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Spell Hunter

Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson
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Forget everything you think you know about faeries. . . .

Creatures full of magic and whimsy?

Not in the Oakenwyld. Not anymore.

Deep inside the great Oak lies a dying faery realm, bursting with secrets instead of magic. Long ago the faeries mysteriously lost their magic. Robbed of their powers, they have become selfish and dull-witted. Now their numbers are dwindling and their very survival is at stake.

Only one young faery—Knife—is determined to find out where her people's magic has gone and try to get it back. Unlike her sisters, Knife is fierce and independent. She's not afraid of anything—not the vicious crows, the strict Faery Queen, or the fascinating humans living nearby. But when Knife disobeys the Faery Queen and befriends a human named Paul, her quest becomes more dangerous than she realizes. Can Knife trust Paul to help, or has she brought the faeries even closer to the brink of destruction?

Talented newcomer R. J. Anderson creates an extraordinary new fantasy world and weaves a gripping tale of lost magic, high adventure, and surprising friendship in which the fate of an entire realm rests on the shoulders of one brave faery rebel.

HarperCollins; April 2009
341 pages; ISBN 9780061857881
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Title: Spell Hunter
Author: R. J. Anderson

Chapter One

"I only want to go out for a little, little while," the faery child pleaded. "Just below the window, on that branch. I won't fly away and I won't tell anyone, I promise."

"Oh, Bryony, you know you can't." Wink's voice came from the other side of the sewing table, muffled by a mouth full of pins. Her red hair had come free of its knot, falling in bedraggled ringlets, and her cheeks were pink with the room's oppressive heat. "None of us can. It isn't safe."

"But the Gatherers go out all the time," said Bryony. "And so does Thorn."

"Thorn is the Queen's Hunter," Wink told her with unusual sternness, "and without her and the Gatherers we'd all starve. But they only go out when they have to, and they don't stay out any longer than they have to, and you and I don't have to, so there."

Bryony jumped up and dragged a stool over to the window, hopping up on the seat for a better view. If she looked straight out, there was nothing but leaves and branches. But if she craned her neck and peered all the way down, she could just see—

"Oh, Bryony, do sit down," said Wink wearily. "You're blocking all the fresh air."

Bryony made a face and plopped back onto her seat, a wobbly construction of twigs and dried grass that felt as though it might come to pieces any minute. "But it's hot in here," she muttered. "And so ugly." Like most of the other rooms inside the Oak, the apartment she shared with Wink was plain-walled, clumsily furnished, and cramped. Not like the garden she had glimpsed through the open window, its velvety stretch of lawn framed by shrubberies and dotted with bright flowers. That was beauty.

"Why don't you go down to the kitchen?" said Wink distractedly, eyes fixed on the seam she was pinning. "I hear the Gatherers found a bees' nest this morning. If you wipe dishes or sweep the floor a bit, they might let you have a piece of honeycomb."

"I'm not hungry." Besides, Mallow was in the kitchen, and no one would dare offer Bryony such a sweet bargain when the Chief Cook was around. Except perhaps Sorrel, who was old and kindly and more than a little absentminded—but Bryony had not seen Sorrel in days.

"Polish the looking glass, then," said Wink.

Bryony perked up. The full-length mirror on its carved stand was the one lovely object in the room, a relic from the Days of Magic. It had belonged to the previous Seamstress, who was Bryony's own egg-mother and namesake, and Bryony had spent many hours in front of it, whispering secrets to her own reflection. There were no other children in the Oak, so the white-haired girl in the mirror was the closest thing to a playmate she knew.

She rose and stepped toward the glass—but even as she moved, the window caught her eye again. Between the branches of the great Oak glowed dazzling gems of blue sky, and the leaves whispered promises of a breeze she longed to feel. A robin lighted on a nearby twig, cocking its head at her, and Bryony felt a sudden urge to dive through the window and leap upon its back. Together they would soar far away from the Oak, to a place where she too could fly free. . . .

With a flick of its wings, the robin vanished. Another chance missed, thought Bryony, and frustration swelled like a wasps' nest inside her. "It's not fair," she burst out. "Why can't we go out? Just because the Queen says it's not safe—how does she know? She never leaves the Oak either!"

Wink snatched the last pin out of her mouth, looking shocked. "Of course she doesn't leave the Oak! She's the one who's kept us all alive since the rest of us lost our magic. If it weren't for her protection the Oak would sicken and die, and all sorts of horrible creatures would come crawling inside to gobble us up. She doesn't dare go out, because if anything happens to her, it'd be the end for all of us!" Her voice trembled on the last phrase, as though she could already see the disaster happening.

Bryony leaned on the windowsill, staring out at the sky. "It's still not fair," she muttered.

Her words were followed by a heavy pause, then a sigh from Wink. "I suppose you're old enough to know," she said. "I didn't like to tell you before, but—"

"I already know about the Sundering," interrupted Bryony, who had spent a whole afternoon dusting bookshelves to get the story from Campion, the Oak's Librarian. "A long time ago someone put a curse on everyone in the Oak, so we couldn't do magic anymore. And everybody got confused and scared and a lot of faeries died. And then Queen Amaryllis came, only she wasn't called Amaryllis yet and she wasn't a Queen, but I can't remember that part—"

"Her name was Alder," said Wink softly.

Bryony ignored the interruption. "And she still had her magic because she wasn't in the Oak when the Sundering happened, so she had to become Queen because nobody else was clever or strong enough anymore. And she made lots of different rules to try to keep people safe from the crows and foxes and things outside, but they kept making silly mistakes and getting killed anyway, and finally she told everyone that it wasn't safe to go out of the Oak, ever." She finished the last sentence in a single breath, and turned defiantly to look at Wink. "See, I told you I knew."

"Oh . . . yes," said Wink, flustered. "Well, I suppose—"

"Except that it's still a stupid rule," Bryony went on hotly, "because I'm not silly and I'm not going to be killed, so there!" With a flash of her wings, she hopped onto the windowsill.

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