,” said Aeris. “Go tell the good, wise wizard how wicked Aeris almost hurt the dead steward’s brat. Lord Prosper will care. Lord Prosper won’t be angry that Mousy Mae comes into his magic room to tell tales on his loyal spirit.”
Mousy Mae. I ground my teeth whenever Aeris said it. It was the perfect name for everything I feared I was and wished I wasn’t.
“I told you never to call me that!”
And if I had magic, I could have made him obey.
Instead I stalked toward the house. But it didn’t take long for my footsteps to slow. I had never interrupted Lord Prosper’s magic before, and he did favor Aeris. He was the most humanlike of the spirits, the only one who showed will and intelligence, and despite binding Aeris, Lord Prosper allowed him a great deal of freedom.
But surely he would want to know if the spirit had tried to hurt a human, even if it was only me?
Perhaps he would. I closed my eyes and imagined myself climbing up the spiral stairs to the fifth floor, knocking on the deep-blue door. The perplexed look on Lord Prosper’s face when he opened it. The long moment it would take him even to remember who I was, even though I was one of only five humans who lived on the island all year long. Even though I had lived there all my life. Even though I had never left, not even once.
I stopped walking. No. I was not going to tell Lord Prosper for the same reason I’d never asked him to train me in magic. I couldn’t bear the look of pity he would give me, the kind words that would go along with it when he put me gently back in my place.
A soft breeze blew past me, raising the hairs on my arms. “There, there,” said the spirit. “Aeris wouldn’t have let you fall. Aeris is sorry to have frightened you.”
“Don’t do that again,” I muttered.
“Aeris almost forgot,” said the spirit, suddenly appearing in front of me. “Lady Vivian wishes to speak to Mousy Mae. She is in the house. In Lady Apollonia’s room.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
“Don’t know,” said Aeris. He shrugged, and his form blinked light at the motion. “Why would Lady Vivian want to speak to little Mae? Why would anyone? Who knows? Only Lady Vivian.”
Aeris stood in front of me on the footpath. I could have gone around him, through the rock roses. I strode through him instead. Aeris’s yelp of displeasure was worth the skin-crawling tingling that passed over me. The spirit dissolved back into light, then winked high above me.
“Wicked little mouse!” The spirit’s voice was disembodied now. It echoed through the air, then suddenly was small again, whispering in my ear.
“Mae should go around the back. Mae will see what Lady Vivian wants of her if she does.”
I clapped my hands over my ears to push him out, but there was no need. He was gone.
Excerpted from Bright Ruined Things, copyright © 2022 by Samantha Cohoe.