It’s time to choose sides. . . .
On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy little town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission by killing human sacrifices for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so the town can return to the old ways.
But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers around. The town must make a decision: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love whomever she chooses. But who should that be?
As coauthor with Cassandra Clare of the bestselling Bane Chronicles, Sarah Rees Brennan has mastered the art of the page-turner.
"A sparkling fantasy that will make you laugh and break your heart." Cassandra Clare, New York Times bestselling author
"A darkly funny, deliciously thrilling Gothic." Kelley Armstrong, New York Times bestselling author
"Readers will laugh, shiver, and maybe even swoon over this modern Gothic novel." Melissa Marr, New York Times bestselling author
"Breathtakinga compulsive, rocketing read."Tamora Pierce, New York Times bestselling author
"Captures the reader with true magic."Esther Friesner, author of Nobody's Princess
"A laugh-out-loud delight." Publishers Weekly
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The Scarecrow Trials
WELCOME TO SORRY-IN-THE-VALE. IT'S A MAGICAL PLACE (AND WE MEAN THAT LITERALLY).
by Kami Glass
Let's not front. We all know magic is real.
You know. Or it's time you knew. It's time someone told you.
I always said that every town has a story, that even our sleepy Sorry-in-the-Vale must have one. I was so sure that I could find a story hidden somewhere under the chocolate-box prettiness of our town. I thought finding a story would be like bird-watching in the Vale woods, waiting for bright eyes and a burst of wings. I thought it would be like finding gold.
It wasn't like that at all.
I was searching for a story, and then the Lynburn family returned to the manor above our town: the sisters Lillian and Rosalind, their sons Ash and Jared, and Lillian's husband, Rob. They had been gone seventeen years, but as soon as they returned there was blood in the woods.
They were not here long before a girl died.
The Lynburns are sorcerers. I have seen magic with my own eyes. I saw Jared Lynburn turn himself invisible. I saw Ash Lynburn make objects fly. I saw shadows come to life, and come for me.
It was neither Jared nor Ash Lynburn who killed someone. Jared Lynburn may be, in this reporter's completely unbiased opinion, the most infuriating idiot in the land, but he was not responsible for this. Lillian, Jared, Ash, even Rosalind are not the ones who want to make Sorry-in-the-Vale again what it once was: a place where the sorcerers were our lords, demanding our blood as their right.
Rob Lynburn killed Nicola Prendergast. She was my age: she was seventeen. We were friends when we were children. I do not know how to talk about her death, that she died so a selfish lunatic could have more power, but I know I must. There are people in this town who already know the secrets of Sorry-in-the-Vale: people who are not talking and not acting because they are afraid. But hiding from the truth will not make it go away.
The Lynburns aren't the only sorcerers. They are the leaders, but there are others. There are police officers who are sorcerers. There are teachers who are sorcerers. There is magic on every side. Rob and Rosalind Lynburn left Aurimere House two weeks ago, and we know Rob was recruiting sorcerers to kill with him months before that. He has not been seen or heard from since he left, but that means nothing. He is a sorcerer and can walk unseen, gathering more sorcerers to him and making his plans.
We have to plan too. What can we do to fight magic? What power do we have?
Knowledge is power. Knowing this is power: me telling you this is power, for me and for you.
Try to be as strong and know as much as you can.
The sorcerers are coming for our town. Let's be ready for them.
"Well," said Kami Glass to herself, staring at her computer screen. "That doesn't make me look mad as a bucketful of hedgehogs at all."
Then she checked the time on her computer, saved the document, and made a grab for her bag and her orange jacket with the lace cuffs. It was Halloween, and if Kami didn't hurry she would be late for the Scarecrow Trials.
The sun was setting in crimson slashes and gold ribbons over Sorry-in-the-Vale. Night was falling and Kami had a lot of scarecrows to get through.
"I hear in the big city, girls dress up like sexy witches and sexy vampires and sexy Easter bunnies, and go to parties where they do all sorts of scandalous things," Kami said. "Lucky you and me, we walk around our town looking at our neighbors' gardens and remarking 'My, that's a good-looking scarecrow' to each other. I guess this is why our natures are so beautiful and unspoiled."
"My, that's a hideous scarecrow," Angela drawled. "Are we done yet?"
"No, Angela," Kami said patiently. "This is our first scarecrow. I'm going to write an article on the tradition of the Scarecrow Trials, and I'm going to put a picture of the winning scarecrow on our front page so everyone can say to themselves 'Fine figure of a scarecrow.' For the preservation of our sacred journalistic integrity, we have to see every scarecrow in town."
