Murder, madness, and sea monsters combine in this thrilling and atmospheric middle grade debut perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, and Tim Burton.
Sophie Seacove is a storyteller. She tells stories of what the world would be like if madness hadn’t taken over. If her parents hadn’t sold her off as a servant to pay for their passage out of London. If she wasn’t now trapped in a decaying mansion filled with creepy people and surrounded by ravenous sea monsters.
The mansion has plenty of stories, too: About fantastical machines, and the tragic inventor who created them. About his highly suspicious death. And about the Monster Box, a mysterious object hidden in the house that just might hold the key to escaping this horrible place—and to reuniting Sophie with her family.
But not everyone wants Sophie to have the Monster Box, and as she gets closer to finding it, she finds herself unspooling years-old secrets—and dodging dangerous attacks. Sophie needs to use her brains, her brawn, and her unbreakable nature if she wants to make it off this wretched island...and live to tell this story.
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Charlotte Salter lives in England, and has a Master's in Writing. The Bone Snatcher is her debut book. Like her protagonist, Charlotte loves to tell stories and create dark, fantastical worlds.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Beware the Sea
Sophie’s face was pressed against the window of an ancient taxi. Her wrists were tied in front of her with a length of old nylon cord. She had spent the last few hours trying to chew through it, when she wasn’t shouting at the back of the driver’s head. Now it was too late. She knew they were nearly there—wherever there was—because the road was running out, petering into rubble until it disappeared into the bloated ocean.
The taxi swerved so fast Sophie hit her head on the window.
“Is this how you’re going to kill me?” she shouted at the driver, who she hoped regretted not gagging her. She’d been screaming at him for hours, but everything she said seemed to bounce off his black coat. “I can think of less messy ways to get rid of someone!”
Then she thought of the way he probably would get rid of her, by feeding her to one of the ravenous sea creatures that haunted the coast. She started chewing the cord again, trying to pretend that she hadn’t already run out of time. As the taxi climbed the hill the sea rose back into view, dark and flat and thick as oil. For a moment Sophie stopped with the rope between her teeth, fascinated by how the water gobbled up the reflection of the moon. She was always getting told off by her parents for staring at the water, but she knew that was because they were terrified of the sea, just like everyone else.
Her eyes refocused and her own face floated into view. There was a deep scratch on her cheek, and her white hair was grimy from being pressed against the seat.
Maybe I’ve been sold to the circus, she thought, and quickly started chewing again. Mum always said I looked like a freak.
She could feel the plastic fibers snapping one by one, but they weren’t breaking fast enough. A dull terror reared its head, but she forced it down. If sheíd learned anything from school, it was that there was always a way out, whether it was from a locked cupboard or an attack coordinated by the boy whose teeth she knocked out last Sunday. A taxi should be easy.
Through the other window she could see the edge of a grubby seafront town. Most of it was boarded up, but there was a fairground with a roller coaster carriage frozen at the top of a huge drop, and half hidden between houses were bonfires and the occasional electric light. Rubbish was piled up against the buildings, and old bags and scraps of paper tumbled over the gardens. Talismans against the sea creatures were carved into the walls, and huge bags of sand, spilling their guts all over the road, were piled uselessly against the shops and abandoned homes.
As she pressed her teeth into the rope something huge and bright smacked the outside of the window. She jolted with surprise. But it was just a poster flying in the wind.
Don’t be stupid, she thought.
She didn’t need more than a glance to know what was on that poster. They were everywhere, all across the country, like fungus. That infamous watercolor of an emerald island with blue sky and frothy clouds. Rare butterflies, trees that look suspiciously like lollipops. A twenty-four/seven, blissful holiday paradise.
The poster slid away from the glass, but the picture was still printed across Sophie’s inner eyelids: the New Continent. The place her parents had gone, abandoning her to start a new life.
The driver slammed the brakes. Sophie’s bound hands dropped into her lap. She wriggled into a crouched position, ready to leap up and fight.
