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“Once upon a time,” begins the narrator of this richly imagined novel. But what follows is no ordinary fantasy full of dragons, elves, and wicked stepmothers. Yes, the tale involves a boy named Jack. But he’s not the one who climbed a beanstalk or slew seven giants with one blow. This Jack is a storyteller, a seventeen-year-old farm boy who sets off to seek his fortune in the royal city of Sundar.
Jack has many adventures and narrow escapes on his journey. He also meets an assortment of memorable characters—including a talking bird, a one-eyed robber, a mysterious illusionist, and a melancholy princess. Each has a tale to tell, and these accounts, along with Jack’s own stories and the framing narrative, are woven into a complex, dazzling tapestry that will capture the reader’s imagination. Through them, Edward Myers explores the power—for good and for evil—of the stories we all tell.
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Edward Myers is the author of 20 books for adults and 12 for children, including two middle-grade adventure novels, Climb or Die and Hostage (Hyperion). This is his first book for Clarion. He lives with his wife and two children near New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
For several days Jack had been walking from town to town, earning meals and lodging in exchange for stories. Now, following the directions that people had given him, he veered off the main road and entered the forest of Sycamora. This path was supposed to be the quickest route to Callitti—the Royal City. And so Jack left the sunny road behind and forged a more uncertain route into the thickest, darkest woods he'd ever seen.
This place was so gloomy that Jack sometimes thought dusk had fallen, for the trees overhead formed a canopy as dark and tight as the hoods that prisoners wear while awaiting execution.
Then, just as he'd start to panic, Jack would abruptly enter a small clearing and discover that the sun still shone brightly in the sky above. In one such clearing, Jack sat down, weary and uneasy, to rest. He had started to doubt the wisdom of entering the forest in the first place. He wondered if he might do well to retrace his steps—if, indeed, he could find his way out of the woods at all.
"Once upon a time!" Jack looked up in alarm. Who had spoken? He couldn't see anyone nearby.
Had he heard his inner voice—his mind telling him a story?" The voice spoke again: "I said, Once upon a time!" At that moment Jack noticed a bird perched on a branch no more than three paces away. Smaller than a crow but just as black, he bird looked as if a piece of the night had sprouted feet, wings, tail, and head. His beak was a shiny dark blade that jutted from his face.
His eyes glistened like two black beads of rain. He looked alert, curious, and aware of everything. Jack stared at the bird, then glanced about.
Surely this creature couldn't have spoken. "Let me try again. Once! Upon! A! Time!" Seeing the sharp black beak move at the same instant that he heard the words, Jack realized with astonishment that the bird had indeed spoken. He stood, a shiver snaking up his spine. "You can talk." The bird tilted his head back and forth, staring at Jack first through one eye, then the other. "I certainly can—the same as you," he stated bluntly.
"I get a thought and I open my mouth. The rest is talk, talk, talk!" For a moment Jack felt the urge to flee. This creature was surely a bird-shaped demon. Yet Jack stayed where he was, hostage to his own curiousity.
"Who are you?" he inquired.
"By name I am Loquasto. By name—well, there's a story." "I didn't know birds could talk," Jack told him.
"Most don't," replied Loquasto.
"There's all that chirping and cheeping, of course. One might call that talk.
Parrots and cockatiels have a little more to say. 'Hello! Hello!' 'Who's the best little birdy?' 'Lunchtime, lunchtime!' But it's all so—limited." Jack shrugged. "Well, many folks would be amused by a talking crow." "A crow? A crow!" Loquasto protested. "I may be gabby, but I'm no crow. I'm a midnight mynah and proud of every feather." "I meant no offense," Jack assured me.
"None taken. Just don't call me a crow." "Agreed." Jack said. He was impressed by this talkative bird. It even occurred to him that if he and Loquasto traveled together both would gain some conversation. "Well, I'd best be going," he said, "but perhaps you'd care to join me." “That depends,” Loquasto said. “Where are you going?” “I’m off to seek my fortune in Callitti.” The bird looked aghast. “The Royal City? Then it’s ill fortune you seek.” “What’s so bad about Callitti?” “What’s so bad? Who’s got the time to say it all?” “I’ll have some fine opportunities in Callitti,” Jack said. “You see, I’m a storyteller, and in a big city I’ll find an audience—” “Who’s the king of Sundar?” the bird asked abruptly.
“Alphonse.” “Who has plunged his people into misery?” “Alphonse.” “And who lives in Callitti?” “Alphonse.” Loquasto ruffled his feathers in exasperation. “So why insist on seeking precisely the place that you should must urgently avoid?" “I don’t know,” Jack said with a shrug.
“But in many stories I’ve heard, young lads seek their fortune by going to a royal city.” “Well, then you’re even younger than I thought—” “I’m seventeen.” “—and you have much to learn.” Jack persisted. “So teach me what I need to know! Come and share my journey.” “Thanks, but no thanks.” “We’ll talk and talk.”
