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“Downton Abbey” meets The Selection in this dystopian tale of love and betrayal
Sixteen-year-old Madeline Landry is practically Gentry royalty. Her ancestor developed the nuclear energy that has replaced electricity, and her parents exemplify the glamour of the upper class. As for Madeline, she would much rather read a book than attend yet another debutante ball. But when she learns about the devastating impact the Gentry lifestyle—her lifestyle—is having on those less fortunate, her whole world is turned upside down. As Madeline begins to question everything she has been told, she finds herself increasingly drawn to handsome, beguiling David Dana, who seems to be hiding secrets of his own. Soon, rumors of war and rebellion start to spread, and Madeline finds herself at the center of it all. Ultimately, she must make a choice between duty—her family and the estate she loves dearly—and desire.
Fans of Ally Condie, Kiera Cass, Veronica Roth, and even Jane Austen will be enthralled by this breathtaking read.
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Bethany Hagen was born and raised in Kansas City. She grew up reading Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and all things King Arthur, and went on to become a librarian. Landry Park is her debut novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The truth is sometimes hard to hear.
“I know you lied to the police about who attacked you,” I told her.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Prove it.”
I slid my chair closer to the table. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why do you care?” Cara hissed.
“You can’t get lost in the grove at night—I could see the lights of the house the whole time we were looking for you. And a walk, really? Without a coat? In that cold?”
“It’s none of your business why I was out there.”
“You made it my business when you refused to tell the truth! My father thinks this is all part of some Rootless conspiracy to overthrow the gentry, and he’s ready to crush them. You and I are the only ones who know that he’s wrong.”
“We don’t know he’s wrong,” she said. “The Rootless could be plotting a revolt for all I know. If some conspiracy gets thwarted because of this, then no harm done. In fact, that means that I’ve done everyone a favor and helped unmask a threat to the gentry.”
“Do you even have a conscience?”
“Do you have a brain?” She jabbed a finger at me. “If I wasn’t attacked by a Rootless or some poor person or a servant—if I was attacked by someone in the gentry—do you think I could go around announcing it to the police? To your father? Do you think anyone would believe me if I accused one of us? Like it or not, Madeline, this is how our world works, and if you know what’s good for us, you’ll keep your head down and your mouth shut.”
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Two hundred years ago, America found itself at a crossroads. With sickness and famine came economic turmoil, and with economic turmoil came the looming threat from across the Pacific—China and her allies. The rich and the poor temporarily forgot their fight with each other and united to defend themselves. They failed.
The West Coast and all the land west of the Rockies fell to the Easterners, though the Americans were able to stop their advance in the mountains. Peace was restored, but a wary peace. America’s arsenal of weapons was surrendered and destroyed, her access to most of the world’s oil completely cut off. Fortunately, a forward-thinking scientist named Jacob Landry introduced the Cherenkov lantern that very year, which no less than changed the world.
In the coming years, Jacob Landry emerged as the voice of reason and stability, promising a new way of life whereby the wealthy could protect their own and gently spur the underclass into productivity. And then there was war. Rather than North against the South, it was each city against itself, each state against itself, all led by the Uprisen against the hastily cobbled together but fierce resistance. After two years of destructive and bitter warfare, the Uprisen were victorious. The boundaries of race and gender and religion fell away as class became the most important delineator in society.
When I woke in the morning, it was spring. Spring came like that now, like a thief tiptoeing through the frost, saving its first warm breaths for early May mornings.
I’d fallen asleep under my silk canopy, my fingers wedged inside The Once and Future King, a dim blue lantern still unhooded beside my bed. Elinor, my lady’s maid, came in to open the curtains and lay out my clothes.
“Good morning, Miss Madeline,” she said.
“Good morning.” My dreams had been wistful and restless and filled with the faraway hopes of people long since dead and returned to dust. I stood and walked to the window, where I could see the stark branches of the trees weeping with melting ice.
“Shall I prepare the ivory lace for the debut tomorrow night?” Elinor asked. “Your mother says you must dress to make a match.”
She would. It was always about marriage with her. It was always about marriage with all the mothers; it was the gentry way. As late as last year, I’d been allowed to beg off dances and dinners, but since I’d turned seventeen last February my mother had stopped letting me neglect my social obligations. “The ivory will be fine, Elinor. Thank you.”
