Stella Glass dreams of exploring worlds beyond her home of Solace, but when her famous parents are sent on a historic mission to the Uncharted Lands, it’s simply too dangerous for her to join them. By order of the king, she is left behind.
Missing out on the excitement is one thing, but Stella is devastated at the thought of her parents flying into the unknown. So she takes matters into her own hands. Instead of staying with family as planned, she steals away and—right before takeoff—sneaks aboard the airship.
But Stella isn’t the only stowaway.
In the cargo bay is a boy who is also desperate to get to the Uncharted Lands. And someone else who’s determined to keep the ship from making it there at all. . . .
Praise for Jaleigh Johnson’s The Quest to the Uncharted Lands:
★ “The author's endearing STEAM-loving heroine and magical hero hit all the right buttons for middle grade readers....Funny and heartbreaking...a must-have choice for all middle grade shelves.” —SLJ, Starred
"A full-throttle fanfare for those with a predilection for alchemy, adventure, and a little anarchy."—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Jaleigh Johnson’s The Secrets of Solace:
★ “Highly recommended for those who have finished with Harry and are too young for Katniss.” —SLJ, Starred
“An engaging world rich in detail, mayhem, and adventure . . . All aboard for fantasy lovers with a dual penchant for girl power and keeping up with the Indiana Joneses.” —Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Jaleigh Johnson’s The Mark of the Dragonfly:
★ “This magnetic middle-grade debut . . . [is] a page-turner that defies easy categorization and ought to have broad appeal.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred
★ “Heart, brains, and courage find a home in a steampunk fantasy worthy of a nod from Baum.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred
★ “A fantastic and original tale of adventure and magic. . . . Piper is a heroine to fall in love with: smart, brave, kind, and mechanically inclined to boot.” —SLJ, Starred
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
When the Iron Glory’s engines rumbled to life for its journey to the uncharted lands, it marked a new future for the world of Solace. Confetti swirled, kings smiled, and thousands cheered.
Except Stella Glass, who was busy crouching on her hands and knees in a cypress grove, burying smoke bombs.
She rummaged in her alchemy case for some matches, trying to ignore the clutch of nerves in her stomach. Stella’s first love would always be medicine, and she intended to become a full-fledged healer someday like her parents, but she had to admit, the alchemical sciences tickled her imagination also. It wasn’t just the potential to make things go boomalthough that was fantastic. There was a subtle art to alchemy, one that could be put to so many different uses. The smoke bomb was one of her favorites. A cooked concoction of saltpeter, sugar, and saleratus offered infinite possibilities. No boom required.
With her thumb, Stella dug a shallow hole at the base of the closest cypress tree and carefully placed one of the smoke bombs in it. She stood up and walked over to another tree about ten feet away, repeating the process until she’d created a rough square in the grove.
The next part of her plan was trickier. She’d measured the fuses of the smoke bombs so that each one was roughly three inches longer than the last. If she started with the longest fuse, this would theoretically allow her enough time to light each one, disappear from the grove, and join the massive crowd gathered on the palace grounds to watch the airship take off.
Four smoke bombs, though harmless, made for one big distraction, and Stella couldn’t risk anyone seeing that she had been the one responsible for setting them off. She’d guessed at how long it would take for the fuses to burn down based on experiments she’d done in the field behind her house. She thought she’d given herself enough time, but her experiments were never exactly the same and she couldn’t be certain. Yet one more variable to contend with, one more way her plan could go wrong.
Stella sat back on her heels and peeked between the trees to catch a glimpse of the Iron Glory. Sunlight reflected in blinding ribbons off the ship’s metal skin. It rested on its landing gear in a roped-off field on the west side of the palace. The air was heavy with the reek of sulfur as steam clouds leaked from its stern. It was a strange mix, part sky-sailing ship and part balloon. Its long hull was a full five stories tall, with a set of propellers to guide it. A single mast and crow’s nest rose from the main deck, stripped down with no sails or rigging. Instead, it flew banners proudly displaying the Dragonfly territories’ colors of green and gold and the Merrow Kingdom’s blue and yellow.
But most impressive of all was the envelope that held the ship’s lifting gas. Locked in place by dozens of metal cables attached to the main deck, it towered over the rest of the ship like a huge pearl. The envelope’s milky-white fabric resembled silk, with a strange iridescent quality that made it sparkle in the sunlight. Stella didn’t know exactly what the material was, only that it had been designed to withstand both subzero temperatures and the most punishing winds.
