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THE GARDEN LADY
The king's gardener spoke the secret language of all growing things. She knew the songs of the morning flowers and spoke the poems of the weeds. She spent long afternoons in conversation with the trees.
FROM "THE TRIUMPH OF THE PEASANT KING," A SCIM LEGEND
* * *
The bench stood twenty feet away. Such a short distance. Such an impossible one. Madeline clung to the trellis of ivy that bordered her mother's garden path as she tried to force air into her ruined lungs. Every gasp felt like pushing sludge through broken glass.
It was late morning on a Sunday, and she'd taken her inhaler an hour before — a quick, sharp breath of cold that disappeared much too quickly. She should have been in bed, flat on her back — not sitting, not standing, much less walking. But if the doctors were to be believed, it was one of the last spring Sundays she would ever see. Her chest and back hurt from the coughing.
The sunlight caressed her face. She couldn't stand at the trellis forever, and the return path to the house was longer. A few steps set off the coughing again. She pushed her fist hard into her ribs. She had dislocated them coughing three days ago, and they still didn't feel right. Three steps brought her to the maple tree which crowded the path. Her vision dimmed, and her knees softened. She slid down the trunk, and when the coughing fit passed she dropped her head against the rough bark.
A hummingbird spun into the air beside her, its shining green body hanging to the right of her face. It chirped three times, then zipped to her left, its small, dark eyes studying her before disappearing toward the pineapple sage. The citrusy fragrance of the roses hung heavy across this part of the path. She took little half breaths, and it felt close to natural. The bees hummed as they visited the flowers. A squirrel hung off a sunflower by its hind legs, plucking seeds out of the wide circle of the flower's face with its forepaws. This garden never quite seemed to follow the seasons ... sunflowers blooming in spring instead of summer, roses year-round, frogs singing in the evenings no matter the weather. It was an oasis of near-magic in their suburban lot. Madeline used to build fairy houses along the "shore" of the fountain when she was a kid, using bark, leaves, and flowers to make tiny homes for make-believe friends.
Her mother had never cared for those little homes. She had planned the garden, a full acre of wandering paths, stone bridges, and small fountains. It was eclectic and a bit overgrown in places. Mr. García had done the planting and did the upkeep, too. Mom liked it a bit unkempt, and he worked to give it the impression of slight wildness. It didn't look manicured, but there weren't weeds, either. The fairy houses, Mom had said, looked like someone had forgotten to clean up after doing yard work.
Everything in its place, Mom always said.
Then again, Mom also wanted her house to "look lived in." That meant strange habits like telling their housekeeper, Sofía, that she couldn't immediately put an abandoned glass in the dishwasher. Once Madeline had come home and smelled fresh cookies, only to discover it was an air freshener her mother had bought from a Realtor. "To make it smell like home," Mom had said, seemingly oblivious to the reality that she was, indeed, home, and that actually baking cookies would have been simpler.
A few more steps, Madeline decided, but halfway to the bench a racking army of coughs marched across her chest. She touched her lips, then wiped the blood in the grass. With her eyes closed and the little half breaths coming again, she counted to twelve. When the jagged feeling in her chest passed, she lay flat and watched the clouds drifting in some high, distant wind. Air moved so easily for everyone but her.
It may have been a mistake, sneaking into the garden without telling anyone, with no way to call for help. She had chosen the perfect moment. Mom and Sofía had gone upstairs, something about washing the curtains. Dad was at the golf course, or work, or both. Her phone sat inside, turned off. The constant texts from Darius were making her feel guilty, but she had made a decision, and it was final. He couldn't waste his life waiting for her. There wasn't a cure. He needed to live his life. She needed to live what remained of hers.
Birds chirped in the maple. The warmer air made it easier to breathe. Going outside in the winter had been nearly impossible. And the sun felt nice. She closed her eyes. The tree shaded her face, but her hands and feet baked in the sunshine. Last week the doctor had said, "If there are things you want to do, you should do them." He was trying to be encouraging, she knew that, but it sounded too much like "enjoy your last spring." Her mom didn't think she should sit out in the backyard because "she might catch cold," as if that would change anything now.
