“Explodes into a wild fantasy adventure. . . . Cody has begun what promises to be an epic trilogy.” —Adam Gidwitz, New York Times bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm
It is said that in the thirteenth century, in a town called Hamelin, a piper lured all of the children away with his magical flute, and none of them were ever seen again.
Today, tough, pink-haired Max and her little brother, Carter, are stuck in modern-day Hamelin with their father . . . until they are also led away by the Piper to a place called the Summer Isle. There they meet the original stolen children, who haven’t aged a day and who have formed their own town, vigilantly guarded from the many nightmarish beings that roam the land.
No one knows why the Piper stole them, but Max and Carter may be the key to returning the lost children of Hamelin. Together they set out on the Peddler’s Road to find their way back to the real world.
This swashbuckling journey is perfect for fans of Rump and A Tale Dark and Grimm. Don’t miss the second adventure in the series, The Magician’s Key!
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
Once there was a girl called Max who had pink hair. According to the label on the dye bottle, the hair color was actually Rosa, which the nice lady at the pharmacy assured her translated to “Wild Magenta,” but in the end it turned out to be ordinary pink. The whole process was far messier than Max had expected, and though she’d read that she’d need a second person to really do the job right, she’d decided to tackle it by herself. There wasn’t anyone around to help her, anyway.
She’d imagined trying out pink hair would be like trying out a new Max. The Max that came in the Wild Magenta bottle would be impulsive and free-spirited and exactly the kind of girl who dyed her hair pink one morning on a whim. But as she stared morosely at the bathroom sink and at all the places the dye had stained the porcelain, she didn’t feel any different at all. She was just . . . pinker.
As she examined her new look in the bathroom mirror (she’d accidentally dyed the tip of her left ear, too), her brother, Carter, was banging on the bathroom door, telling her he had to go.
“What could you possibly be doing in there that would take this long?” her brother complained from the other side of the door, and “If I have to break the door, we’ll both be sorry, especially me, because the door looks really, really sturdy.”
Max turned the lock and yanked the door open in one quick motion. She was so fast that Carter was left banging on nothing at all for a second or two before he realized that the door wasn’t closed anymore.
Carter had just turned ten, and Max was nearly thirteen, so Max had a good four inches on her younger brother, even when she slouched (which was something she did a lot). She stared down at her brother as she waited for the inevitable snarky quip. There was no way Carter would pass up an opportunity to make fun of her new pink hair. Maybe he’d say she looked like one of those troll dolls you get out of those fifty-cent machines (Max worried that she kind of did). But Carter kept quiet as he shimmied by her, a pained look of concentration on his face as he squeezed his knees together.
As they passed each other, Max bumped into Carter and he stumbled on his bad leg, barely catching himself on the marble washbasin.
“Oh! Carter, I’m sorry!” said Max, but her brother waved her away.
“I’m fine,” he said. “But can I have some privacy, for Pete’s sake?”
Max stepped out into the hallway as her brother slammed the door shut. The squeaking floorboards beneath her feet made Max think of chewing on tinfoil. The floorboards back at their apartment in the States didn’t creak like that. Their neighbor who smelled like mothballs let her alarm go off for hours in the morning, and you couldn’t sleep at night with the windows open because of the sounds of people spilling out of the bar across the street, but at least the floorboards stayed quiet.
Carter called to her from behind the bathroom door. “You’ve turned your ear pink, you know,” he said.
When Max went down to the kitchen, she found half a carafe of cold coffee on the table and the lingering, apple-y smell of pipe tobacco--the signs of their father’s recent presence. Max peered into the sink and saw ashes and flakes of tobacco gathered around the drain. Their father never emptied his pipe into the trash can for fear of catching it on fire, so he always tapped it out in the sink. Back home, when their mother wasn’t scolding him for smoking, she was scolding him for forgetting to wash the ashes down the drain. For a few months, Max and Carter had even staged an intervention, hiding their father’s pipe whenever they could, but he always managed to produce a spare one, as if by magic.
Earlier that morning, just after dawn, the sound of the squeaking floorboards had awakened Max, and she’d made it to the bedroom window in time to see their father’s gangly frame as he opened the front gate out onto the street. His glasses were perched askew atop his head as usual, and he was walking lopsidedly with his overstuffed briefcase beneath his arm. In the bed next to Max’s, Carter hadn’t even stirred.