"I can't figure out how I got roped into this mess," said Angela, who looked all scarecrowed out. "Obviously, I've made some very poor life choices."
Kami fell silent. She had roped Angela into much more than the Scarecrow Trials. She was the one who had told Angela that she heard a voice in her head, and that the voice was a real person. She'd drawn Angela into her investigation of the murder and magic in Sorry-in-the-Vale. She had caught the attention of Rob Lynburn, sorcerer and murderer. Kami knew it was due to her that Angela had almost died in the woods two weeks ago.
Kami and Angela were on the west edge of town, at the top of the steep slope of Schoolhouse Road. Kami looked down at the old yellow cobblestones shadowed with the coming of night. She traced the line of the road with her eyes, to the sloping roofs and spinning weather vanes of Sorry-in-the-Vale, then to the woods waiting beyond.
Kami did not know how to talk to Angela about that, or how to tell her she was sorry. Misery and uncertainty kept flooding through her, tides that had been turned back all her life by a secret voice. Now the voice in her head was silent.
Angela, her brilliant dark eyes almost hidden by her veil of black hair, gave Kami a sidelong glance. Angela looked annoyed, which was her default, but Kami could see a hint of concern lurking underneath. She knew that her new hesitancy was freaking Angela out.
"You know what?" Kami said with a grin. "Mrs. Jeffries at the post office tried to slip me a little somethin' somethin' to praise her scarecrow in The Nosy Parker. It's shocking how corrupt the Scarecrow Trials have become. What about honor, Angela? What about the craft?"
"How much did you get?"
"Well, okay, she slipped me some free stamps," Kami admitted. "Still, my first bribe as a journalist. I'm feeling pretty fancy." Sorry-in-the-Vale didn't have a local paper, and Kami had been proud when she saw people without kids reading the paper she edited, aptly titled The Nosy Parker.
At least she was succeeding at something.
Kami and Angela stopped at the Greens' house, one of the few old houses not made of golden Cotswold stone but of granite and slate. It was a gray crumbling edifice that seemed bound together by the dry brown briars of climbing roses growing over it. The Greens' scarecrow was lopsided on its stand; its yellow gloves, stuffed fat with straw, seemed to wave feebly at them.
Kami clicked her tongue. "Poor effort," she said, taking a picture with her phone and making a note to that effect in her notebook. "Might scare off a few thrushes. Possibly a pigeon. But it's not a hardcore scarecrow."
"I'm uncomfortable checking out scarecrows," Angela said. "I don't swing that way."
It was Kami's turn to give Angela a sidelong look.
That was something else they hadn't talked about. Kami had found out secondhand that Angela had tried to kiss their friend Holly. Kami must have been more or less the worst best friend in the world if Angela had not felt like she could tell her that she liked girls.
"Have you . . ." Kami cleared her throat. "Have you had a chance to talk to Holly?"
"No," Angela snapped. "Been chatting much with Jared?"
"We often have special moments where I come into a room and he immediately leaves," Kami said. "I treasure those times." She swallowed, the knot in her throat as sharp as if she had swallowed a rose, the thorns raking on their way down.
"I don't mean toto make you feel bad," Kami added, hating that she had to say it. Words felt so clumsy when she was talking about feelings and not facts. "I just wanted you to know that you can talk about it. If you want."
"I don't want," Angela told her flatly.
They followed the curve of the road until it became Cooper Lane, fringed by pale buildings and dark trees. Kami concentrated on the scarecrows going by and scribbled: "Write in your notebook to avoid this awkward moment!"
Angela said, after a pause, "But I know I can."
Kami nudged her, which, considering their relative heights, meant that she elbowed Angela in the thigh. "Life sucks sometimes."
"Thank you for that amazing journalistic insight," Angela responded, very dryly, and Kami felt a little better.
Cooper Lane turned out to have an eclectic mix of scarecrows, from the traditional cloth and straw to the experimental: there was one scarecrow with a balloon for a head, and one made of papier-mache. Kami liked the scarecrow in the pink flowered hat at the Singhs' because there were so many scarecrows that were clearly guys. Kami felt ladies should represent in the scarecrow movement.
"A papier-mache scarecrow is cheating," Kami observed judiciously as they passed through the town square at the end of the High Street, heading toward Shadowchurch Lane. "And the cardboard cutout scarecrow was just sad. Enough to make a true scarecrow connoisseur weep." She was mostly talking to distract Angela from the group of guys standing at the foot of the statue of long-ago town hero Matthew Cooper. In the middle of the little crowd, Kami glimpsed Holly's golden curls.
