Today we are happy to be hosting the cover reveal with an excerpt for The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner, the enchanting tale of a young girl whose magic means she never quite touches the ground, and a carnival of wonders haunted by a malicious darkness. The book is out in July in the UK.
Without further ado, here is the smugglerific cover!
About the book:
Left all alone after her mother passes away, twelve-year-old Louisa watches the sky for her father. Long ago, a powerful gust of wind stole him away on the wings of his untamed magic—the same magic that stirs within Louisa. As if she is made of hollow bones and too much air, her feet never quite touch the ground.
But for all her sky gazing, Louisa finds her fortune on the ground when she spots a ticket to the Carnival Beneath the Stars. If her father fits in nowhere else, maybe she’ll find him dazzling crowds alongside the other strange feats. Yet after she arrives, a tightrope act ends disastrously—and suspiciously. As fate tugs Louisa closer to the stars, she must decide if she’s willing to slip into the injured performer’s role, despite the darkness plucking at the carnival’s magical threads.
In her hand Louisa held a threaded needle. Careless of the mending in her lap, she stabbed the pad of her thumb through the length of fabric. She held back a yelp and sucked the pinprick wound. With only embers in the hearth, it was much too dark for sewing.
Shadows crowded the corners and settled under her mother’s eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks. They changed the shape of her face, sharpening every bone.
Louisa looked away. Her eyes fell on the pile of mending her mother took in from the neighbors, a task that afforded their food and their kindling and their rent, except that it sat there ever unfinished. Whenever Louisa offered to help, her mother gently refused her, insisting she was neither too tired nor too ill.
Though she would have liked to pretend otherwise, Louisa knew better. She tried very hard to sneak in latenight mendings, but tonight the gloom pressed in, and she struggled to focus on anything other than her mother’s shallow breaths and the shuffling in her chest.
Louisa scratched her elbow and rubbed her knee. Sometimes she couldn’t quite convince herself that the love bugs weren’t crawling over and beneath her skin, burrowing closer to her heart no matter how tightly she locked it against them.
She’d heard their gnawing and chewing all twelve years of her life, but tonight they ate faster, as if they raced for the very last bite. Soon there would be nothing left beating inside her mother’s chest. All of her heart devoured.
Darkness pressed in through the window. It spilled on the floor like tar, so thick it blotted out everything in its path. Louisa set aside the mending and rose from her seat, levitating ever so slightly. She crossed to the window on nimble feet that never quite touched the ground. Maybe the shadows held her aloft. Maybe it was the air. She didn’t know the how or the why of it, only the feel of it. Like there were marshmallows under her soles.
Soot gathered in the corners of the window. She peered through the hazy glass at the spattering of factory lights still burning and the darkness that swallowed everything else. The night thieved even the stars and the moon. With a shiver, she swept closed the tattered curtains her mother always left parted.
A slow breath wheezed from her mother’s mouth. “Keep them open.”
Louisa’s fingers tightened on the fabric. She drew the curtain to the side once again and then turned back to her mother. “But it’s so dark outside.”
“Not any darker than when you close your eyes. And yours should already be laced shut by your lashes.” Her mother spoke softly as she angled herself against the headboard, not quite sitting upright, not quite lying down. The shadows tried to hide it, but a small smile bloomed on her face. “I’m disappointed I didn’t wake to your snoring.”
Louisa laughed, pleased by the teasing. Maybe her mother was feeling a bit better. “I don’t snore.”
“You’ll never know for sure, will you?”
“I suppose not.” Although she did not like to turn her back on the night, Louisa returned to her mother’s bedside. “I’ll just have to believe you.”
“Now there’s my sweet girl.” Her mother pulled her arm out from under the blanket and reached up, trailing her fingers through the ends of Louisa’s long, black hair.
Louisa smoothed her nightgown and sat on the chair once again. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t padded or that the back was very hard and straight. Not one part of her body touched the wood; a thin layer of air cushioned her, just as it did when she walked across the room or slept before the fireplace.
“I’m sorry if I woke you,” Louisa said, though she was sure she’d been very quiet. After all, her feet made no sound, as they never touched the floorboards.
“Oh, no, it wasn’t you.” Her mother placed a hand to her chest, right over her frail heart. “They’re the ones keeping me awake. They’re so restless tonight.”
Louisa squirmed on the chair, a prickle at the base of her spine, as if a love bug tiptoed across it. “I can hear them.” Her mother attempted to smile again but could not
hold up the corners of her mouth. “Not for much longer.”
Louisa froze in place, her lips setting into a grim line. She twisted her fingers in her lap. “Please don’t say that.”
“You’ll have to believe me in this too,” her mother whispered.
“I don’t want to,” Louisa said stubbornly. Her thumb throbbed where she’d poked it.
“Come closer.” Already, after only their brief exchange, her mother’s voice sounded strained from use.
Louisa knelt just above the floor beside the bed. She took her mother’s cold, white hand in both of her own. “Should I fetch Mrs. Morel to mix a healing tonic?” Louisa
glanced at the ceiling, where, in the apartment above, their landlord slept.
Her mother shook her head. “There’s nothing more she can do for me, Louisa.”
“What can I do for you?” Louisa clasped her mother’s fingers. She would bring her extra blankets or warm water squeezed with lemons. Something to comfort her mother until morning.
A sheen of sweat beaded her mother’s forehead, and a shiver ran the length of her body. She smelled of autumn roses after their bloom, something faded and oversweet.
“Just stay by my side.”
“I’m here,” Louisa said in a small voice. “Where else would I go?”
Her mother’s eyes flicked toward the window. “Sometimes I wonder.”
“That’s silly.” Louisa never left her mother for long, not if she could help it. She did not even attend school, taught at home by her mother instead. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“You won’t mean to, but one day the wind might carry you away. The sky is vast, and like the Spark Woods beyond Plum, something you might become lost in. I could not bear to lose you to the forest of stars.” Her mother drew her eyes from the night as if it pained her and settled them heavy and searching on Louisa. “You must promise me you’ll be careful.”
About the Author:
Heather Kassner loves thunderstorms, hummingbirds, and books. The Bone Garden is her debut novel.