“Wrede’s delightful voice is all her own.” —School Library Journal
“No doubt the charm, humor, and intelligence of Wrede’s writing will continue to enthrall.” —Publishers Weekly
“High-style fantasy and adventure.” —The New York Times
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In the magical world of Lyra, an innkeeper is forced to confront her darkest secret For more than a decade, Kayl has run a modest country inn. She opened it with her husband, and they managed it together until a summer illness took him away, leaving her alone with their two children. The three of them get by, living happily together as the years pass, but everything changes the day a sorceress asks for a room. Her name is Corrana, and by her silver brooch Kayl knows that she is a member of the order of Sisterhood of Stars, a coven of witches that Kayl left after a secret mission went horribly wrong. Kayl is sure that Corrana has come to take her back to the life she had renounced years before. Now, to save her family and her world, she will have to unlock a side of herself that she buried long ago.
The travel-chariot was black and so were the horses that drew it. It came down the road silently, like a moving shadow or the fingers of death. Kayl pushed her brown hair out of her face with the back of one hand and made herself continue sweeping the stone step. Some Prefect with a macabre sense of humor, no doubt, or perhaps a wealthy merchant. Horses were rare in Mindaria; only a noble or an exceptionally wealthy tradesman would hire ... Kayl's thoughts froze as she realized that the travel-chariot was turning onto the hard-packed area that served as a courtyard for the inn.
The rasping of the cicadas was suddenly loud in her ears. She forced herself to breathe. "It's a customer," she said under her breath. "Just a customer."
The customer's chariot halted just in front of her in a cloud of dust. Kayl knew immediately that this was no aristocrat's whim; she could feel power emanating from the chariot, pulling at the old bond—She cut the thought off as she realized where it might take her, and waited.
The driver jumped down from his seat and pulled back the curtains that hid the interior of the chariot. With a rustle of movement, a tall woman emerged. Her robes were black, her hair was black, and her eyes were the color of midnight. On her right hand she wore a ruby ring the color of blood, on her left an emerald green as poison, and in the hollow of her throat, suspended from a chain as thin as a spider's web, hung a tiny silver skull with diamond eyes.
"You have a room," the visitor said, and her voice was dark music.
Kayl moistened lips that had gone suddenly dry, but her voice was steady. "Five pence the night, lady. Seven if you want an evening meal." Then she remembered the driver. "That's each."
The woman raised a perfect eyebrow. "The last three innkeepers charged nothing at all."
"They don't have Prefect Islorran's tax to pay, lady."
"You mistake my meaning." The woman studied Kayl for a moment more, and slowly her lips widened into a smile. "I shall take a room. One week, at the price you named. After that, we shall see." Without waiting for Kayl's response, she turned and gave an order to her driver. He nodded and sprang back up to his seat; a moment later, the travel-chariot drove back the way it had come.
The woman turned and held out a hand. Automatically, Kayl extended her own, and seven thin copper coins dropped into it, one after the other. Kayl stared at them, then slowly closed her fingers around them. "This way, lady," she said, and went into the inn. She did not have to turn her head to see whether her unwelcome guest was following. Though she heard no sound but her own footsteps, she could feel the woman's presence like the heat of a fire on her back.
Inside, Kayl's rope sandals made a hissing noise against the stone floor as she circled the hearth in the center of the room. She crossed between the tables to the foot of the stairs. As she started up, she heard the woman's musical voice once again. "And do you wish no name to put on your board?"
Kayl turned and met the woman's gaze. "Whatever name you wish to give, lady," she said with a touch of sarcasm.
"I am Rialynn, called Corrana of the Sussewild." A smile flickered over her face and was gone. "Corrana will do, I think, for your guest record."
Shaken, Kayl nodded and turned away. The woman had given her true name; Kayl had felt the pull of it, and she was certain. Corrana—or Rialynn—was a sorceress. And she had studied magic with the Silver Sisters, though she did not seem to be one of them. No other wizards placed such dangerous power in their names. But why would such a one trust a mere innkeeper? Especially if she knew that Kayl ...