Kami quickened her pace, and they soon arrived at the church and Shadowchurch Lane.
It was almost twilight, the sun a bloody smear on the horizon, the pale blues and greens of the sky fading into gray and indigo. Across from the stone horseshoe-shaped archway of the church entrance was the Thompsons' house. Their garden was fenced, unlike most gardens in Sorry-in-the-Vale, the black iron bars making a shadowy cage of their front lawn. The scarecrow that stood in that cage wore a black suit. The sack that was its face had been whitened with chalk, and it glowed in the darkness.
"Vampire scarecrow?" said Angela.
"Undertaker scarecrow" was Kami's verdict. Her voice came out less assured than she wanted it to.
The next house belonged to Sergeant Kenn, the police officer Kami had talked to after Nicola Prendergast was murdered. The same police officer she had seen coming to help Rob Lynburn the day he tried to kill Angela. Kami slipped her hand into the crook of Angela's elbow and held on.
Since the Kenns' house was beside the church, the church spire cast a black triangle on the ghost-gray grass. The scarecrow on their front lawn was slumped on its wooden frame, its black-hatted head hanging. Something about the way it was slumped, the fact that the body was a little too realistically proportioned, made a chill crawl down Kami's spine. It reminded her of someone dead. But she was being ridiculous. She was imagining things because of whose house this was. She could see the straw sticking out of the scarecrow's cuffs. Keeping hold of Angela and drawing her along, Kami set one foot in the dark wet grass and stooped down, peering to see the scarecrow's face.
In the shadow of its hat, the scarecrow's eyes shone, not with the glint of metal, but with the wet gleam of something alive. Kami's fingers clamped down on Angela's arm. There was a flicker of darkness, the gleam of the scarecrow's eyes vanishing for a moment, and Kami realized what had happened.
The scarecrow had blinked.
"Angela," Kami said in a low, extremely calm voice. "I think it might be a good idea to run."
The scarecrow began to move, sliding its stiff arms off the wooden frame where it rested. Kami watched with paralyzed fascination as it stretched out a leg and took a step toward them.
"Kami," Angela said, in an equally low, calm voice. "I think it might be a very good idea to look around."
Kami looked and saw that every garden on Shadowchurch Lane was stirring into life. The undertaker scarecrow in the Thompsons' garden was already off its wooden frame and climbing the fence, its round pale face shining like a small horrible moon, coming through the darkness at them.
The air was filled with the whisper-like rustle of straw. Behind them, Kami heard screams and the sound of people running. She let go of Angela's arm and grabbed hold of a branch from the Kenns' yew tree. The bark rasped cold and harsh against her palms, and Kami wrenched at it as hard as she could until it snapped off in her hands.
Angela walked, empty-handed, across Shadowchurch Lane to meet the Thompsons' scarecrow. She kicked it in the stomach. That did not wind it, or even make its stride falter. Another scarecrow came tottering down the road, bleeding a trail of straw, making straight for Angela. Kami ran out into the street wielding her branch.
Angela whirled and grabbed one of the Thompson scarecrow's arms. It ripped its own arm off and launched itself at her, so light it seemed like it was flying. Angela launched herself right back, with no finesse or any of the self-defense moves Rusty had taught them, just fury and clawing, as if she planned to shred it to pieces with her bare hands.
The new scarecrow Kami was keeping at bay with her branch was getting braver, its sackcloth feet shuffling in the mess of straw it was bleeding, feinting first one way and then another. It had a turnip for a head, which was wagging obscenely at her as the scarecrow lunged. Kami stared into the dark hollows of its eyes and got an idea. She stepped forward, advancing even though every muscle in her body was urging her to cringe away, and jabbed her branch as hard as she could into its grinning face.
The face shattered, turning into vegetable pulp as she hit it again and again. The scarecrow's hands touched her, rubber gloves filled with crackling straw fumbling at and catching her throat. Kami forced back a scream and struck until the turnip fell off and the scarecrow tumbled down into an inert heap of straw and cloth.
Kami whipped around still clutching her branch, with a cry on her lips for Angela. But Angela had seen what to do already. She was crouched on the road, ripping at the creature's neck until the sackcloth gave way with a horrible tearing sound, and Angela rose to her feet with its chalk-whitened head in her fist like a trophy.
Her eyes met Kami's and she dropped the head. Kami reached out with her free hand to grab Angela's. It was only when she found Angela's palm clammy, and Angela held her hand back hard, that she knew Angela was scared too.