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A crossroads can be a place of great power. So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, ...
A crossroads can be a place of great power. So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, a fireworks expert, stop them before it’s too late? Here is a richly textured, slow-burning thriller about friendship, courage, and the age-old fight between good and evil.
"This seamless blend of fantasy and historical fiction is ripe with rich, gritty detail . . . Readers will be captivated."
• "A true delight to fans of history, fantasy, and the triumph of good."
—Bulletin, starred review
"This spine-tingling, action-packed, and emotionally powerful prequel to The Boneshaker (Clarion, 2010) can stand on its own and has much to offer discerning readers."
—School Library Journal
"Thrilling, gothic, gorgeous. Milford can conjure spirits as well as any of the mysterious wanderers who travel through her world."
—Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark and Grimm
“A glimpse into a past that feels frighteningly real, The Broken Lands explodes off the page with unforgettable moments of skin-crawling terror and heart-stopping bravery. It thrilled me, enchanted me, terrified me, and by the end, made me fall in love.”
—Robin Wasserman, author of The Book of Blood and Shadow
"The Broken Lands weaves hobo and drifter legends, post-Civil War Americana, and Coney Island's tawdry history into a desperately romantic, can't-put-it-down scary tale of young love and ancient magic. A superb second novel, rich, complex, and beautifully written."
—Chris Moriarty, author of The Inquisitor's Apprentice
"If Milford's The Boneshaker was a combination of Ray Bradbury and American folk legends, its prequel must be what you get when fairy tales meet E.L. Doctorow."
—Elizabeth Bird, Youth Materials Collections Specialist, The New York Public Library
"This book held me hostage for the majority of time I was reading it; it was impossible to put it down. The Broken Lands was one of the best books I have ever read."
—Kyle, grade 6
Character, Chance, and Cheating
Coney Island , August 1877
A crossroads can be a place of great power; this should not come as any surprise. it is a place of choosing, of testing, of transition, and there is power in all of those things.
But a crossroads is not always what you think it is. it can sneak up on you. and even if you know to keep your eyes peeled for those two dusty roads, just when you think you know which you will choose and which you will leave behind, that’s when your crossroads will turn out to be something else entirely.
A hand of cards, for example. like the coup of monte Sam noctiluca was just about to lose.
It may have been because it was a particularly perfect August afternoon—not too hot, with breezes off the water that were just brisk enough to sweep most of the more pungent smells out of Culver Plaza, but not so strong that the cards wouldn’t stay put on the table. Maybe it was because it had been a quiet season; the newspapers had been screaming for years about the country being in a depression, but this summer, you could really tell. it could be that Sam had become so grateful for marks that he had forgotten they had to be watched.
Whatever the reason, Sam just hadn’t been paying close enough attention.
He saw it coming far too late to try and fix his way out of it. as he realized he was going full chisel into a fairly spectacular loss, he also understood that this fellow he was about to lose to might just be the biggest cheater in all creation. He was certainly the most shameless cheater Sam had ever run across, and that was saying something.
Sam didn’t lose at cards often. He was both exceptionally good at the games he played and exceptionally good at cheating if he happened to run into somebody better. every mark was different, but after a few hands, Sam could usually count on figuring out his particular logic. Whether by character, chance, or cheating, there was a way to beat everyone.
What on earth did I miss? he thought miserably as he stared at the deck of cards in his hand, and the card at the bottom that meant he had just gone broke. He’d missed something for certain, but what that was, he had no idea.
There was precious little skill required to deal monte square, and the odds favored the dealer by so much that Sam almost never bothered to cheat. You dealt one card face-up from the bottom of the deck and one card face-up from the top. Your punters, the marks you were playing against, placed bets on either or both of them. the rest of the deck, the monte, was turned face-up to show the card at the bottom, and if it matched the suit on either of the first two cards, Sam, as the dealer, paid off any bets the punters had made on the matching card.