"This is your room, lady," Kayl said, deliberately flinging open the first door in an attempt to interrupt her train of thought. "You've paid for an evening meal; it's served at the seventh hour, downstairs in the main room."
The woman called Corrana smiled and moved inside. "I will be there," she said, and closed the door behind her.
Kayl stood staring stupidly at the wooden planks, then turned and started down the stairs. The routine tasks of running the inn would be a comforting distraction from fruitless wondering about her enigmatic customer. She hoped.
The door banged below. A boy's voice, breathless with running, called, "Mother? Mother!"
Kayl's ears caught the undercurrent of fear being sternly suppressed by eight-year-old pride. Habit and instinct combined to set her personal worries aside at once. "I'm here, Mark," she said, taking the last few steps two at a time. "What is it?"
Mark stood by the outer door, holding a bronze-bladed dagger in his right hand. His thin chest heaved in panting breaths, and his blue-gray eyes darted around the serving room. Kayl's gaze followed his, but she saw no signs of danger. Mark straightened from his fighter's crouch when he saw Kayl, but his eyes remained wary. "Mother! You're all right?"
"Of course I'm all right," Kayl said. "Why shouldn't I be? And how many times have I told you not to come banging through the door like that? You'll scare away what few guests we have."
The familiar scolding was even more reassuring than Kayl's presence. The last traces of tension left Mark's shoulders, and he shoved the dagger into a sheath at his belt. "I was in a hurry," he said defensively.
"And why was that?"
"Tully said he saw the death-coach drive right up to the inn! I thought—" Mark stopped and eyed his mother warily.
"You thought it was coming for your aged mother and you came running home to defend me, hmmm?"
Mark looked down, and nodded. "I guess it wasn't very smart," he offered.
Kayl snorted. "Not at all. Brave, perhaps a little, but not smart."
"Really?" Mark's head came up. "You really think it was a brave thing to do?"
"Were you scared?"
"No!" Mark said indignantly. Kayl looked at him, and his eyes dropped. "Well, maybe a little."
"If you were afraid and you came in anyway, you did a brave thing," Kayl said. "That's what being brave means."
Mark considered. "But you said it was a stupid thing to do."
"Being brave doesn't automatically make you smart," Kayl said. "They're two different things."
"You mean I have to be both? At the same time? That's not fair!"
Kayl laughed and rumpled Mark's blond hair affectionately. "Lots of things aren't fair. Enough talking; we've a new guest and there's work to do."
"A new guest?"
"Tully saw her arriving."
"In the black coach?" Mark cast a dubious look at the stairs, as if he expected a Wyrm to appear around the corner at any minute.
"It was just a travel-chariot. Now, you go and—"
"Where is she?"
"Mark! Don't interrupt. She's in the room at the head of the stairs, and you're going to take up water right away."
"Do I have to?"
"Yes, you have to. Go on!"
Mark left, looking much put-upon. Kayl watched him until the rear door of the inn closed behind him—with a bang—and shook her head. Mark would never make an innkeeper. He might become a good fighting man, if he could only control his impulsiveness long enough to survive the learning. And if Kayl could find a way of training him. Dara, on the other hand ...
Kayl turned. Dara was peering around the edge of the front door, her brown eyes wide. "What's the matter with you?" Kayl said crossly.
Dara flushed and stepped inside. She tossed a long strand of dark, fine hair defiantly over one shoulder and said, "I saw a black chariot stop here, and, well ..."
"Not you, too." Kayl rolled her eyes. "It was just a guest."
"Oh." Dara studied Kayl. "You're sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," Kayl said with what she hoped was sufficient firmness to discourage further questions. Dara was four years older than Mark, and far more perceptive.