Good thing too, because the vessel was going to take Stella’s parents and thirty-seven other brave humans, chamelins, and sarnuns all the way across the Hiterian Mountains to the uncharted lands of Solace.
Farther west than anyone had ever explored before.
A journey full of unknowable dangers.
The Dragonfly territories had planned the expedition and paid for the construction of the airship. Because of that, the honor of launching the ship belonged to King Aron, in his capital city, Noveen. But it was the Merrow Kingdom’s scientists who had designed the Iron Glory and mapped the route for the journey.
Neither king was taking any chances with security. Stella had counted over a dozen palace guards stationed around the airship, and those were just the ones on the ground. A pair of chamelins circled the sky, their keen eyes watching for trouble. In their shape-shifted forms, they had the arms, legs, and torso of a human, but their skin was a leathery deep green, their faces ridged and elongated, reminding Stella of a lizard. A pair of batlike wings sprouted from their backs, holding them aloft on the air currents.
Stella could just make out the laborers hauling the remaining cargo up a ramp into the belly of the ship, a steady stream of crates bearing research equipment and survival supplies. Meanwhile, King Aron stood before the doors of the palace, waving to the crowd and speaking to the Merrow family, including their children. The captain and first officer of the Iron Glory were also there, and in a few minutes, the king would make a speech as the ship’s crew prepared to leave on their glorious expedition. The whole atmosphere was like a festival, and the crowd watched and murmured excitedly in anticipation.
Stella turned back to her smoke bombs. She held the matches in her hands and took a deep breath.
This was it. All her weeks of planning, lying awake at night for hours, worrying over the details she might have missed, wondering if, when the moment came, she would actually have the skill and courage to pull this off, or if she would be caught and forced to stay behind.
No, she wouldn’t let that happen. Her parents were setting off on a journey into unknown territory. She had to go with them.
Because how would she bear it if they never came back?
The matches shook in Stella’s hands. She closed her eyes and forced down the sudden panic that swept over her. It’s all right, she told herself. Pretend this is nothing more than an experiment in the lab. Follow the stepsone by one. Everything was in place. She just had to strike the match and begin.
Opening her eyes, Stella felt a veil of calm settle over her. She lifted her hands and struck the match, and with a crackle, a bright flame sprang to life in front of her eyes. Before she could change her mind, she touched it to the fuse.
A bead of orange engulfed the string and started to burn. Stella jumped to her feet, running to the next one, and the next. When all four fuses were lit and burning toward the smoke bombs, she stuffed the matches into her alchemy case and moved quickly out of the grove and across the palace lawn, careful to hurry but not run. In her head, she began to count. From the experiments she’d conducted, she judged that she had about forty seconds before the smoke grew thick enough to attract someone’s attention. Forty seconds to weave through the crowd and get to the ship.
With ten seconds left in her count, a scream tore through the humid afternoon air.
“Fire! Someone, help! Fire!”
Stella sped up her pace. One by one, faces in the crowd began turning from the ship toward the grove. To keep up appearances, and because she wanted to see how visible the smoke screen was, Stella turned with them. A jolt of satisfaction went through her when she saw the thick gray clouds twisting toward the sky, obscuring the speared tips of the cypress trees.
More panicked shouts rang out, the crowd ahead of her thinning as people either ran toward the smoke or tried to back away to a safe distance. Palace guards shoved people aside as they ran toward the imaginary fire.
Stella turned back to the ship. The way was suddenly clear in front of her. The laborers who’d been loading cargo had gone to help put out the fire. There wasn’t a guard in sight to block her way or a chamelin watching from the sky. Her stomach pitched, but Stella forced her feet to keep moving, counting her steps in her head.
She reached the rope line barring everyone from the ship.
She ducked under, rising to her feet on the other side.
The cargo bay of the ship loomed before her, dozens of crates still arranged in neat piles on the lawn. Casting one last furtive glance around her, Stella ran up the gangplank and into the dark belly of the ship.
The Iron Glory, flagship of the Dragonfly territories and symbol of its fragile peace with the Merrow Kingdom, was going to be the first vessel in Solace history to make it across the Hiterian Mountains to the uncharted lands.
And Stella Glass wasn’t letting her parents go without her. She would be the first stowaway to see what was waiting on the other side of that range.
She’d done it.