“I’d do so gladly,” the bird replied, “if you’d chosen some other destination.
But the Royal City? No, thank you—I’ll pass.” Jack was disappointed but saw no alternative to leaving. Loquasto’s comments worried him; still, he wasn’t ready to change his goal just because of a chatty bird’s opinions.
And so, after bidding the midnight mynah farewell, Jack headed off into the forest once again.
Jack continued on his way for much of that afternoon. Although unsure how to reach his destination, he felt his confidence surge again, and he strode forrrrrth, unconcerned about the fading of what little light lingered in the forest.
Now, sometimes a young man’s head tells him a bright story even while his gut tells him a tale full of shadows. As Jack walked through the forest, his head told him The woods are beautiful, the path is straight, and the birds sing sweetly in the trees, while his gut told him Beware! Jack heard both stories, but he listened to the sunny tale, for he enjoyed it more, and he ignored the other. Still, he shouldn’t have felt surprised when a band of robbers stepped out of the gloom and pointed their crossbows and swords at him. And he shouldn’t have been shocked to see that one of the ruffians had only one good eye, while the other eye was nothing but a gold coin shoved into the socket.
“Garth!” exclaimed Jack.
“Good evenin’ to ye, laddie,” Garth replied, stepping closer, his sword drawn. “An’ who might ye be, addressin’ yer elders in so presumptuous a fashion?” “My name’s—Jack!” Garth looked him over, prodding at Jack’s tunic, cloak, and leather pack with his sword blade, no doubt trying to decide whether a humble farm boy would possess anything worth his efforts to acquire. The robber was older than Jack had imagined, with stringy gray hair on his head and silvery whiskers that sparkled on his jaw like frost on an October pumpkin. But Garth’s age did nothing to ease Jack’s worries. If he was lucky, Jack told himself, Garth Golden-Eye would realize he lacked anything of value and would let him go.
On the other hand, Garth might feel outraged by the inconvenience of stopping a wayfarer so unworthy of his trouble. Worse yet, Garth might grasp the connection between Jack and the boy who had revealed the whereabouts of the robber’s buried treasure.
“Jack,” said Garth brusquely. “Jack who?” Jack shrugged. “Just Jack.” Garth nodded, circling his prey. “Just Jack,” he repeated, mimicking the young man’s accent "A simple village lad, are ye?" "I don't believe 'im," said one of the other robbers, a huge man wih wild hair and a tangled beard.
Garth nodded again, now gravely.
"'Ardly worth me bloomin' trouble—that's what ye're wantin' me to think, ain't it so?" Jack was too terrifed to answer.
Another ruffian—a toothless young man—reached out with his dagger. “Just slit ’is bloomin’ froat and be done wit’ ’im!” Garth ignored his minions. “Well then, Just Jack, tell me what village ye’re coomin’ from.” With Garth’s sword point at his neck, Jack blurted, “Yorrow!” “Yorrow indeed,” Garth noted with a smile. “Joost as I thought. It’s ’ow ye say yer Rs—loud an’ long as a r-r-r-roll o’ thoonder.” He paused as if rummaging through the musty old trunk of his mind to locate a memory he’d stowed there for safekeeping.
Now some of the other robbers grabbed Jack and held him. What troubled Jack even more than his captivity, however, was how closely they stared at him.
Suddenly, the bearded man spoke the words that Jack had dreaded most: “It’s ’im! Jack Storyteller! The bloke who told the tale. The tale what led to—” “Me losin’ all me loot,” Garth stated flatly. He shoved his one-eyed face close to Jack’s. “Listen, lad, an’ listen good. Ye’re the bane of me ’ole life. Ye’re the fly what’s swimmin’ in me beer. Ye’re the worm what’s crawlin’ in me apple. I worked many a year to amass me fortune, and ye’re the one who gave it all away.” “But I didn’t mean to,” Jack protested.
“Didna mean to? Didna mean to!” Garth said with a laugh.
“I just made up a story. I didn’t know you’d really buried your loot.” “So much the worse fer ye, lad, sooferin’ a dismal fate fer soomthin’ ye didna mean ta do—” “Garth Golden-Eye!” None of the men present had spoken. Yet Garth’s name wafted through the forest, loud and clear.
“Garth Golden-Eye!” The robbers glanced about.
“Stop yer tricks,” Garth ordered, sounding peeved.
“Garth Golden-Eye!” The voice spoke again, its source unclear but its words altogether plain: “Begone, Garth! Flee, all you walking rubbish heaps!” “What’s that?” asked the bearded robber, sounding alarmed.
The toothless youth tightened his grip on Jack. “’Tis nothin’—just a trick.
’E’s frowin’ ’is voice.” At that moment, Jack realized that the words had emanated from a nearby tree.