And here Madeline was on her back, stranded and straining to breathe. So much for doing whatever she wanted.
The hummingbird wheeled overhead. It zipped back and forth over her, then shot off again, chirping incessantly.
"I see her, I see her."
Madeline struggled to prop herself onto her elbow, looking for the source of the unfamiliar voice. It sounded like the voice of an old woman, but there was no wavering in it, no sense of weakness. It sounded, in fact, almost musical ... as if the woman had been a professional singer once upon a time and the music had never left her. Still, she was trespassing in their backyard. A small thrill of adrenaline coursed through Madeline.
A woman made her way toward Madeline, hunched low, as if carrying a heavy load on her back. She wore a broad hat with pale violet flowers along the brim, and her grey hair stuck out like the straws of an overworked broom. Her patched and dirty skirt trailed the ground, and she carried a canvas sack. Madeline couldn't imagine how she'd gotten in through the hedge that ran around the garden.
Another coughing fit overcame Madeline. Her vision blurred at the edges, and she pressed hard against her chest.
"Don't get up, dear, rest yourself. It's the hummingbird who's in such a hurry, but I saw you, don't worry, I already saw."
"Does my mom know you're ..." Madeline couldn't finish the question.
"Of course not," the old woman said. She settled next to Madeline with a great deal of groaning. She looked at the house, her eyes sparkling, a smile tugging at the edges of her lips. Her face was weathered and wrinkled, but her eyes shone like black stones in a clear river.
"You shouldn't be here," Madeline said. "My mom won't ..." She stopped to catch her breath. "She won't like it."
The old woman nodded thoughtfully, then smoothed her skirt. "Mothers rarely do, dear. Now, to business." She reached into her sack and pulled out a small white button, crusted in dirt, then a recently unearthed bottle cap and a small roll of twine. "I would like to borrow these."
"Borrow them?" Madeline pushed her hand against her chest again, trying to get a deeper breath. "I don't understand."
"They are yours," the woman said. She raised her hand. "Don't deny it. I found them in your garden. The birds brought me the twine, and the squirrel mentioned the button, but I dug it out with my own hands. The bottle cap — well, I've had my eye on that for several seasons."
Madeline tried to call her mother, but she couldn't shout loud enough. She coughed and coughed, and the old woman put a fleshy arm around her shoulders. "My mom," Madeline managed between coughs.
"I won't cheat you," the woman said. "I only want to borrow them. In exchange, I'll give you three favors and one piece of advice." The hummingbird zipped in front of them again and chirped twice. The old woman made a shooing motion. "I know what time it is, go on with you."
Maybe the old woman would go if Madeline gave her what she wanted, and it was only a few pieces of trash from the backyard. "Take them," Madeline said.
The woman beamed at her and collected the bits of junk, scooping them into her bag. "Thank you, dear. Thank you, thank you — and that's three thanks for three items, so all has been done proper."
Madeline wheezed a you're welcome. She took a shallow breath. "Could you ... Do you think you could ask someone to come out for me?"
The old woman looked to the house again, and her face crumpled. "Not for the wide world, dear."
"For one of my favors?" She took the woman's hand. "I can't breathe."
"The flowers sent word of that, they did. That's why I came. But have they come to you? Have they offered you a bargain?"
Madeline gasped for breath. What was wrong with this woman — couldn't she see that Madeline couldn't breathe? The old woman stared at her with a steady gaze, waiting for an answer. Hoping the woman might help after she answered, Madeline shook her head. "Who? The flowers?"
"No, of course they haven't. Not yet. I can't get involved until then. Not much."
Madeline lay back, coughing. The bright green leaves were waving in the branches. Clouds scudded in from the west, much too fast, covering the sun. She shivered and thought she could see the cloud of her breath when she exhaled. But it was too warm for that on this spring day. "Call my mother," she said. "Or Sofía."
The old woman's face appeared over her. "No favors yet, my sweet seedling. But I can give you the advice now."
Madeline closed her eyes. "Okay."
