12.49571892 James Riley Half Upon a Time

ISBN 13: 9781416995944

Half Upon a Time

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9781416995944: Half Upon a Time

Jack lives in a fantasy world. Really. He's the son of the infamous Jack who stole the magic beans from the giant, and he's working hard to restore his family's reputation. He finds the perfect opportunity when a "princess" lands in front of him, apparently from the land of Punk, as her Punk Princess t-shirt implies. May is from our world, and she's utterly confused to find herself in the midst of the fairy tale characters she has read about. But Jack and May have more in common than they realize--and together, they embark on a hilarious and wild adventure in this highly accessible, modern middle grade fantasy novel.

Half Upon a Time is the first book in the Half Upon a Time series.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

James Riley lives in Virginia. He is the author of Half Upon a Time, Twice Upon a Time, and Once Upon the End as well as the Story Thieves series.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Once upon a time, Jack wouldn’t have been caught dead in a princess rescue. Yet here he was, in the middle of a cave—a dark and stupid cave—on his way to do just that. This was all such a waste of time, and after that last fight with what was apparently supposed to be a troll, his arm really hurt.

From deep within the cave came what was probably supposed to be a bloodcurdling roar. Jack sighed, rolled his eyes, and slowed down to wait. A roar like that could only mean bad things ... and sure enough, a ball of fire came burning down the corridor, exploding just a few inches from his left arm. The heat caused him to jerk his body to the right, saving him from the second fireball, which blew through the spot he’d just been standing in.

“Hey!” Jack yelled indignantly. “You almost hit me!” Without waiting for a reply, he dropped to his knees, yanked out the blunt prop sword he’d been given, and whipped it end over end toward the source of the fireballs.

A second later Jack heard a dull thunk, followed by a groan and what sounded like a body hitting the cave floor. He smiled, then helped himself to his feet and continued on, the corridor now thankfully free of fireballs. As he walked, he looked himself over, realizing with annoyance that somewhere along the line his tan shirt and pants had both been ripped. Perfect. As if he had that many clothes to begin with.

A bit deeper in, a bright green dragon mask lay on the floor in two separate pieces, split by the otherwise completely useless sword. Just past the mask was an unconscious boy dressed all in green, a deep red bruise spreading over his face. Apparently, Jack’s aim had been better than he thought.

He briefly felt bad about knocking the boy out, but then remembered how close the fireballs had come, and all guilt disappeared. Picking up his prop sword, Jack started to leave when a thought stopped him in his tracks: Why play by the rules?

There it was, on the boy’s right hand: a sparkling red ring. Jack quickly worked the ring off the boy’s finger, then slid it onto his own. Satisfied, he started back down the hall, trying to ignore the growing ache in his shoulder. Stupid fake troll. At least the fake dragon had missed.

A bit farther in, torches flickered on the cave walls, creating what would have been an eerie effect if it hadn’t been so transparently designed to be. Again, Jack slowed down, moving as silently as he could despite the sword banging against his leg at every step. As the torchlight grew brighter and the cave started to widen, Jack stopped completely.

This was it ... the final challenge. The first challenge required a strong arm, he’d been told, though if the pain in his shoulder was any indication, his arm hadn’t exactly been up to it. The second challenge took a brave heart, facing the fireballs. And the final challenge, the most difficult of all, could only be won by a wise head.

Wise, huh? This might not end well.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to get a little information before rushing in. Jack drew his sword and angled it around the corner. In the sword’s reflection, he saw two torches hanging from the ceiling over an old, blackened stone altar. Strapped to the altar was what looked to be a teenage boy in a white dress, a golden tiara decorating his blond hair.

A boy playing the princess? Classy.

Over the boy in the dress stood a man wearing all brown, holding a knife to the boy’s chest. On the other side of the room, a hunched old woman leaned against a large staff. The woman’s black robe covered everything but her wart-infested nose, which looked more like a carrot than anything.

“My knight will rescue me,” Jack heard the boy princess on the altar say in an unnaturally high-pitched voice. “He will! Just you wait!”

Jack sighed. A knight? Yikes. He fiddled with the ring a bit to ready it, then prepared himself to move quickly, knowing he was going to need the element of surprise if he had any hope of saving the boy ... princess ... whatever.

“The knight is here,” the woman in black hissed.

Okay, apparently surprise was out. Still, even if they knew he was there, maybe Jack could still throw them a bit.