"Huh." Dara scowled. "I thought that it might at least be somebody special."
"Special in what way?"
"Oh, you know. One of Father's friends, from before."
"I hardly think any of your father's friends would come looking for him five years after his death," Kayl said sharply. Dara was closer to the truth than she could suspect, though it was not her father's past that was the problem.
"Well, who is it then? Driving around in something like that and scaring everybody."
"She calls herself Corrana, she's paid for an evening meal, and you're going to run over to the market and get what we need to feed her decently. That's all you need to know right now."
Dara groaned. "Errands? But, Mother, I went last time. Can't Mark—"
"Mark's drawing water for the new guest. Do you want to trade chores with him?"
"All right, then. Get greens and a little meat, if you can find any that's not too dear. And we'll want more bread; stop at Brazda's on the way back and see if she has extra today." Kayl handed Dara three of the copper pennies Corrana had given her. "Oh, and while you're out, try to let a few people know that I haven't been killed or cursed or carried off. One customer won't even begin to pay Islorran's tax, especially if she drives everyone else away."
Dara's eyes narrowed in sudden thought. "That's right, people will be worried. I'd better go right away." She shoved the coins into her pocket and darted for the door.
"Dara!" Kayl waited until Dara turned to face her. "You are not to go telling stories to Jirod to lure him out here tonight. Do you understand?"
"I wasn't going to do anything like that!" Dara said. Her tone was unconvincing, and her eyes slid away from Kayl's face.
"Well, all right, but what difference would it make? He's bound to hear about it sooner or later."
"At least if someone else tells him, I won't have your matchmaking to contend with."
Dara flushed. "Mother!"
"If you want to be successful at that sort of thing, you need to learn a little subtlety," Kayl went on relentlessly. "Did you really think I hadn't noticed?"
"You never said anything."
"I'd hoped you would think better of it. And I'm saying something now."
"Well, you ought to get married again," Dara said defensively.
"If I ever decide to remarry, I'll choose my own partner, thank you."
"Yes, he is. And he's a good friend. But I've no interest in him as a husband, and I'd rather not have to tell him so to his face just because my daughter thinks we'd make a good match."
"But there isn't anyone else in Copeham!"
"Then I won't marry. It's my affair, after all."
Dara's eyes fell. "I suppose so."
"Now, promise me you'll stop this nonsense with Jirod once and for all."
"Well ..." Dara sneaked a glance upward. "Oh, all right. I promise."
"Off with you, then."
Dara nodded, looking considerably subdued, and left. Kayl sighed as the door closed behind her daughter, feeling the familiar guilt rising inside her. Not having a father was hard for the children. Perhaps she should remarry, for their sakes. Jirod was a kind man, and he had made no secret of his admiration for Kayl. He was quiet and steady, too; he would be good for Mark. Yet, much as she liked the thoughtful farmer, she never seemed able to bring herself to encourage him. Or any of the other eligible and semi-eligible men of Copeham Village, for that matter.
She chalked Corrana's name on the slate by the stairs, then picked up the broom she had left by the door and went out to finish her sweeping. Perhaps the real problem was that she'd never met anyone else like Kevran. She smiled sadly, remembering the laughter in his face and the warmth of his touch. Five years had done much to dull the pain of his loss, but his memory was still clear in her mind. The time they'd had together had been worth the price they'd paid, and neither of them had regretted it.
But she'd never found another man worth giving up ... what she had given up for Kevran. And she could never be content with less, even now. Kayl scowled and gave the step one final brush with the broom, then went back inside. She hadn't thought even obliquely of the days before her marriage in years. It was the fault of that woman, Rialynn, Corrana, whatever she called herself. She had no right to come here, stirring up things Kayl had no wish to remember.
Kayl paused, turning that thought over in her mind. No wish to remember? They had been good times, despite their bitter ending, and Kevran had shared some of them with her. Why was she so afraid of them now? Absently, she set the broom in its corner. Mark had already brought the water in; she could tell by the irregular trail of drops he had left in his wake. She would have to remind him again to be more careful.