Giddy with success, Stella squeezed behind a tall row of crates at the back of the cargo bay. Based on her research of the ship, the safest place to hide and set up camp was in this left corner. The crates in that section held gifts that the kings intended to offer to the inhabitants of the uncharted lands. That part of the cargo had been loaded first, packed into a corner and sealed with padlocks. Since nothing in those crates would be used during the journey, the crew had no reasonand, Stella hoped, no desireto squeeze back there to get to the cargo. That made it the perfect place for a hideout.
Large, round windows dotted the upper walls of the bay letting in just enough light for Stella to see as she sat down behind the crates and pressed her back against the wall. On the other side of that wall was the engine room. Its proximity warmed the air, and the smell of sulfur tickled Stella’s nose. Growing up in a lab, she was used to the smell but not to the darkness, and the stifling heat burned her lungs.
Panting, Stella shifted and leaned against the towering crates instead. It didn’t help. The walls of the cargo bay seemed to shrink suddenly, closing in around her. Black spots popped in front of her eyes, and Stella had to brace her hands against the floor to keep from toppling over.
Not now, she thought, her body trembling. Please, not now.
Darkness sometimes triggered a panic attack. Once it started, there was no stopping it.
When Stella was five, she’d accidentally locked herself in her grandparents’ root cellar. It wasn’t long before her parents found her, but in that time, night fell, and Stella never forgot the terror of lying on the cellar floor in the pitch-black, the smell of damp soil making her imagine she’d been buried alive. Helpless, she’d curled into a tight ball and listened to mice and insects scurrying around her.
Not many things truly frightened Stella, but tight spaces were high on the list. She’d known that was going to be her biggest challenge, hiding out down here in a humid little corner of the ship, but she’d had no idea the panic would envelop her so quickly.
She closed her eyes, leaned her head back against the crates, and took several deep, steadying breaths. Normally, when the attacks came on, she imagined herself in the middle of a flower-filled meadow or some other wide-open, pleasant space. But this time she found herself thinking of this morning, when she’d said goodbye to her parents before they boarded the Iron Glory.
In her mind, she was standing in her mother’s arms, chin hooked over her right shoulder, trying not to cry.
Why had it been so difficult? She’d shared hundreds, probably thousands, of hugs with her mother since she was a little girl. Hugs that meant goodbye, hugs that said welcome back, hugs that soothed an injury or congratulated a new discovery in the lab. She’d tried to pretend this one was like all the rest.
But it wasn’t.
Because this was a hug to send her mother and father soaring into the sky on a ship that would carry them thousands of miles away from Stella.
This hug whispered Change.
Stella had felt the word sink deep into her bones. It whispered of a journey, of places unknown, of a future that looked different day by day.
Change, change, change, it’d echoed in her mind. Nothing will ever be the same.
Stella tried to block out the memories, but they were relentless. This wasn’t making her feel any calmer.
By having her parents join the Iron Glory’s crew, King Aron was as good as declaring them among the best healers and scientists in the Dragonfly territories. Maybe even in all of Solace. Naturally, he had to have the best, for the good of the kingdom. He’d praised their research on infectious diseases, declaring that it would be invaluable when the expedition encountered new people and environments on the other side of the mountains.
Stella clenched her hands into fists. It all sounded like a compliment, but she’d learned that when the king said a person was invaluable and he asked them to do something “for the good of the kingdom,” what he really meant was that it wasn’t a request they could refuse.
So her parents had had no choice but to join the expedition. And since no children were allowed on the shipit was too dangerous, the king had saidthey’d been forced to leave Stella behind in the care of her grandparents. But as much as Stella loved her grandmother and grandfather and knew she would be safe with them, they weren’t enough. She needed to be with her parents, to make sure they were safe.
She’d written a letter for her grandparents to find later, once the ship was too far away to communicate with the city. She’d tried to explain why she had to do this, begging them not to worry and to forgive her for running away.
Stella curled her body into a protective ball, just like she had that day in the root cellar. You’re all right, she told herself, wiping the sweat from her forehead. She hadn’t been left behind. She was here now, safe and hidden, about to embark on an adventure unlike anything she’d ever known in her small corner of the world.
Breathe, Stella. In and out. You’re strong enough to do this. Nothing in the dark can hurt you.
After a few minutes, Stella opened her eyes and sat up straight. The heat was still stifling, but she found she could tolerate it now.
Time to get down to business.
If she was going to live back here, she needed to set up camp.
Stella’s hideout was little more than a pocket between the backmost row of crates and the wall of the engine room. She couldn’t stretch her arms all the way out from her sides without hitting either the crates or the wall, but she could live with that. The important thing was that the area was large enough to fit her and her few selected possessions without being seen by crew members.