After their parents vanished, Alex and Emma are sent to live with strict Uncle Mordo. Only Emma's pet rabbit, Pimawa, keeps them company. But when flying skeletons called Rag-o-Rocs storm their once-quiet home, the kids escape just in time with Pimawa leading the way.
The rabbit takes the siblings to the Conjurian, a land where magic exists and Pimawa can talk. But the Conjurian is in trouble. Magic has been disappearing, and the Shadow Conjurer, the most mysterious sorcerer of all, is on the hunt for the Eye of Dedi, an object so powerful it could destroy the Conjurian and human worlds. The battle to control all magic has begun. There's only one problem: Alex and Emma don't have any!
Masterful storytelling and dozens of captivating illustrations fill author-illustrator Brian Anderson's world with charm and intrigue. Fall under the spell of the Conjurers.
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“Angel Xavier is a fraud,” Alex Maskelyne told his older sister, Emma. He barely ducked the pillow she flung at his head. “There’s no way the guy is a real magician. He’s not even a good stage magician.”
Emma seemed about to reach for another pillow but turned back to the TV set instead. Ignoring her brother, she leaned closer to the screen, careful not to disturb the small white rabbit sleeping on her lap.
“Angel used a body double that time he walked through the Great Wall of China,” Alex insisted, as though Emma were arguing with him. “And he made the Eiffel Tower vanish by rotating the room where the audience was sitting. Clever camera angles helped, of course. Then when he”
Emma’s hand shot out. The second pillow landed squarely in Alex’s face.
“Shut it before Uncle Mordo hears you,” Emma ordered him, keeping her own voice low. “I’m trying to watch.”
Their uncle forbade television. Since he was their guardian, teacher, and supreme tyrant all in one (at least that was what Alex liked to call him), there was no way to argue or cajole him into buying a TV once he’d decided not to.
So Alex had built the set they were watching from bits and pieces he’d found in the trash or tucked away in the attic of their uncle’s Victorian mansion.
Alex hadn’t dared hide the TV in his bedroom or in Emma’s. Uncle Mordo would have been sure to find it. But this room, tucked away on the fourth floor of the west wing, was likely safe. It was a small, bare space with a slanted ceiling and a single window, probably a servant’s bedroom once upon a time. Uncle Mordo would never come up here.
On the TV screen, Angel Xavier stood with one foot on either side of a set of railroad tracks. His wrists and ankles had been shackled to posts. He yanked at the chains with all his might, but they held firm.
Suddenly a woman’s angular face filled the screen. “Welcome back to Faster than a Speeding Bullet! We’re offering live coverage of Angel Xavier’s greatest escape attempt.” She held a microphone with one gloved hand, gesturing toward the tracks behind her with the other. “Hear that? That is the whistle of the train merely seconds away. Angel Xavier has yet to free himself from any of his restraints.”
The screen flashed, filling with static.
“Hey! What happened?” Emma jolted upright, waking the rabbit napping on her lap. It jumped from her arms. “Sorry, Pimawa. Alex, you said you fixed it! I’m going to miss Angel’s escape!”
“Relax.” Her brother slipped out of his chair. He went behind the television and adjusted the cluster of wires and rods sprouting from its case. “I did fix it and . . .” He twisted a wire around a copper tube. The screen flashed back to life. “There. I’ve fixed it again.”
“What’s that?” The reporter’s voice crackled through the duct tape that held the speakers together. “We’re getting word that there appears to be a problem. Of course, it’s all part of the drama, folks.” She managed a nervous smile. “Over there you can see the emergency crews standing by. Um, again, I’m sure this is all part of the show. . . .”
The camera zoomed in on Angel’s horror-stricken face. Veins in his forehead bulged from the effort to free himself. The camera pulled back as the train raced down the track, twenty tons of steel closing in on the magician.
“Oh no! No! No! Can the train stop in time?” the reporter gasped.
The train locked its brakes. Sparks erupted from underneath its metal belly.
Angel Xavier screamed. Emma nearly did too.
Then a strange blue light engulfed the magician. A second later, the screeching train barreled over the spot where he’d stood. The emergency crews rushed onto the tracks as the light faded, but Angel Xavier was gone.
The camera panned the anxious crowd. Everyone was watching and waiting for the magician to make his reappearance. They were still waiting when the screen fizzled and went black.
“Not again!” Emma sprang out of her chair. “I’ll miss the best part!”
“The best part? Emma, it’s all a stunt, remember?” Alex stood, stretched, and headed for the door.
Emma blocked his path. “Our deal is off. I didn’t get to see the end.”