So if Sam’s mark, the fellow in the porkpie hat, bet two bits on a spade Sam had dealt, and Sam turned the monte over to reveal (Cavolo, he’d sworn silently, you have got to be joking) yet another spade, Sam had to pay out a quarter dollar of his own bank. Which would’ve been fine if the punter had bet two bits, but he hadn’t. He’d put down a double eagle, a twenty-dollar coin.
Furthermore, it was the fifth time Sam had turned over the deck to find a spade. Considering there were only ten spades in a monte deck, and that they’d only played six hands, it was pretty impressive. Impressive, meaning impossible.
And with that, Sam was wiped out.
The punter sat back, tucked his thumbs into his vest, and grinned. “Guess we both learned something today, lad.”
Sam forced a friendly smile, even as he mentally let loose a string of hybrid Venetian and gypsy curses that would’ve made his grandmothers proud, followed by a few choice swear words in German, irish, and Scots. “reckon we did.” He gathered up the cards they’d played and shuffled them in with the rest of the deck. “We learned i’m a little more naïve than i’d realized.”
The punter smiled guilelessly. You’d really never have pegged him for a sharper, let alone the biggest cheater of all time. “Not sure i follow.”
Sam leaned back in his chair and considered. He knew better than to judge anybody by the kind of smile he flashed. “tell you what,” he began. “You’ve got my money, and that’s me on my own hook for assuming that if anybody was going to cheat, it would be me, so i took my medicine like a good kid.” Kid, to emphasize that on a good day Sam could maybe pass for sixteen. Maybe. “now you’ve got every penny i had, so indulge me.”
The fellow’s smile sharpened around the edges, but Sam had already gone too far to change direction now.
“Somehow you stacked the deck, and it had to be when you cut it. How’d you do that?” He smiled eagerly, made his expression one of admiration rather than accusation. He’d learned lots of tricks with that look, all from adults who couldn’t turn down the opportunity to teach something to a young whipper-snapper.
It didn’t work this time.
This time, the mark hauled off and hit Sam with a sharp hook that landed just under his eye.
Sam sprawled sideways off the crate he’d been sitting on, landing hard on his elbow and finally letting loose a few of those curses. a couple-three passersby paused, but none of them stopped: another indication that Sam had outgrown his scrappy kid routine.
Nice while it lasted.
The man watched him get to his feet, still smiling that smile that was at once as open and friendly as you’d ever wish to see, and edged. “You usually get away with that, kid? accusing fellows of cheating?”
Sam spat pink saliva on the ground between them. “You usually get away with such obvious cheating, mister?”
“Usually.” the sharper—it was no use pretending he wasn’t a professional—flashed his eyes sideways, and Sam knew he was about to get hit again. of course the man would have a sidekick. Cheating among professionals was like asking for a fight. It paid to have backup.
And I forgot to look. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Sam dropped fast and somehow managed to dodge the blow coming at the back of his head. When he straightened, fists up, his jaw dropped.
There was no second man, only the same fellow who’d just hit him, but who somehow now stood behind him. “Good reflexes,” the sharper said.
Sam spent exactly three seconds trying to figure out how the fellow had moved that fast, then decided it didn’t matter. He wasted another two seconds wondering what the fellow was up to. He already had Sam’s money, so there was no reason to stick around just to give him a whipping.
Any way you sliced it, it was just plain strange. Still, Sam hadn’t spent the last year dealing cards in Coney island without making some friends. He dusted himself off and brought his fingers to his mouth, ready to let loose the piercing whistle that would tell the rest of Culver Plaza that one of their own was in trouble. they might watch him take a single blow from a tourist—sometimes you had to take a punch to soothe a mark’s ego and keep him from involving the cops—but they wouldn’t stand by while he got knocked into a cocked hat by some out-of-towner.
Then, before he could sound the alarm: “Beg your pardon, gentlemen.”
Sam paused, fingers to his lips. He and the sharper turned to regard the old black man who stood politely beside them. “What?” the sharper snapped.
“Wonder if either of you know a saloon called the reverend dram.” the old man shifted a guitar slung on his back, ignoring the other man’s annoyed tone. “Been all over the place and just can’t seem to find my way.”
