In 17th-century London two forces rule the people: the color powers and the Stone Plague. Brown masks can manipulate wood. Black masks control the night. And red masks . . . Well, red is the color of blood.
Thomas Fawkes’s Color Test is upon him, and he is sure his father, the infamous Guy Fawkes, will present him with a mask and Thomas will finally bond with a color. He desperately hopes for a gray mask so he can remove the stone that has invaded his body and will ultimately take his life.
But when Guy refuses to give Thomas his mask or even his presence, Thomas has no place in school or society. His only hope is to track down his father and demand a mask to regain what he’s lost. But his father has other plans: to kill the king.
Thomas must join forces with his father if he wants to save his own life. When his errands for the cause bring him time and again to Emma Areben, a former classmate, Thomas is exposed to a whole new brand of magic. And Emma doesn’t control just one color—she controls them all.
Emma wants to show Thomas the full power of color magic, but it goes against everything his father is fighting for. If Thomas sides with his father, he could save his own life—which would destroy Emma and her family. To save one, he must sacrifice the other. No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.
Praise for Fawkes:
“An imaginative, colorful tale about choosing for yourself between what's right and what others insist is the truth.” —Cynthia Hand, New York Times bestselling author of My Lady Jane
“Hold on to your heart as this slow burning adventure quickly escalates into an explosion of magic, love, and the truth about loyalty.” —Mary Weber, bestselling author of the Storm Siren Trilogy and To Best the Boys
- Full-length young adult historical fantasy
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
- Also by Nadine Brandes: Romanov and Wishtress, coming September 2022
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I wasn't ready to turn to stone.
I leaned so close to the small wall mirror that my nose left a grease spot on the glass, but I held still. Or tried to. I couldn't control the trembling. The grease spot smeared.
My right eye reflected a bright blue iris, but it was the left side of my face that held me a whisper away from the mirror. Cracked stone blossomed from the chiseled marble that should have been an eye. The ball didn't move, the lid didn't blink. I lifted shaking fingers to my face. Petrification tickled the hairline of my eyebrow. A single infected hair protruded like a stone needle.
The plague was spreading.
I broke off the hair, as though that would help, but I knew better.
"Come sit, Thomas."
I stumbled backward before facing the apothecary, Benedict Norwood. My one friend. Norwood stood at his dented and stained herb table, the backdrop of his curio cabinet displaying rows of green-hued bottles and jars, most of which held some sort of powder, paste, or plant.
He bent over my leather eyepatch, picking at the seam threads with a small knife. Norwood wore his color mask — deep green with gold laurels on the crown. Though no expression painted its face beyond two eye holes and a carved nose, it emitted a sense of calm. I imagined Norwood's hidden expression as one of care and kindness ... like his voice — a balm I'd come to rely on.
I felt naked without the patch covering my plagued eye. If any of the other students at St. Peter's Color School saw me ...
"Norwood, it's spreading." My voice was weak and childish — the opposite of what I needed on the day I was to become a man.
"Barely." Norwood poked a series of holes in the new edge.
My breath quickened. "It's stayed contained within my eye socket the entire past year since I caught the plague. Why would it spread? And now?" Why on the day of my Colour Test?
"Thomas Fawkes, come sit." With a single whisper, he sent a thick olive green thread through the holes of the mask. They tied off in a perfect knot. Norwood muttered another color command and mixed a green paste in a wood bowl beside him. Then he removed his mask and leveled me with a stare so commanding, it left no room for panic.
When he took off the mask, we switched from student and professor to friends. I wiped my sweating palms on my doublet, straightened my cuffs, and sat on the three-legged stool before the counter. He lowered himself onto his own stool, across from me.
I glanced over my shoulder at the closed door. Then to the window leading out to the garden. "Shall we put the eyepatch back on?"
"In a moment. The paste needs to set a little longer." He placed a black cowhide bag on the table and withdrew seven wooden spheres, each painted a different color and none larger than a chess pawn. "Focus on the colors, not the plague. Your Colour Test is tonight."