Now with the kitchen all her own, Max helped herself to what was left of the coffee and picked up one of the German-language newspapers off the table. She liked to play a little game as she flipped through the pages, to see how many English words she could find. She’d just spotted iPhone and Hollywood when the front doorbell buzzed. It was their housekeeper, Mrs. Amsel, waiting on the stoop with a bag of groceries. She was short and squat and had skin so ruddy and wrinkled it looked like leather. And the woman possessed a terrible habit of speaking her mind.
“Mein Gott!” said Mrs. Amsel in her heavily accented English. “This was on purpose?” She poked one finger up at Max’s hair.
“It’s just hair,” said Max, suddenly and stupidly self-conscious. Why was she embarrassed? Didn’t people dye their hair pink because they wanted other people to look at them? Wasn’t that the whole point?
“Ah, such things you children do these days,” said Mrs. Amsel, shaking her head.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” said Max, just like a carefree girl would. Care. Free.
“Mm-hmm,” said Mrs. Amsel. “Well, at least the color makes your cheeks look rosy and plump. Very nice.”
As the tiny housekeeper brushed past Max and into the house, Max surreptitiously felt her cheeks. “Plump” was certainly not what she was going for.
Their father had hired Mrs. Amsel to tidy up the house they were renting and to cook meals. The woman also kept an eye on Max and her brother, more for their father’s peace of mind than anything else, Max suspected.
Mrs. Amsel wiped her forehead with a kerchief. She always wore one over her hair and kept a second one for mopping her sweaty brow. “We’re in for a hot day today!” Then she set the brown paper bag on the kitchen table and began arranging plates of cold cuts and thick, whitish sausages. Next she took out a baguette and a hunk of yellow cheese.
“Ah, meine liebe, could you bring me a nice sharp knife?”
Max went through the various drawers until she found a long knife with a serrated edge sharp enough for sawing through the thick bread crust. She still didn’t know her way around this new kitchen.
“Danke,” said Mrs. Amsel, and she began to saw off generous slices of bread. Max had never been able to guess Mrs. Amsel’s age. She bustled around with the energy of a young woman, but her hair showed white beneath the scarf, and the loose skin at her elbows wiggled as she sawed the baguette.
“I brought you and your brother a traditional German breakfast. Mr. Weber’s children won’t starve under my care. And that nice man at the corner grocer gives me a good price on bratwurst.”
Everyone Mrs. Amsel talked about was a nice person. The nice man who delivered the mail, the nice woman who made change at the bank. This nice person and that nice person. If Mrs. Amsel was to be believed, then this was the nicest town in all of Europe. But then Max remembered the nice lady at the pharmacy who’d sold her the hair dye. . . . Great, now Max was doing it, too.
When Mrs. Amsel was done setting out the spread, it looked more like a lunch buffet than a breakfast. Cold cuts, sausages, bread and cheese. Max had explained to her several times that she was a vegetarian, but the housekeeper either hadn’t understood or was choosing to ignore her. “I’ll just have coffee to start, thanks,” said Max.
But Mrs. Amsel snatched the coffee mug from Max’s hands and slid it to the opposite side of the table, far out of Max’s reach. “Coffee stunts your growth,” said Mrs. Amsel. “You want to end up small like me? There’s juice in the icebox.”
As Max dragged herself over to the refrigerator, she wondered how much coffee the diminutive woman had to have drunk to stay that size. She didn’t feel like searching the kitchen for a glass, so Max took a long drink of chilled orange juice straight from the bottle. Mrs. Amsel arched her eyebrow at this lack of manners, but she didn’t comment on it.
“Did you call your mother last night?”
“We talked online.”
“You should call your mother.”
Max wanted to tell Mrs. Amsel, for the sixteenth time, that talking to her mother online was better than calling because they could actually see each other, but Mrs. Amsel was willfully ignorant about computers and, it seemed, the twenty-first century in general. No matter what Max said, in Mrs. Amsel’s mind, a phone call would always be more personal. Calling your parents when you were away was just the right thing to do.
“Did you tell her about your hair?” asked Mrs. Amsel.