After Elinor had buttoned up my day dress—a flowing gown the blue of glacial ice—I took my book downstairs to find a quiet place to finish it and then practice my speech to Father. I planned to avoid the morning room, where my mother was hosting a breakfast tea for her friends, but when I heard my name as I passed the doorway, I couldn’t help stopping to listen.
“Does Madeline know?” a woman asked.
“Please,” said a scornful voice that I recognized as belonging to Addison Westoff, one of the richest women in the city and my mother’s childhood friend. “Why would any of our children care about scandals old enough to be in a museum?”
“But is it true?” the first woman asked. “Christine Dana is coming back to Kansas City?”
“What does it matter?” Addison asked. “Even if she is, she’s a harmless widow. Olivia has done the one thing Christine could never do and that’s give the Landry line an heir.”
“Madeline,” I heard someone whisper and then a low chuckle. My cheeks burned.
I crept away from the door and continued down the hall. Maybe I’d take a walk outside. The cold air would be bracing, and I would be well away from the gossiping women.
I traded my slippers for boots and slipped on my woolen coat. My steps echoed through the empty ballroom as I made my way to the windowed doors that led out to the patio and the grounds.
I crunched through the snow into the rose garden, where gardeners were wheeling out the solar-powered heaters to speed the melting that was already under way. Father was talking to one of them about laying a fresh layer of crushed gravel on the path as I approached.
The gardener doffed his hat. “Good morning, miss.”
“Good morning,” I said. “Preparing for the growing season?”
“That I am, miss, although I’m a bit worried about what we can grow with the winters lasting longer and longer,” he replied. “Our plants need to be modified to grow faster.”
Father was squinting at the ceiling of clouds, rolling and leaden and promising rain, but I knew his mind was on the various farms we owned. The crops on those farms, like the roses and ferns in our garden, had evolved to grow in the weather of the twenty-first century, not in our new world of snow and ice. Every year, the yields grew smaller and smaller.
“I’ll be at it now, if you’ll excuse me.” The gardener replaced his hat and made to leave, but then stopped and turned. “And mind your pretty gray cat, if you will. There’s a big brown tom that’s taken a fancy to her whenever she steps out for a walk. I wouldn’t want you to have a litter of brown kittens running about, spoiling that pretty thing’s pedigree.”
I smiled. “I don’t believe any tomcat is a match for my Morgana. You should have seen my arms the last time I tried to give her a bath.”
“If you say so, Miss Landry,” he said, shaking his head. He excused himself and rejoined the other gardeners.
Father put his hands behind his back and regarded me.
“You come forward so intently. I assume you have something to discuss?”
“Yes, Father.” It was like him, to know just what I was thinking. He usually knew what people were thinking, which was what made him such a shrewd leader among the gentry. It was also what made him such an intimidating father.
He started walking and I stayed beside him, wondering how best to bring up the subject of my education.
“Have you finished reading John Locke?” he asked.
“I find his argument for the ownership of property convincing enough, but he writes that it is only an individual’s labor that gives him the right to own land. What does that mean for our land? I do no labor here, yet I’m to own it.”
Father ran his gloved fingers along an icy bramble bush. “If we were not here to direct the labor, this estate and all of our forests and farms would be less productive. We’re adding value by applying our wisdom.”
I considered this, doubtful. I didn’t know many people who’d equate “applying wisdom” with pulling up stumps or plowing or herding cows from pasture to pasture in the roiling summer heat.
He spoke again. “But I agree with you that Locke’s argument can only be carried so far. Next, you must read Edmund Burke. Your six times great-grandfather Jacob Landry was a keen admirer of Burke.”
Father had stopped and was examining one of the bushes, where rot had taken half the branches. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to speak before I lost my nerve, before Father went inside to his study and this private moment in the slushy beauty was lost.
“Father, my history teacher told us about the time before the Last War, when America was still the United States and the West Coast still belonged to us and not to the Eastern Empire.” I’d prepared my speech with an appeal to history, since Father’s own justifications were usually couched in terms of historical perspective. My father talked about the Last War and the birth of the gentry like it was more central to our being than the air we breathed. To him, the Last War was more important than the American Revolution or the Civil War. Referencing it would show that I’d done my research, thought about this carefully—even if I was technically citing the period before my ancestor had led America from chaos to order.
I glanced over at Father. He continued looking over the branches.
I continued. “When men and women dated whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, regardless of money or class. Back then, everyone had been able to attend school, and everyone had an opportunity to study at the university, to choose their own way in life. I want to go to the university,” I said this last part quickly, nervous but determined. “I graduated from the academy two weeks ago, and soon it will be time for me to submit my application if I want to go. And I do want to go.”