"Norwood, if I don't bond with Grey then the plague will spread to my brain. If I'm blind, I can't bond with any color —"
"You worry like a woman!" He tossed me the Brown sphere. I caught it with one hand — my reflexes sending my palm up for protection rather than from aim. "Help me polish these."
I halfheartedly snagged a spare rag and rubbed the cloth over the wood. It looked plenty polished to me. Besides, I didn't want to become a Brown. My gaze strayed to the Grey sphere. It sat there. Still. Dull. Mocking me. What if, when I put on my new color mask, Grey didn't bond with me?
"I was nervous my Colour Test, too." Norwood spit on the Green sphere and rubbed it in practiced circles. "When my father handed me my mask for the first time, and I put it on, all fear fled. I looked through the mask at the spheres and, clear as the sun in the sky, Green glowed like a beacon. The moment I spoke its language, it bonded to my mask." His smile grew and I found myself smiling with him. "It was magnificent. When Father passed the color power on to me, it was ... well, you'll understand after tonight."
My hands stilled. Would that be my story? I pictured myself wearing my new mask in a few hours ... and none of the colors glowing. Everyone watching. Father watching. What would I become without a mask? Without color powers?
Servant? Slave? Delivery boy?
No. The plague would spread and I would be consumed by the stone.
"Even if Grey does not respond to your call, another color might. And you need to be ready to speak its language." Norwood rolled the Blue sphere to me. "Go on."
I gave a final polish to Brown. "Brown obeys warmth and smooth authority." My tone came out dull. I set aside the Brown sphere and picked up the Blue. "Blue speech is like poetry — rhythmic and flowing."
"And Green?" Norwood rested a hand on his mask at his belt.
"Requires a calm and pleasant voice. It can sense your stress." Reciting the color languages was like reciting a nursery rhyme. "Is this really —" "What about Red?"
I reached for the Red sphere — a sensitive color and the slowest to respond — but then my hand bypassed it, almost of its own accord. I picked up the Grey sphere, my fingers sliding across its textured surface. "Grey."
Grey obeyed a firm voice. A command, not a request. Confidence. Authority.
I clenched my fist around it so tightly, a knuckle popped. "It has to be Grey. That is all I want." Once I had my mask, I would spend the rest of my life commanding the stone plague to recede from my body.
"There is no cure, Thomas, even if you bond with Grey." He sounded resigned.
"There has to be."
"Others have tried Grey speech —"
"I am not others!" I slammed the Grey sphere onto the table. "I am the son of Guy Fawkes. The blood in my veins is the blood of color warriors." I wanted to say more, but the walls of St. Peter's Colour School were thin. And even in the heat of the moment, I dared not say what type of warriors my family were.
I barely dared to think the word.
Keeper warriors. Keeper defenders. Even though Norwood was a Keeper there was an agreed silence that always hung between us. The war between Keepers and Igniters was too real. That was why I needed to live. To find a cure for my plague — so I could join the fight.
"No matter whose son you are, this is your Colour Test. You must be adequately prepared." He picked up his mask. He pressed it to his face and it seemed to melt around the edges, attaching itself to his skin. Then, with barely a whisper, he spoke to the green paste in the bowl and a thick stream of it spread itself on the inner edges of my eyepatch.
I never tired of watching color power.
A knock on the door. "Benedict?"
I startled, dropping the Grey sphere. It rolled into the folds of a cream-and-green gown. Emma Areben stood in the doorway — her oak brown mask firmly attached to her face with a white rose covering one eye.
I clapped a hand over my plagued eye, but the stiff silence was confession enough of my secret. She'd seen.
The girl who hung on the arm of my greatest enemy knew about my plague.
"I'll be finished in a moment, Emma." Norwood's usually collected voice was stripped of all warmth.
Emma stared a moment longer, then whispered something. The Grey sphere soared through the air and back onto the table. Then Emma backed out of the room closing the door behind her.
Norwood and I sat in silence. Doom had come in the form of an elegant masked lady of sixteen.