The old woman squeezed her hand and whispered in her ear. But Madeline could scarcely hear her over her own racking cough, and when she could breathe enough to roll on her side, the sun was shining brightly again, and the old woman was stepping into the hedge, like a rabbit running into a thicket of thorns. She was gone.
Her mother's cry of horror came from the direction of the house, and feet pounded along the garden path toward the shady space beneath the maple.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Crescent Stone"
Copyright © 2018 Matt Mikalatos.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
The Crescent Stone blends . . . glitter unicorns, powerful healing tattoos, and an engaging cast of characters into a funny and thoughtful story.
The Crescent Stone hooked me from the first page! With the rich characterization of John Green and the magical escapism of Narnia,
this book is a must read for all fantasy fans!
Matt Mikalatos has penned a tale straight out of today’s headlines that will tug at your heartstrings. The Crescent Stone is a compelling story that will get under your skin and worm its way into your heart.
The twists keep coming in The Crescent Stone, a fabulous young adult fantasy with a great cast of characters. . . . Fantasy fans will devour it and ask for seconds.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Crescent Stone is an imaginative portal fantasy with a powerful message of power having a price. Madeline and Jason are two teens from our world who are drawn into a new magical world. Since Madeline has a fatal lung disease that is slowly killing her, she takes an offer to serve in the Sunlit Lands for one year in exchange for her complete healing. Jason agrees to go to help Madeline, in exchange for pudding. As the two learn to work with the Elenil, the people who brought them over to help with their constant battle against the Scim, they discover the amazing world around them. But they also learn that power comes at a price, and they will have to make choices that have drastic consequences for themselves and the people around them. Mikalatos has created an in-depth world, complete with a smattering of folktales and poems in the appendix. Madeline and Jason are characters you care about, and Jason especially steals the show. With tension, drama, and moral quandaries, he makes you think beyond a simple fantasy adventure. You may agree with his conclusions or not, but it is a quality book that brings questions along with a whole lot of entertainment. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy and young adult fiction.
From my 11-year-old grandson: The Crescent Stone was a great book! I liked the character’s personalities. Jason was hilarious and Madeline was super serious. There were a lot of funny and unexpected turns in the story.
Although fantasy is not my “go-to genre”, I enjoyed this story. The world that the author created was very unique, with different types of creatures and a lot of tensions between them. I loved the theme of having humans visit a fantastical world…it makes it easier to picture when seeing things through the humans’ eyes. The characters were great in the story. I loved Jason (as I’m sure most readers will)…he added fun and humor to the story and was definitely a typical teenage boy. Madeline was also a good character…my dad suffered from the same lung disorder that she has and I could understand her desperation to be able to breathe “normally” again. I enjoyed the scenes surrounding the history of the world and learning about the magic system the most. There were a lot of battle scenes towards the end that I found to be a bit tedious and caused me to lose some interest. Overall, this was an excellent YA fantasy story. I highly recommend this one to all teens. The content is very clean and appropriate. My Rating 3 stars I received this book from the publisher to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
The Crescent Stone (The Sunlit Lands Book 1) by [Mikalatos, Matt]The first three lines on the back cover were enough to bring me into this novel. "A girl with a deadly lung disease... A boy with a tragic past... A land where the sun never sets but darkness still creeps in..." This setup was ideal. The Crescent Stone is a fantasy novel by Matt Mikalatos. Madeline Oliver is the girl with the deadly lung disease. Jason Wu is filled with guilt that leaves him deciding to always tell the truth. They both end up in the land. A place they don't know anything about except each decision will touch others more than they could have anticipated. This story is imaginative, deep, filled with humor and fantasy. It left me pondering things after I had finished it. Having never read a book by this author before, I look forward to more of his works in my future.