“Indeed.” Father’s voice held nothing—no affirmation, no condemnation.
I pushed ahead, trying to hold onto the optimism I felt this morning. “I know it’s unusual for an heir to spend any length of time studying, but I want a university education and I know I would be good at it.”
“Is the education you receive here not sufficient?”
The coldness in his voice was a warning, but I chose to ignore it. “You know I value everything that you teach me, but I want to learn more. I want to learn more about history and philosophy and about land and business—I know it will make me a better owner of Landry Park, when the time comes.” There. He could hardly argue against something that would help the estate.
“It’s not possible.” He straightened and brushed the ice from his gloves. “You know the rules. Eldest children inherit, marry, and carry on the family name. Younger gentry children may attend a college and take a degree, but the eldest child has a duty to her family. And you are not only my eldest child, Madeline, you are my only child. How do you expect to pursue your studies and fulfill your duty to this estate?”
The estate. Always the estate. Three stories of gray stone and large windows with a tower in the middle jutting up above it all, built by my ancestors after the Last War. The Palladian mansion sat on a sprawl of wide lawns and tumbledown gardens, scented by bobbing flowers and tossed with a breeze that whipped up from the Missouri River. From the copper-roofed observatory in the tower, one could take in the entire city by day, and at night, planets and stars and galaxies far overhead.
“But I don’t want to marry,” I told him, trying to keep my chin from quivering. “Not yet, at least. I could marry after the university. I know the Landry will says the heir must be married by their twenty-first birthday, and I wouldn’t be finished with my studies by then, but if you could just change the will—”
He pulled my hands into his iron grip, the leather of his gloves cool and wet on my bare fingers. “That rule is in place for a reason, Madeline. The business of family must come first. You must be settled and ready to perpetuate the family name in the flush of your youth—when you have your health and energy to ensure a viable heir.”
The sounds of the melting garden filled my wounded silence until he finally spoke again. “I didn’t want to marry at your age either. But we have an obligation to the family and to the land. I married to help the estate, and so will you.”
I ducked my head so that he wouldn’t see my eyes shining with tears. I needed to be strong. Stoic. But despite my determination, a tear slipped down my cheek.
“I will not marry you to an ogre,” he said gently. “But I will respect you by handing you the same expectations of honor and duty that my father handed to me. You are a Landry, Madeline. It’s our obligation to uphold the standards of the gentry, to light the way as an example for our peers. Don’t you remember our ancestor’s words?”
How could I forget? They echoed down through history.
Order, elegance, prosperity.
The three ideals that governed our world.
“But wouldn’t I be able to be ordered, elegant, and prosperous with a degree?”
He shook his head. “You’re an heir, not a scholar.”
I let go of a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding and tried to gather my composure.
But before I could say anything more, Father gave my hands a squeeze and left me standing in the frozen garden.
Wilder House was smaller than Landry Park, a simple brick affair with a courtyard in the middle and a modest grove of trees out back. The interior was clean and well-appointed—full of shining chandeliers and antique furniture, smelling of beeswax and lemon—but slightly cramped. The ballroom seethed with people, jostling one another for space, the older ladies fighting one another for the wooden-backed chairs that lined the room.
Twinkling lights glimmered in every corner, all powered by the small, silent nuclear charge in the basement. In addition to the nuclear electric lights, candles flickered in candelabras and chandeliers and on the tables, long white tapers in gleaming silver candlesticks. They were quite lovely, even if they did increase the risk of singed gowns in such a crowded room.
We were here for Marianne Wilder’s debut, the ball that would ordain her entrance into the world of courtship and marriage, and yet another opportunity for gentry girls and boys to be put on display for one another. Another night wasted.
Jamie might be here, I comforted myself.
Jamie Campbell-Smith was one of the people who knew me best in the world—a very distant cousin, brought over from England by my uncle Arthur Lawrence, who was sponsoring his education as a doctor. Since Jamie’s family was middle class and without land, he would probably never marry within the gentry, even with his connection to the Lawrences.
Of course, there was another reason he’d never marry here: a young man back home, but only I knew about that.
I plucked at the skirt of my bisque-colored dress. It was silk like all of my gowns—like all of my mother’s. Silk, along with plum wine, opium, and jade, were near to impossible to ...
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