“I am here,” Jack said, stepping out from around the corner. “But ... I surrender.” With that, he held his sword up, then slowly placed it on the ground.

“You what?!” the wart-covered woman said.

“You what?!” the boy princess said.

“I surrender,” Jack repeated, stepping away from the sword. “You win.”

The man in brown held the knife closer to the fake princess. “It’s some kind of trick,” he said.

The woman nodded. “I agree. Cut out the princess’s heart!”

“No!” the boy princess screamed, his voice breaking in panic.

“Quiet, princess!” the man in brown said, lifting his knife high into the air. “The witch orders, and I obey!”

“And as for you, little hero,” the witch said, “you will join your princess in death!” With that, she aimed a gnarled wand in Jack’s direction, shouted a magic word, and shot a bolt of lightning straight at him.

Jack dropped, then quickly dodged a second blast by rolling to the right.

“Princess, your heart is mine!” the man in brown screamed, driving the knife down toward the boy on the altar.

“I have you now!” the old woman shouted, aiming her wand right at Jack.

Jack glanced quickly between the woman and the man in brown. He could either save himself or the princess, there was no time to do both. He instantly made his decision, aimed the ring, and fired it ...

Right at the witch.

A fireball three times the size of the previous ones erupted from the ring and exploded into the witch’s chest, lighting her black robe on fire. The witch screamed in terror as she frantically tore at her flaming clothing. The man in brown gasped, then rushed to the witch’s side, dropping his knife to the ground as he ran.

Jack used the distraction to retrieve his sword, then duck under the altar to quickly cut through the captive boy’s bonds. “Get up, Princess!” he hissed, standing back up. “We have to—”

And then he stopped, realizing he was too late. The boy princess’s white gown was now stained with some kind of red liquid, and he lay on the altar with his tongue sticking out, not moving.

Dropping his sword to the ground, Jack put his head in his hands. He had failed. The princess was dead.

The furious witch grabbed Jack by his shirt and pushed him against the wall, her eyes narrowed dangerously and her fake nose singed. “Jack!” she roared. “You could have killed me!”

“I know, I’m sorry!” he said, his face turning red. “I didn’t know it would do that! When Stephen used the ring, the fireballs were a lot smaller....” He quickly removed the magic ring and held it out to the woman. She glared at him for a second before grabbing it from his hand. Then she smacked him in the head.

“I don’t care what Stephen did,” Julia, his teacher, told him as she tore off the rest of her makeup. “He knew enough to miss you! You, on the other hand, aimed right at me!”

“Okay, ow, first of all!” Jack said, rubbing his head. “Second of all, you said to treat this test like it was real. And you were shooting lightning at me! What was I supposed to do?!”

“Um,” said the princess from the altar, “can someone rescue me already?” The princess’s voice had gotten remarkably deeper since she “died.” Jack took a closer look and recognized Bertrand, one of the other boys from the village. Apparently Jack had missed some of the ropes, and Bertrand’s arms were still tied down.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Rescue yourself,” he said, tossing his fake sword to the “princess.” It hit the boy in his stomach, knocking the wind out of him.

“Well, congratulations, Jack,” Julia said as she finished removing her costume. “You failed. Not only did you handle every single situation wrong—every single one!— but you went after me when the real threat was the witch’s servant. He killed the princess, Jack!”

“But you were attacking me!” Jack protested. “If I had saved her, I would have died. And then what good would I have been to either of us?”

“And what good were you now?” Julia asked as the man in brown, Jack’s teacher Stewart, quietly walked over to untie the still complaining princess.

“It’s all useless anyway,” Jack said, his face burning from his failure. “We all know there are no unmarried princesses left. Even if there were, I don’t want to marry anyone, let alone some stuck-up royal. I’m just fine where I am!”

Jack turned to leave, but Julia grabbed his arm. “This is important, Jack. You’re the son of a ... well, a ...”

“A criminal?” Jack said, his eyes narrowing.

“And I don’t want you to follow his lead,” Julia said. “This is for your own good! Being a hero, rescuing a princess, killing a dragon ... these could really turn your life around! At least, if you survive long enough.” She glared at him. “You’re the only one in your entire class to fail the princess rescue test. Just go home, Jack. We’ll talk about this later.”

Jack sighed, and turned to leave. “I don’t care how the world works,” he said over his shoulder. “All this? It isn’t me.”

“And it never will be at this rate,” Julia sai...

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