She went into the kitchen to prepare for Dara's return. The distorted image of herself in the bottom of a dented brass pot was oddly disturbing today, though she had seen it every afternoon for ... how long had she had that pot? Kayl shook herself. She was trying to avoid thinking, she realized, and doing a pretty poor job of it. All right then, face the question and answer it. Why was she so disturbed by Corrana's appearance?
The answer came almost as soon as the question had been phrased. She was afraid of the disruption the woman's arrival might bring to her orderly way of life. Kayl stared at the kitchen wall for a long moment, appalled. When she had begun to cling to the somewhat dubious security of life as an innkeeper in a small Mindaran village? She had wanted more, Kevran had wanted more, once. And how had she not noticed what was happening to her?
Her mind ran quickly through her years here, pointing out the little changes in attitude that had summed to such a terribly unwelcome total. The difficulty of being accepted by the villagers when they first arrived; the comfort of having a place that was theirs; working side by side with the villagers the time the river had threatened to flood; Dara's birth, and the nameless child who had died, and Mark; Kevran's death of the summer sickness; the struggle to be both mother and father to two small children; the growing acceptance by the village in the wake of Kevran's death; the wanderers who didn't pay their bills or tried to intimidate her into lowering her prices; the rising taxes Islorran demanded. So many things, and so small.
And there was nothing she could do about it now. She was what she was; the years had shaped her as surely as a smith shaped steel.
The rear door banged. Kayl snatched up a cleaver and an onion, and began to chop. Mark knew that her eyes always watered when she chopped onions; even if he noticed, he would not ask his mother why she was crying over the kitchen pots.CHAPTER 2
The evening meal was normally the busiest time of day at Kayl's inn, and this evening was even busier than usual. Far from frightening Kayl's customers away, Corrana's dramatic arrival was a magnet. Nearly everyone in Copeham had found some excuse to stop in, and, once in, they stayed.
Just as the sun was setting, Corrana descended the stairs at last. She had changed her loose black robe for a clinging one of deep forest green. Her dark hair hung loose around her shoulders, hiding whatever clasp held the sweep of the robe's neckline. She had put off her rings, and Kayl saw no sign of the silver skull necklace. She seemed to float down the stairs, oblivious to the sudden silence below.
Kayl greeted her appearance with a relieved sigh. Perhaps now some of the merely curious would leave, and she would have a chance to relax a little. She moved forward, no faster or slower than she would have gone to greet any other guest. "My lady," she said, inclining her head slightly.
Corrana's lips curved. "Greetings, innkeeper." There was the briefest hesitation between the two words, just long enough for Kayl to take note of it. Her eyes were fixed on Kayl, as if no one else in the room was of any importance. Kayl nodded again, with as much respect as she could muster, and turned to lead the way between the tables.
The villagers drew back almost imperceptibly as the two women came among them. Kayl caught the eyes of Holum, the metal worker, and quirked a corner of her mouth at him. Holum's eyes narrowed; then, reluctantly, he smiled back and hoisted his beer mug. The movement, small as it was, broke the atmosphere of tension. A murmur went through the crowd, and then the hum of conversation rose once more. Kayl felt some of the tightness leave the muscles in her shoulders and back.
She reached the head of one of the long tables and arranged a place for Corrana, close enough to the window to have the benefit of the night breeze. The woman seated herself gracefully as though unaware of the fascinated eyes of the villagers. Kayl signaled Mark. "A bowl of the stew," she told him.
"You're sure you want her to have that?" Mark said.
"It has too many onions in it."
"You think stew has too many onions in it if I wave one at the pot while it's cooking," Kayl said without irritation. "Go along and get it."
Mark shrugged and left, threading his way rapidly among the benches and tables. Kayl turned back to find Corrana watching her with speculative and slightly disapproving eyes. "You are remarkably easy with your staff," she said, glancing at Mark's retreating back.