“Has anyone told you you’re a terrible driver?” she said as he got out the front.
The driver ignored her, inspecting his teeth in the side-view mirror before opening the door and grinning at her. He had the face of someone who knew he was going to enjoy himself.
“I see you’ve been busy,” he said, looking at the chewed cord around her wrists. “Too late. We’re here now.”
“Is this where you dump every girl you kidnap?”
“Not anymore.” The driver leaned in and snapped the cords with his knife. “I’m done with this line of work. I’m off to the New Continent with the fat stash of money your parents gave me.”
“You’re not,” she said. “There aren’t any boat tickets left. You’ll never get across the sea.”
“What would you know? You’re just a little girl.”
“I’m twelve, actually,” she said, raising her chin.
“Ooh,” he said mockingly.
Sophie bolted, knocking him over and running toward the town, scrambling through torn-down fences and piles of washed-up oyster shells. The driver shouted and cursed behind her. She swerved, ducked into the shadows, and hid behind a house graffitied with squid ink.
Everything was quiet. Only the sea grumbled to itself over the wind.
She caught her breath and looked around. The town was empty; like her parents, most of the residents had caught Sea Fever and fled. There were shoes abandoned in the middle of the road, and the windows of all the tiny seafront houses were smashed. Curtains lolled out of the windows like tongues, and there was a terrible stench coming from the boarded-up fishmongers. Now everywhere in the country looked like this, rubbish-strewn and desperate.
Sophie waited for a minute, listening for footsteps, but heard nothing. She turned around slowly, checked the alleyway to either side of her, and slipped around the side of the building.
Right into the arms of the driver.
“Hello,” he said, and pointed a gun at her. It stopped her like a brick wall. She thought that looking a bullet in the face would be different. She thought she’d have something clever to say. Instead it felt like her bones had turned to sponge.
They walked down to the beach, the driver just behind Sophie’s shoulder, his gun leveled at her head. For the first time in her life she couldn’t think of a way to escape, and the realization was suffocating.
“You must be really scared of me if you need a gun,” she said. She couldn’t help herself. “I’d be embarrassed, if I were you.”
“I’ll use it if you don’t shut up,” he snapped.
There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. So she kept going, the cold metal prodding her cheek, on and on as the sea stretched out before them, that huge nightmare that had the world in its thrall. She tried to focus on it.
It’s not so bad, really, Sophie told herself, blocking out the gun that wavered on the edge of her vision. I don’t know why everyone wants to escape it so much. It’s beautiful.
But also dark and deadly and ravenous. Sometimes she wondered if her mum was right, that there was something wrong with her to make her so drawn to the sea. It seemed weirdly suitable that she was going to die in the water, anyway.
“Personally, I’d have locked you up to starve somewhere,” said the driver, almost conversationally. Sophie realized that he’d been talking for some minutes. “But lucky for you, mummy and daddy have found you somewhere to live while they enjoy their new lives without you. Isn’t that nice?”
Sophie was too surprised to say anything.
“Are you deaf?” he asked. “Don’t you want to know where you’re going?”
To the bottom of the ocean, she thought, to sleep with the shells and the fish. She shook herself.
“Where am I going?”
“To the house on Catacomb Hill,” he said, and pointed at something in the middle of the sea. Sophie squinted. There was an island, just visible in the gloom, long and dark, sitting in the water like an arched backbone. Perched on its center was a sprawling mansion. The moon above it was a guillotine in the sky, the waves beneath it shivering and black.
“Catacomb Hill,” she repeated. Relief flooded through her. He wasn’t going to kill her. “Why am I going there?”
“Dunno. Don’t care.”
But Sophie couldn’t—wouldn’t—go there. She had to get out of the country, away from the madness and the violence and the shrieking fear of Sea Fever, and she wasn’t going to be stopped by some hired thug with a gun. She had to get to the New Continent.