The sharper opened his mouth to snarl something in reply. then he hesitated, and the snarl faded from his face. this was odd. If the fellow was willing to rough up a fifteenyearold italian kid, he’d be willing to rough up a black man; even in new York, even more than ten years after the War Between the States, there were folks who practically made a sport out of it. But the sharper hesitated.
“Nope,” he said at last. “I’m not from around here.” He glanced at Sam, flashing that barbed-wire smile again. “See you around, kid.”
Sam resisted the urge to make a rude gesture as the man disappeared into the crowd in the plaza. then he turned to the newcomer. “I can take you to the dram, mister.” He stuck out his hand. “Sam.”
“Well, that’s mighty good of you, Sam.” The old man took his hand and shook it cheerfully, as if he had no idea he’d just broken up a potential fight. Something told Sam he knew, though.
“Name’s Tom,” he said. “Tom Guyot.”
The arrival of the four o’clock train at the terminus of the new York and Sea Beach railroad line announced itself with a squeal of brakes battling the forward momentum of two hundred tons of iron. the freckled man in the white linen suit scowled as a fine dust fell onto his cuffs. He looked up at the luggage rack, malevolence in his red-rimmed black eyes, and stared at the carpetbag that had fallen over onto its side.
He brushed the dust from his sleeve with ?ngers tipped with nails that had been filed to points. It had been about a week since the man had last used those nails to mark a hand of cards, though, so the points were dulling a bit.
With the handle of the bag in one fist and his slim wooden gambler’s case under his other arm, he joined the stream of holidaymakers spilling onto the platform at the Sea Beach Palace and surveyed his surroundings. To the west, he knew, were the streets of norton’s Point, full of thieves and gamblers and criminals hiding from the law. a few miles to the east, wealthy guests lounged in the grand new hotels, where piers stretched like manicured fingers into the water. The expanse in between, the bright festal wilderness of West Brighton, was given over to bathers, garish painted banners, grifters, mugs of lager that were two-thirds froth, questionable intentions, and carousels.
Taken all together, this jumble of folks, rich and poor and working and thieving, was Coney island, the notorious seaside town just south of Gravesend, long island.
The black-eyed man leaned on the rail watching, listening, and acclimating while he inhaled the brew of sea air and coal smoke. there was something else in the air, too; a deep note, buried far below the scents and sounds that stirred on the summer breeze. It would’ve been nearly impossible for anyone else to detect. Humans were notoriously blind to the simmer of violence—which always amused him, considering how like a drug it was to them.
The freckled and black-eyed man, not being human, could smell it as sharply as cologne. It was pervasive here, just like it was everyplace else he’d been in this country in the last twenty years, at least. Maybe more. it was easy to lose track of the passing time. He was far older than the flashy young fellow he appeared to be.
This year, though . . . this year it was strong. it had been building through the long years of reconstruction; it had kept on building during the years of depression; and this summer it was as if it had been incorporated into the very molecules of the air. in the rebuilding South, in the growing West, even here in the north where folks claimed to be so very civilized. Silty, flinty, stony, metallic, the scent was edged with the smell of human sweat . . . and yet sweet, like the perfume of overripe fruit just before it turned and began to rot.
He stood there until the platform cleared, and then he remained a few minutes longer. At last he sighed, picked up the carpetbag and the wooden case, and started in the direction of the beach.
There was still plenty of daylight left, but long shadows were stretching across the sand as he trudged toward the relative dark below the ferry pier, rolling his eyes at the squeals of girls in their woolen bathing costumes and little boys chasing each other through the surf.
In the gloom beside the pilings, the man dropped the carpetbag. He peeled off his suit jacket, draped it carefully over the bag, sat and leaned back against it as if it were a pillow. He removed glittering cuff links and rolled up his sleeves, folded freckled arms across his chest, and closed his eyes.
Then he winced and swore as a blow caught him between the shoulder blades. He sat up straight and punched the bag with his elbow. “Patience, you moldy old bastard,” he hissed. then he sat back against the bag again, harder this time.
Nothing to be done until sunset.