"That," Kayl said coldly, "is my son, Mark."
Excerpted from Caught In Crystal by Patricia C. Wrede. Copyright © 1987 Patricia C. Wrede. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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For over twenty years, Patricia C. Wrede (b. 1953) has expanded the boundaries of young-adult fantasy writing. Her first novel, Shadow Magic (1982), introduced Lyra, a magical world in which she set four more novels. Her other series include the Enchanted Forest Chronicles; the Cecelia and Kate novels, co-written with Caroline Stevermer; the Mairelon books, which take place in Regency England; and the Old-West Frontier Magic series. Wrede lives and works in Minnesota.
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One of my favorites
A Wonderful Read Review brought to you by OBS staff member Verushka Caught in Crystal is part of Patricia Wrede’s acclaimed Lyra series of books, now published for the first time in ebook form. The series consists of five books that are loosely connected, but all are based on the same world – Lyra. An interesting side-note is that Wrede created a role-playing game about Lyra, and after reading this book, it’s one I would love to get my hands on. I think the hidden gem of this novel is the introduction to the Lyra series by the author. Included in the introduction is a collection of posts Wrede shared on her blog of the the first chapter of Shadow Magic, and her reasons for the changes she made. It is such an intriguing look into her thought processes as a writer, and includes comments and points-of-view that as a reader I know I haven’t thought of before. When I found myself going back and re-reading parts of the excerpts and her comments, I realized I would have to leave this part of the book until the end, because I would have these comments at the back of mind while reading, wondering what she was thinking. Kind of like watching a behind-the-scenes featurette of a movie, seeing how all the SFX are done and not being able to forget that knowledge while watching the movie. But, back to the book – the story of this novel revolves around Kayl, an innkeeper and former member of the Sisterhood of Stars, a powerful and respected coven of witches. But, within the Sisterhood, Kayl was considered a warrior, not a magic user. She left the Sisterhood years before the book begins, and after a mission that went horribly wrong. When the book opens, she is an innkeeper, a widower and a mother trying to keep her children in line and her head above water in her business – all in all, she is facing the typical issues any single mother would. Soon enough, the Sisterhood comes calling, asking her to return to its fold and to return to the Twisted Tower, the very place that she went to years before on another mission for the Sisterhood. The Sisterhood believes that whatever is currently interfering with its magic will be found there. Nothing is straightforward about that though, for Kayl can’t trust her memories of the prior mission, and Dara, her daughter is to her dismay intricately tied to the current mission despite Kayl’s best intentions of protecting her from her past. So, it would seem straightforward enough right? The best stories often are, and with this Lyra title at least (the others are on my to-read list) Wrede shows off her world-building skills, something I find that pretty much makes or breaks a series for me. Lyra is a world with four races, in conflict over different issues and experiencing very familiar biases. The Sisterhood begins the book as a coven that is looked up to, but Kayl notes their awful treatment of two beings she is close to – Glyndon (Varnan) and Bryn (Wyrd). The book includes a prologue where Wrede provides a tale of the history of Lyra and its races, its wars and while reading such histories can be a chore in some titles, Wrede has crafted a prologue that makes her Lyra history something that is interesting to read..... The FULL review and more at openbooksociety dot com
It is rare novel that makes me forget that I am reading a young adult novel. It is even rarer that I just forget that I am reading for review and just read for pleasure. This book does both. As a fan of fantastic literature, this novel caught my attention immediately, and just didn't let go. Make sure you have a free evening before you pick this one up- because you aren't going to want to put it down.
Very good book. This author knows her sci-fi and fantasy and suspense.
I bought this book about 20 years ago or so at a local library book sale. Since then I have litterally read it at least 15 times! No kidding! If I had children, I'd name them Kayla, Kevron, and Glydon after characters in the book.