Matt Mikalatos’ “The Crescent Stone” is a delightfully inspiring and at times heartbreaking venture into a fantasy world full of light and dark — both literal and figurative. Madeline Oliver is a human teen living on Earth, suffering from a terminal disease that leaves her unable to breathe. When she collapses at school, her chemistry lab partner, Jason Wu, rushes her to the hospital, where the two are visited by a mysterious man named Hanali. The man claims to represent the Elenil people from the Sunlit Lands, a place from a different realm. If Madeline will vow to come to the Sunlit Lands and fight the Elenil’s enemies, the Scim, they will instantly and permanently cure her of her disease. As Maddie agrees, Jason, who is overcoming his own painful past, insists he pledges loyalty to Maddie and travel along and protect her. So the two make their journey to the Sunlit Lands and enter the Elenil society. With the help of several others, including Maddie’s human roommate Shula and Baileya, a desert-dwelling Kakri warrior whom Jason just might have a crush on, the duo must learn whom to trust and determine what the true battle is. “The Crescent Stone” is not only a great fantasy novel of battles, magical items and powers, a Court of Far Seeing with a magical Crescent Stone, mysterious beings and shape-shifting creatures, but it also offers many life-applicable lessons, like overcoming trials and deceptions; dealing with life’s “scars” helps up remember where we came from and to face what is coming; questioning our and others motivations and decisions; dealing with deception; and reminding us that things aren’t always what they seem. Three other major themes that run throughout the novel deal with loyalty, having the courage to face life’s battles, and facing the injustices in life — at what cost are things worth it, and should justice come through injustice? Mikalatos does a great job developing characters, giving a glimpse into what motivates them, from the major characters like Maddie and Jason to others like Hanali, the healer Gilenyia, and the Elenil leader Thenody. And readers will fall in love with the adorable Delightful Glitter Lady, who just might be a unicorn! Mikalatos also briefly mentions the mysterious Kharobem creatures, which reference angelic beings found in the biblical book of Revelation. He is also a very descriptive writer, drawing the reader in to his scenes with phrases like the garden was “an oasis of near-magic” and “a racking army of coughs marched across her chest.” “The Crescent Stone” is very reminiscent of works like Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings,” C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” and his “Space Trilogy,” L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the Sofi Snow novels by Mary Weber, and Suzanne Collins’ “Gregor the Overlander series.” I even found the Elenil world slightly similar to The Capitol in the Hunger Games. So fans of any of these types of stories will enjoy “The Crescent Stone.” The book ends with an Appendix, filled with poems and parables from the Sunlit Lands, to supplement the reader’s knowledge from the story. I look forward to the series’ next installment, “The Heartwood Crown,” due out in Summer 2019. Five stars out of five. Tyndale House Publishers provided this complimentary copy for my honest, unbiased review.
This is a young adult fantasy. And while I'm not often a fan of fantasy in general, I did enjoy this read. What got me curious? The cover. For me, this felt like a good book to take on vacation or when relaxing at the beach. The story felt slow at first, but it really picks up, especially toward the end. There's a lot of world building, which was probably why it felt slow to me. But that building was necessary to the story. The story revolves around Madeline Oliver. I don't remember if the book called it specifically, but her symptoms reminded me of interstitial lung disease. A slow progressing yet fatal lung disease. As time continues, each breath becomes more work and more precious to her. Madeline is offered a chance to breathe normally again if she would agree to service for one year in the Sunlight land. Seems like a no-brainer. Except that things are not always what they seem in this strange new world. And trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is lying becomes more and more difficult for her. Madeline is accompanied by a friend from school, Jason (aya Su Wong). For me? Jason was a great character addition. I'm so glad the author included him. He was a character with internal conflict and yet at the same time funny and entertaining. From the start, Jason was the character that kept me invested in the story. Plus, nightmarish warriors at night, and other fascinating creatures. Not to mention Dee, the loveable, uh, "unicorn". :) A story with some tough questions and moral dilemmas, The Crescent Stone helps open the eyes and hearts of its readers to see beyond our day to day and look to those that are truly suffering. The author has carefully crafted this story into an entertaining format and at the same time offers contemplation as the Sunlit Lands mirror our own and the pain and torment within is no different from that seen throughout our world. I received a complimentary copy from Tyndale in exchange for my honest opinion.
This is an excellent adventure, with great pace, that effortlessly entwines a strong fantasy narrative (with nods to Narnia), depth and humor in the characters, and prejudices and injustices in our world and a way we can address them. This book is strongly recommended from young teens to adults that can stir passions and deeper conversations.