The Choir Boats

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What would you give to make good on the sins of yourpast? For merchant Barnabas McDoon, the answer is: everything. When emissariesfrom a world called Yount offer Barnabas a chance to redeem himself, he acceptstheir price to voyage to Yount with the key that only he can use tounlock the door to their prison. But bleak forces seek to stop him: Yount'sjailer, a once-human wizard who craves his own salvation, kidnaps Barnabas'snephew. A fallen angel a monstrous owl with eyes of fire willunleash Hell if Yount is ...

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The Choir Boats

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What would you give to make good on the sins of yourpast? For merchant Barnabas McDoon, the answer is: everything. When emissariesfrom a world called Yount offer Barnabas a chance to redeem himself, he acceptstheir price to voyage to Yount with the key that only he can use tounlock the door to their prison. But bleak forces seek to stop him: Yount'sjailer, a once-human wizard who craves his own salvation, kidnaps Barnabas'snephew. A fallen angel a monstrous owl with eyes of fire willunleash Hell if Yount is freed. And, meanwhile,Barnabas's niece, Sally, and a mysterious pauper named Maggie seek withdream-songs to wake the sleeping goddess who may be the only hope for Yount andEarth alike.

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Editorial Reviews

Realms of Fantasy Magazine
(A)n auspicious debut . . . a muscular, Napoleonic-era fantasy that, like Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials series, will appeal to both adult and young adult readers. There's a Dickensian vibrancy . . . to Rabuzzi's book; it's filled with outsized characters, colorful slang, outrageous coincidences, buried secrets, stunning revelations, and star-crossed lovers.
—Paul Witcover
Locus Magazine
Both the voyage and the arrival are adventurous, filled with perils and continuing uncertainly about just who or what might be Evil in a deliciously convoluted tale . . . a strong opening to what could be a remarkable project.
—Faren Miller
January Magazine
(A) fantastic and deeply entertaining debut novel . . . Part steampunk adventure, part classic fantasy, The Choir Boats might be earmarked for young adults, but anyone to whom this sounds like a rich ride will be surprised and delighted.
—Lincoln Cho
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780980941074
  • Publisher: ChiZine Publications
  • Publication date: 9/28/2009
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel majored in the study of folklore and fairytales as an undergradate at Harvard, with a minor in comparative lit and history. The Choir Boats is his first novel. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Sybil's Garage, Abyss & Apex, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Mannequin Envy, Scheherezade's Bequest, ChiZine, Goblin Fruit, and Shimmer. He is currently working on The Indigo Pheasant: Volume Two of Longing for Yount.

Daniel is married to the woodcarver and artist Deborah Mills, who also illustrated his book. They live in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi

Prologue: Two Streets in London

The young woman counted — "Otu, abua, ato, ano, ise, isii, asaa" — using what remained to her of the secret language her mother had learned from her father, the language they had used in the place across the ocean when they did not want the white men with whips to understand. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven ... we need seven to succeed, seven to open the way. Chi di, there is still daylight left, still time, but not much."

She stood near dusk in a blind alley in Whitechapel on the verge of the City of London. Distant notes drifted down from the sliver of sky far above, bells tolling the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday in 1812. The young woman (little more than a girl, perhaps sixteen years of age) pulled her worn-out sailor's coat around her and knotted her red kerchief against the cold. She scratched numbers on the brick wall in front of her, deepening the grooves made hundreds of times before. Staring at the numbers until the bricks faded, until she could see deep into herself and beyond, the girl hummed.

Rooks flew over rooftops but she did not heed their calls. She was on the marches of ala mmuo, the realm of the spirits. There she met the ancestors, the ndichie, who spoke of pride burnished under the sun, the heart of courageous healing, the brown eye of wisdom. Today she went farther than she ever had before, led on by the humming of a thousand bees at a thousand bee-ships, until she neared the border to another land. The moon in that place illuminated a row of pillars on a ridge in the distance, pillars topped with watching creatures.One shape lifteditself off a pillar, a white owl as large as a house, an owl with a swallow's tail streaming behind it as it flew towards her. The young woman fled the owl's reshing beak, escaped from the borderland, turned back to see the owl circling at an invisible threshold. Its cry pierced the humming, followed her as she tumbled away.

Falling, she caught a glimpse of a young white woman reading by candlelight in an attic. A golden cat sat in the white woman's lap. The walls of the attic leaned inward, the roof sagging like a thumb seeking an insect to squash. The white woman thrust the book up against the room's slow throttle; the cat arched its back and spat. The candle flame shrank. The white woman threw back her head and opened her mouth, trying to sing but only gasping. The candle went out.

The woman in the alley ceased humming, fell back into herself. Before she awoke fully to her body, she heard the beating of a great drum and the booming of a great bell—a drum with eyes and a bell rimmed by living fire, out of which came a voice soothing and powerful, neither male nor female yet both at the same time.

"Uche chukwu ga-eme, God's will shall be done," intoned the voice in the secret language and in English. "Seven singers for turning to the people a pure language. 'But who shall lead them? From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and Cush, the daughter of the dispersed ...'"


A figure emerged in the mist on Mincing Lane. He wore a coat from the previous century, a reddish coat that seemed to shift with the vagaries of the fog. Porters, carriage-men and servants passed him by but would be hard-pressed to describe him in that instant and had forgotten him entirely by the time they reached their destinations. Only the rooks wheeling overhead in the late-afternoon sky might have known what the man was, but no one understands their calls. Unheeded, the rooks returned to their towers as the church bells ceased tolling for the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday of 1812.

The man in the crimson coat scanned Mincing Lane, a thoroughfare between Fenchurch Street and Great Tower Street not far from the Thames in the City of London. He found the three-story counting house of a merchant, unremarkable except for its dolphin shaped door knocker and pale blue window trim. Without removing his gaze from the house, he took from one pocket a shrivelled apple. Fastidiously, he ate. His eyes took in the house, knowing as they already did every angle and every surface. Keeping pace with his eyes, his tongue and teeth delicately destroyed the fruit.

He was down to the core when the first light came on in the house. One window glowed in the mist, flickered as someone inside crossed the candle. He stopped eating, apple core held like a halfmoon twixt finger and thumb. A candle was lighted in an attic room, illuminating a golden cat sitting on the window sill. The man's coat undulated, restless and ruddy. Night came. The cold increased but the coat-man disregarded it; he had been much colder before.

Very faint, the man heard a hum in the back of his mind. Eyes still on the house, he sought inward and outward and round-ward, chasing the source of the sound. No good. The ghost whisper of a hum faded, eluding him as it had for a long age of this earth. Somewhere above the fog the moon rose. The house—moored and complacent—was unaware of him, or aware only as a sleeper is, in some deep recess of thought beyond waking.

The man in the coat swallowed the core in one bite. "Soon," he said to the house. The next moment, he was gone.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 12, 2010

    A Great Find

    In an age dominated by mass-market fiction, writing of this caliber rarely makes it into print, which makes The Choir Boats an especially delightful discovery. I've never really been a fan of the fantasy genre (Lord of the Rings excepted), but The Choir Boats may bring me around. Dickensian in its colorful characters and in its wit and charm, this book is a feast for any reader who enjoys first-rate writing, whatever the genre. The novel is grandly symbolic (good versus evil) without falling into pedantry or ever allowing its deeper significance to spoil a good tale. And if you enjoy a treasure chest of historical and literary allusions, The Choir Boats is definitely for you. Erudite, sophisticated, restrained.Rabuzzi is an exciting new talent. I look forward to the rest of the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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