Gnarled and scarred, this great oak had limbs that stretched out like huge menacing arms. A large hole and two smaller ones in the trunk resembled a vast mouth and two hideous eyes.
“Flee, evil ones,” shrieked the tree, “or this forest will become the teeth that bite you—” “There i’ ’tis again!” shouted the bearded robber.
“And the throat that swallows you—” “Pay no attention!” Garth cried.
“And the gut that devours you!” “Where’s it coming from?” asked the youth.
“It’s that tree!” one of the others shouted. “That one, there!” Jack felt as terrified as his captors looked. Some stared at the tree; some drew their swords; some simply cowered.
Only Garth kept his attention on Jack.
“If this is yer doin’,” he warned, "ye'll die even sooner than ye thought." With those words, the voice came again: “Speak not of any death but your own, Garth Golden-Eye! For you, too, will perish—but first I’ll leave your good eye in the same sorry state as the bad one.” This threat seemed to alarm the robber.
“Me eye?” he asked, suddenly close to panic.
“Indeed—your remaining eye.” Garth abruptly staggered back, faltered a moment, then sprinted away. His henchmen, terrified to see their leader flee, turned and followed.
Jack was stunned by this turn of events. One moment he had stood at the brink of doom; the next, he was safe.
Or was he?
“You, Wayfarer!” said the great oak, its voice booming out of the hideous mouth hole.
Jack trembled, too terrified to run.
“What do you want?” he asked fearfully.
“Simply this: tell me why you have ventured so foolishly into my domain.” “My name is Jack Storyteller,” Jack said, his voice wavering. “I mean no harm.” The tree gave an echoey laugh. “You mean no harm. But what of the harm that others would so eagerly do to you?” “Well—” “Answer me!” Shaking hard, Jack said, “I have to take some risks. I have to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.” “Indeed!” “And so I’m on my way—” “To Callitti,” said a familiar voice as a midnight-hued little bird emerged from the tree’s gaping mouth hole. Jack stared. “Loquasto?” he managed to say.
“At your service.” “I should throttle you!” “Don’t be ungrateful.” “You scared me half to death!” Loquasto flared his wings, glided over, and alighted on Jack’s wrist. “Isn’t it better that I scared you half to death,” he asked, “rather than allow the robbers to do the job completely?” “Of course.” “Is it possible, too, that thanks might be in order?” “Indeed—I thank you,” Jack said. “I thank you with all my heart.” “That’s better,” replied Loquasto.
Jack was uncertain what to say next. “I appreciate what you’ve done on my behalf,” he told the bird at last. “It’s late, though, and I’d best be on my way.” Loquasto pecked Jack’s hand—only once, but hard.
Jack pulled back in pain. “What was that for?” “For being such a fool,” the bird stated. “Best be on your way indeed! Go, then. But don’t imagine for a moment that you’ll go alone.” “You’re coming, too?” Loquasto pecked him again.
“Stop it!” Jack exclaimed.
“I’ll peck you from dawn to dusk,” said Loquasto, “if that’s what’s necessary to knock some sense into you. Of course I’m coming.” So they set off again. Sometimes, Jack decided, you need a talking bird to set things right.
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Book Description CLARION BOOKS, United States, 2008. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Once upon a time, begins the narrator of this richly imagined novel. But what follows is no ordinary fantasy full of dragons, elves, and wicked stepmothers. Yes, the tale involves a boy named Jack. But he s not the one who climbed a beanstalk or slew seven giants with one blow. This Jack is a storyteller, a seventeen-year-old farm boy who sets off to seek his fortune in the royal city of Sundar. Jack has many adventures and narrow escapes on his journey. He also meets an assortment of memorable characters--including a talking bird, a one-eyed robber, a mysterious illusionist, and a melancholy princess. Each has a tale to tell, and these accounts, along with Jack s own stories and the framing narrative, are woven into a complex, dazzling tapestry that will capture the reader s imagination. Through them, Edward Myers explores the power--for good and for evil--of the stories we all tell. Seller Inventory # FLT9780618695416
Book Description CLARION BOOKS, United States, 2008. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. "Once upon a time," begins the narrator of this richly imagined novel. But what follows is no ordinary fantasy full of dragons, elves, and wicked stepmothers. Yes, the tale involves a boy named Jack. But he's not the one who climbed a beanstalk or slew seven giants with one blow. This Jack is a storyteller, a seventeen-year-old farm boy who sets off to seek his fortune in the royal city of Sundar. Jack has many adventures and narrow escapes on his journey. He also meets an assortment of memorable characters--including a talking bird, a one-eyed robber, a mysterious illusionist, and a melancholy princess. Each has a tale to tell, and these accounts, along with Jack's own stories and the framing narrative, are woven into a complex, dazzling tapestry that will capture the reader's imagination. Through them, Edward Myers explores the power--for good and for evil--of the stories we all tell. Seller Inventory # FLT9780618695416
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