My hand drifted down from my eye. "She saw —"
"It's over." I would be expelled on the day of my Colour Test. In front of Father and my peers.
Norwood picked up my eyepatch. "She won't tell."
I leaned forward and he affixed it to my face. "You can't know that. She's with Henry Parker. He wants nothing more than to ruin me. One slip —"
"She won't tell."
The green goo hardened and I adjusted to the stickiness. I tapped the eyepatch. Nothing in my sight changed — I was half-blind already — but I breathed in the safety that came from a hidden secret.
"As you say." I didn't see how Norwood could know what Emma would do, but I trusted Norwood. And worrying would do nothing to help me survive this terrible day. Too much was happening — the spread of my plague, the Colour Test, the arrival of Father who would present me with my mask.
Only with my mask could I bond with a color.
I would finally meet Father. It had been a year since his last letter. He stopped writing when I told him I was plagued. But until today, it hadn't spread. It hadn't infected others. It hadn't done anything but partially blind me. I wasn't endangering anyone.
Perhaps Father was ashamed. After tonight, he would be proud.
What did his mask look like? No matter how many times I'd asked, he never told me the color.
Grandmother was equally tight-lipped and her husband, Denis Bainbridge didn't care.
Tonight, I would know. Tonight, I would see.
Norwood scooped the spheres into a pouch. I rose from the table, but hovered — not quite ready to reenter the drama of St. Peter's Colour School, where I would dress for the dinner and endure Henry Parker's insults and possibly be expelled for my plague.
"I expect Father will be ashamed to see my plague."
Norwood's eyes crinkled in the shadows of his mask eyeholes. "The great Guy Fawkes is traveling across all of England to bring you the mask he carved." He placed a hand on my shoulder. "He ought to be nothing but proud of you."
The great Guy Fawkes. The mighty solider. How could I live up to such a legacy?
"Thank you." I strode to the door, then looked over my shoulder. Norwood still watched me. I grinned and raised my good eyebrow. "Get a firm look at my face, sir. For after tonight, you shall not see it again."
* * *
I tied the final ribbon from my doublet to my breeches — both of which were newly fitted for my coming- of-age day by York's not-quite-finest tailor. I combed my brown hair away from my face as best I could.
In only a few minutes I would descend the steps of St. Peter's Colour School for the last time as a maskless. Father would be waiting. If Norwood was right and Emma kept her mouth shut, I would start my final year of training, complete with color power and mask.
I forced a deep breath. Confident. Commanding. What would it be like to receive my mask? To be considered a man? To hide my infection?
My right eye itched at the word infection. I rubbed it with my knuckle.
"Mr. Fawkes." Headmaster Canon entered my room. Two keys of sky blue crisscrossed the center of his dark Blue mask. St. Peter's coat of arms. I tried not to let my nerves show. I couldn't read his face behind his mask.
Was this it? Was he here to confront me about attending school as a plagued?
"You should be downstairs already, boy. Guests are arriving." His voice was as smooth and singsong as the Blue language he commanded. My fear fled, replaced by relief and then irritation.
Boy. Even today, on my coming-of-age day, the headmaster called me boy? I would not stoop to remind him that I was the son of Europe's mightiest color solider — or that I would receive my mask today and then be his equal.
I perfected my posture and strode past the headmaster to the stairs with a curt, "Sir." Halfway down, my steps slowed. I was about to see Father. My knuckles whitened against the bannister. What would he say about my eye?
I recalled Norwood's words. Father was already proud of me. Norwood was proud of me — and he'd been more like a father to me than Guy Fawkes. I must go into this ceremony confident.
Commanding. I didn't need Father's — or anyone else's — approval.
I entered the sitting room. Dark carved oak paneling covered all four walls, interrupted only by a white stone hearth. A fire blazed inside it, draping a blanket of warmth over me as I entered. My throat tightened, urged to whisper a command to the flame and see if it obeyed.
Of course it wouldn't. Yellow speech was extremely complex and required the crown's permission.