No matter that there were no boat tickets left. She’d deal with that once she got to Portsmouth, where all the ships were.
I’ll get there no matter what, she thought. Anger, a constantly bitter lump in her stomach, rose without warning. I’m going to hunt my parents down and turn up at their new front door and watch my mother faint when she sees me, seaweed in my hair, dripping fish because I’ve plowed my way through the entire damn ocean to get there!
She unclenched her fists, which she’d only just realized were hurting. She tried to smile sweetly, but her mouth wasn’t used to the shape.
“You’ve done your job,” she told the driver. “You took me away from my home and dumped me Neptune-knows-where. Why can’t you just leave me on the beach? It’ll be easier for both of us.”
“ ’Cause I’m not an idiot.” The driver gestured at the house on the island. “You’ll go running back to your parents, that’s what you’ll do, and they’ll know I didn’t finish the job. You’ve been sold, and I’m making sure you reach the buyer.” They stopped walking. The air seemed like it was holding its breath. “There’s a path through the water that will be clear for, oh . . .” he checked his watch. “Another ten minutes? So you’d better get going.”
Sophie turned to look at the water. If she concentrated she could just about make out a slick of rock running from the beach into the sea. It was a tidal path, the kind that gets swallowed by the water when the sea rises, so you can never turn back.
“Start walking,” said the driver.
“Make me,” she said automatically.
The driver sighed and prodded her in the back with his gun. Sophie turned to face him, still thinking she might be able to reason with him, but he looked impatient and she suddenly doubted her powers of persuasion. She took a step backward. And another. They edged toward the sea until the water was lapping at her heels.
“You’ll like it on Catacomb Hill,” the driver said. “Interesting place. There’s a whole family living there. The old man killed himself, and they go through servants like they’re putting ’em through a sausage machine. That’s right. You’re not the first. They have a bit of a monster problem, so I reckon they’ll feed you to the sea. There’s rumors, you know, about the people on that island. That they’re all mad.”
He cocked the gun. Sophie turned and walked into the sea as calmly as she could. The narrow path into the ocean was very thin, and very slippery, and in all probability led to nowhere but death.
She swallowed and turned to the beach one last time.
“I forgot to tell you,” she said. “After you so kindly pressed my face against the floor of your car this morning, I looked under the seat and found the money my parents gave you. You might have tied my hands up, but you forgot about my teeth.”
She spat out a shred of green-and-white paper, and had just enough time to see the driver’s mouth open with fury before she ran into the sea, his gunshots hitting the water behind her.
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Book Description Dial Books, 2017. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. BRAND NEW BOOK!! SHIPS WITHIN 24 HOURS! Tracking Provided. DHL processing & USPS delivery for an average of 3-5 Day Standard & 2-3 Day Expedited! FREE INSURANCE! Fast & Personal Support! Careful Packaging. No Hassle, Full Refund Return Policy!. Bookseller Inventory # mon0000640719
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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2017. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Murder, madness, and sea monsters combine in this thrilling and atmospheric middle grade debut perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, and Tim Burton. Sophie Seacove is a storyteller. She tells stories of what the world would be like if madness hadn t taken over. If her parents hadn t sold her off as a servant to pay for their passage out of London. If she wasn t now trapped in a decaying mansion filled with creepy people and surrounded by ravenous sea monsters. The mansion has plenty of stories, too: About fantastical machines, and the tragic inventor who created them. About his highly suspicious death. And about the Monster Box, a mysterious object hidden in the house that just might hold the key to escaping this horrible place--and to reuniting Sophie with her family. But not everyone wants Sophie to have the Monster Box, and as she gets closer to finding it, she finds herself unspooling years-old secrets--and dodging dangerous attacks. Sophie needs to use her brains, her brawn, and her unbreakable nature if she wants to make it off this wretched island.and live to tell this story. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780399186349
Book Description Dial Books. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0399186344. Bookseller Inventory # Z0399186344ZN