“No,” said Max. “I only did it this morning. It was an impulse.”
“Mm-hmm,” said Mrs. Amsel as she slid a plate piled high with sausages and lunch meat in front of Max’s nose.
“And your father?” asked Mrs. Amsel. “What did he say?”
Max tried not to stare at the meat mountain in front of her as she nibbled on a piece of plain bread. She had yet to find a toaster in this house. “Dad came home late and left early. We didn’t talk.”
Mrs. Amsel didn’t answer at first, but poured herself a cup of coffee instead. “Well,” she said after she’d spooned enough sugar into her coffee to turn it into syrup. “Mr. Weber is an important man. And very busy. That’s why I’m here, meine liebe.”
“If he’s so busy, why’d he drag us halfway across the world with him?” said Max. “I would’ve been happier with my mom back in New York, not stuck in this stupid place.”
Max immediately regretted not that she’d said it, but how she’d said it. This stupid place was Mrs. Amsel’s home, after all. Max took another bite of bread, not wanting to look the housekeeper in the eye. Max’s father was ruining her life with this stupid trip of his, but that wasn’t Mrs. Amsel’s fault.
But if the little woman had taken offense, she didn’t show it. “Where is your brother?” she asked as she pushed herself up from the table. “I promised your father I would show you Old Town today, if the walking is not too much for Carter. The boy’s breakfast is getting cold.”
Max didn’t bother pointing out that the traditional German breakfast was mostly cold to begin with.
Mrs. Amsel set off in search of Carter, and the floorboards complained as the little housekeeper hauled herself up the rickety steps. Then Max heard her knock on the bathroom door and her brother’s voice loudly respond, “But I just got in here!”
With a quick glance toward the stairs, Max reached for her coffee and stole a sip. It was room temperature, and Max didn’t normally take it black, but she didn’t feel like searching for the milk, and she was pretty sure Mrs. Amsel had used up all the sugar.
Outside the kitchen window, people were walking briskly along the street, laden with their briefcases and bags as they headed to work, just like back in New York. Cars sped by, and life went on as normally. As Mrs. Amsel had warned, it was turning out to be a hot day already, and Max was wondering if she could figure out how to work the old house’s air conditioner when she spotted something across the street. There was movement in the shade of the grocer’s awning, and at first she thought it must be a cat, but when it moved out into the sunlight, she recognized it for what it really was--a rat. More than one rat, actually, and they were scurrying about the grocer’s fruit stands. What’s more, there was a man standing there as well, and though his torso and head were hidden in the shade, Max could tell that he was very tall, and she could clearly see his muddy shoes and the bottom of his long, threadbare coat. Perhaps he was a street person. There were plenty of those back in New York City, but Max had yet to see one here in this tidy little town. Maybe he was the grocer, and he was content to just let rats play in his food. Max made a mental note to tell Mrs. Amsel not to shop there anymore.
Max was leaning out of the open window to get a better look at the man when her view was suddenly obscured by a group of teenage boys strolling past--laughing and shoving each other as they shared some joke. One of them glanced up at Max, but before they could make eye contact, Max quickly retreated from the window. By the time she looked again, the boys had moved on, and the odd man in the black coat, and the rats, were gone as well.
Max tugged at a pink lock of hair that had fallen in front of her face and examined it between her fingers. It was a soft pink, like baby pajamas. Nothing wild about it at all, really. Just baby-pajamas hair.
“Hamelin stinks,” she muttered.
The worst thing about Carter’s sister was that she hadn’t always been such a giant pain in the rear end. There was a time, not so long ago, when they’d been friends, not just brother and sister. Back then, coming to this new house their father had rented would have been an adventure. The two of them would have played explorers, searching for hidden rooms and passages. A house this old just had to have secrets.
Now, however, Max spent most of her time alone, and when she was with the family, she was constantly staring at her phone or glaring at nothing at all. Carter had been left to explore on his own, and the house had thus far proved to be depressingly ordinary, though Carter held out hope for the cellar. Still, he would have had a better chance at finding something really interesting if Max had helped. They should have been playing detective and staying up well past his bedtime to tell ghost stories by flashlight. But Carter feared it was too late now for his sister, because the Crouch had gotten hold of her.