“C’mon, Em.” Alex groaned. “You don’t have to see the end to know it’s only a trick. They pumped that blue fog out of hidden pipes and he dropped into a secret dugout next to the tracks. They’ll let the audience freak out for a bit; then Angel Xavier will pop up behind the crowd.”
“You are so boring.” Emma rolled her eyes. “Can’t you enjoy anything without picking it apart?”
Alex looked genuinely confused. “What’s the fun in that?”
“I’m still not doing your chores.”
“No way, Em, we agreed. You got to watch your show, so now you get to do the laundry for a week. A deal’s a deal.”
“I didn’t get to watch all my show. Keep your voice down. Uncle Mordo will hear you,” said Emma.
“Keep your voice down.”
“Or maybe we should get caught,” said Emma. “That’ll teach you to break a deal.”
“I’m not the one who broke the” Alex’s voice choked off as a large shadow filled the doorway behind him. Cringing, he turned to face the stern eyes of the supreme tyrantUncle Mordo.
“One week’s banishment from the library for you, Master Maskelyne, except for classes,” said Uncle Mordo. He clasped his hands behind his back. His black-and-gold kimono swung around his ankles. “As for you, Miss Maskelyne, you shall polish the entire Victrola collection. To your rooms! Both of you.”
It was a trek from the fourth floor of the west wing to their rooms on the third floor of the east wing.
“This is all your fault,” Alex grumbled, stomping down the iron spiral stair-case.
“You were perfectly happy about it when you thought it would get you out of doing the laundry,” Emma snapped back. “Did Uncle Mordo seem kind of . . . weird to you?”
“Dictators are always weird,” said Alex. “No library for a week! No fair!”
They had reached the bottom of the landing and were headed along the hallway toward their rooms.
“He seemed distracted,” said Emma thoughtfully. “Honestly, I thought he’d be a lot madder.”
“Well, you enjoy your lucky break while wiping down hundred-year-old record players,” said Alex. “I’ve had enough of Uncle Mordo and all his rules.”
“This again?” said Emma. “We are not running away.”
“Of course we’re not.” Alex grinned. “We’re escaping.”
Emma pulled ahead, her mouth shut tight.
“It’s really simple,” Alex huffed behind her. “I have it mapped out. The security system is a joke. We can be over the wall in two minutes thirty-nine seconds. I’ve been training for weeks, pretending I’m bird-watching.”
“And where would we go once we’re over the wall?” Emma asked icily.
“Derren Fallow. We find Derren.” Alex smirked. That was his trump card. He knew how much his sister liked Derren.
It was very odd that Derren and Mordo were such old friends, when they were nothing alike, nothing at all. Derren told jokes; Uncle Mordo gave orders. Derren brought gifts; Uncle Mordo gave homework assignments. On his last visit Derren had given Alex a ratchet set, which had come in very handy for fixing up the TV. Emma had gotten a horde of orc figurines. She had them tucked away in all sorts of odd places around her bedroom.
But Emma did not seem to be reacting as positively to this part of the plan as Alex had thought she would. “Your plan is to run away to Derren Fallow?” she asked skeptically.
“Exactly,” Alex said. He slipped ahead of Emma and wedged himself between her and the door to her room.
“It’ll never work. He’ll bring us right back to Uncle Mordo.”
“No. He won’t,” Alex said. “Derren knows what it’s like here. Come on, Em. You know this is crazy. We’re trapped like prisoners. We can only go out if Uncle Mordo goes with us. We don’t even get to go to school like normal kids! We’ve got to escape somehow.”
“Alex, we can’t leave. Not until Mom and Dad come and get us, any day now.”
Alex shook his head. “They’re not coming, Em. Please. They’re dead.”
Emma’s eyes grew wide and shocked, almost as if her brother had hit her. Then they narrowed. Her lower lip, which had begun to quiver, set in a hard line.
“That’s not true,” said Emma, shoving her brother out of her way.
She entered her room and slammed the door behind her.
Emma carefully stepped around her armytin soldiers, orc figurines, china dolls, and one taxidermied squirrel. Before heading upstairs to watch TV with Alex, she had led them into battle against the evil cymbal-playing monkey that reigned from atop her pillow.
Emma eyed the books on the shelves that lined her walls. Normally, when she was upsetwhen she’d had a fight with Alex or gotten in trouble with Uncle Mordothose books were her comfort. Alex was always talking about escaping, but Emma had her escape right here. Just flip open a few pages and she could be creeping through the forests of Mirkwood or strolling through the snowy woods of Narnia, arm in arm with a faun who’d invited her to tea. She could be soaring over the seas on dragonback or studying her arithmancy lessons in her tower dormitory.