Other hues hummed around me, as though begging me to speak to them. Brown wood beneath my feet. Silver from the candle brackets lining the wall. Woad blue from a fellow's doublet.
Oh to control them all! But I would bond with only one — that was the Keeper way. To lust after multiple was shameless. Greedy. The way of Igniters.
No matter that Headmaster Canon was an Igniter, I would follow the path of my family. After tonight, one color — I prayed it was Grey — would obey my voice.
I am the one you want. I startled and glanced around.
Which one are you? I couldn't place its origin. And that made it the most alluring of all. Could it be Grey?
"Ah, the Cyclops has emerged from its den."
I ripped myself from the search for the mystery color. Three older students hovered by the fire, pewter goblets of wine cradled in their hands. Their masked faces turned toward me.
Henry Parker — the spokesman of the three and as pleasant to look at as a muddied swine — lifted his goblet. His mask was split down the middle by the convergence of two shades of Grey, light and a dark. Threads of Blue, Green, and Brown revealed his bonding with other colors — his Igniter status.
A painted set of black lips resting in a side-smirk gave a final touch to Henry's mask. That little smirk would keep him from ever being taken seriously. Father would know better than to include something so immature as a smirk on my mask, wouldn't he?
I scanned the room.
Headmaster Canon chatted with some strangers near the entrance — both too old to be my father.
My grandparents — Denis and Edith Bainbridge of Timble Hall — stepped into the room, leaving their cloaks with the entry servant. A few professors examined one of the school bookshelves holding tomes about color languages.
Then I caught the curled dark hair. The oak-brown mask. The painted silver eyelashes and a white rose over one eye. Emma Areben joined Henry's crew. I once thought her beautiful — mask and all, despite having never seen her true face.
She'd arrived at St. Peter's a year ago, already masked.
I envied her for never having to take St. Peter's test. The Colour Test was one "student honor" I wouldn't have minded foregoing. She and Henry would graduate tonight after I and my maskless peers told the Colour Test.
She turned her head my way and I darted my gaze to the rest of the room.
Father wasn't here yet. I'd expected him to arrive with Grandmother and Grandfather. I glanced out the window. Rain. That explained his delay.
"Have you decided which colors you'll start with, Cyclops? I suppose you don't care, as long as you have a mask to hide your deformity." After years of Henry's barbs, I should be able to handle them better. But to endure them on my coming of age day ... Why was he present at all?
Teeth gritted, I walked away, mainly so I wouldn't hear Emma's laugh.
I heard it anyway.
I crossed the room to greet my grandparents — the two who had raised me long enough to send me to St. Peter's. Grandmother, her broad-brimmed hat like a crown atop her feathered hair, wore a dark petticoat with a modest neck ruff. Both she and Grandfather wore black — most appropriate for such an occasion. Their masks matched, as was custom for a married couple: river-Blue carved with the swirls and flow of rushing water.
I embraced Grandmother, but when I shook Grandfather's hand, I scanned the entryway for a third person. It was empty save for the maskless servant. His eyes remained downcast. No father to carve his mask.
Where was Father? Was I to receive my mask before the test or was he to present it during?
"Thomas, let's step outside." Grandfather took my arm. "I would have a word."
My knees locked. Outside? For a word? Now? To do so now, and with the rain? It had to be bad news. Now was not the time for bad news.
Grandfather steered me toward the door, but Headmaster Canon called out, "Thomas, come here, boy."
Boy again. Fueled by nerves, my feet obeyed his singsong voice and I left — no, fled — Grandfather's news.
I walked past the testing room. The door hung open, though the interior remained lit by only a candle. The seven color spheres rested in a line on the surface of the table. Awaiting me.
I walked on.
Headmaster Canon led me to the strangers. One man wore a slate-Grey mask at his belt and the other a Brown one textured like tree bark. "This is Master Connor," — the Grey inclined his head — "and this is Master Haberdasher." The Brown held my one-eyed gaze, then the Headmaster went on. "They both seek an apprentice and will join us for dinner and for your Colour Testing."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fawkes"
Copyright © 2018 Nadine Brandes.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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