But for once, Emma didn’t feel like reading. She swatted the monkey aside, knelt, and pulled something out from under the bed.
A suitcase. Carefully, Emma brushed every speck of dust off the top of the case. Then she unzipped it to check on everything inside.
Jeans. T-shirts. A dress and a sweater. A pair of sneakers. Socks and underwear. Everything neatly folded, everything ready to go.
Just as soon as her parents came back.
That would show Alex. That would show everyone. They’d see that Emma was the one who’d never lost faith. Who’d always believed that they were coming back.
Soon. Soon. Soon.
There were two hundred and fifty-two rooms in the mansion. Alex didn’t care about any of them.
Except one. The library.
Books were the only proof Alex had that the world outside his uncle’s mansion was really there. A normal world, where people studied electronics and learned to program computers and even went to college to be engineers instead of getting homeschooled by an uncle and writing essays about the six wives of King Henry the Eighth. Or was it the eight wives of King Henry the Sixth? Alex could never remember.
And now he was banned from the library for a week. A week!
For doing what? Watching a television show. One that millions of other people were probably watching right now.
Completely, utterly, unbelievably unfair.
Inside his own room, Alex dropped onto the rickety stool in front of his drafting table. His mechanical dog, Bartleby, stood watchfully at the top of his desk, his metal tail alert. Underneath Bartleby was the plan Alex had drawn for the TV set.
It worked. Just like Bartleby worked. Just like nothing else about Alex’s life had worked since his parents had left him and his sister with Uncle Mordo while they went on an archaeological dig, only to never come back.
There had been some kind of accident at the dig site. Alex didn’t know the details. Uncle Mordo had never volunteered them, and Alex had never asked. He’d been two years old when it happened. And even now, eight years later, Emma was still living in some kind of a dream world where Mom and Dad would show up at the front door. At thirteen, Emma should’ve known better.
Alex certainly did. Alex faced facts. Angel Xavier was nothing but a stupid show-off, Uncle Mordo was a dictator, and his parents weren’t coming back. Ever.
Alex took a pocket watch from his cargo pants, carefully tracing the initialsH.M.engraved on the cover before flipping it open. H for HenryAlex’s father’s name. M for Maskelyne.
The watch was the only thing Alex owned that had once belonged to his father. Its hands were forever frozen at a quarter past three. Alex could fix almost anything, but he’d never fixed this watch. He didn’t want to. Somehow, the broken watch made him feel just a bit closer to the parents he could not even remember.
“Hey, Bartleby,” said Alex with a sigh, tucking the watch back into his pocket. “Even without legs, you still had a better day than me.” He cranked the knob on Bartleby’s toaster head.
The mechanical dog sprang to life, cocking his head side to side on noisy gears. A tongue made from a barber’s razor strop lolled from his mouth. Alex tossed him a small bolt, which the dog snapped out of the air. He grinned when he heard it rattling around inside Bartleby’s copper belly.
From under the ink blotter, Alex pulled out a series of hand-drawn maps. He studied the top one: a floor plan of the mansion with a route highlighted in yellow.
“We’ll get out of here, Bartleby. I promise.” He scratched Bartleby’s leather ears and set the dog’s tail wagging.
“The hardest part is going to be convincing Emma.” Alex sighed again. It was tempting to just take off by himself, but his sister was all the family he had left. (Uncle Mordo, obviously, didn’t count.)
He’d figure it out. One day he’d find a way to get Emma to face reality. Then the two of them would be gone.
Alex figured that Emma would probably be ready to listen to reason once she was done cleaning all seventeen of Uncle Mordo’s antique Victrolas.
As Alex rolled up the maps and carefully placed them into a backpack stuffed with tools and rope, an arc of yellow light swung over his desk, glinting off Bartleby’s chrome head. A car’s headlight? Alex climbed onto his desk and looked out the window.
The only visitors they ever got were Uncle Mordo’s fellow antiques dealers. As far as Alex was concerned, they were as dull as the rusty drainpipe outside the window. Except for Derren Fallow, of course.
But the other dealers always arrived one at a time. And they never came at night. Now a group of three was getting out of the car together and striding through the dark toward the veranda that led to the mansion’s front door.
As Alex’s favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, would have put it, “The game’s afoot!”
“Whoa, Bartleby,” Alex muttered. “What’s going on? There’s Mary McDurphy. You remember her. She gives me itchy sweaters on my birthday every year. At least Derren’s here. Boy, he doesn’t look thrilled.” When the group of visitors came into range of the light near the front door, Alex understood why. Derren was walking next to Christopher Agglar. “He’s the worst of the whole bunch,” Alex told Bartleby. “The only man Uncle Mordo could beat in a personality contest.”