Welcome to Glendoch!
Hidden to most, this glacial world once crackled with alchemy. Now it waits for war―divided and bound by strict rules. So when twelve-year-old Meylyne falls from a tree onto Glendoch’s sickly prince, she must flee or face imprisonment in the Shadow-Cellars. The only way she may return home is with a cure for the prince’s peculiar disease.
Convinced she will perish, Meylyne and her companions embark on their journey―and before they know it, they are knee-deep in a plot to sink Glendoch into shadow, like other worlds before it. Poisoned guardians, cursed wizards, and cunning witch-spirits bound into wands are just some of the dangers that dot the way of their travels.
And behind it all is the Thorn Queen. Mysteriously magnetic (or murderously vengeful, depending on whose side you’re on), she is always one step ahead of them…
"This middle-grade debut sees a young outcast discover her true potential while on a quest to save others … Holland excels in burying twists that flip the whole narrative on its head. Readers should wish for a longer stay in Glendoch. An effervescent fantasy crafted from the heart." Kirkus Reviews
"Middle grade readers will enjoy the assortment of odd characters and predicaments Meylyne finds herself in. . . With clever writing and detailed world building, Holland draws us into the many wonders of Glendoch and its surrounding lands, all the while deceiving us with her nefarious plot twists that leave the reader wanting to know just how she fooled them." Alane Adams, award-winning author of The Legends of Orkney series
"Elise Holland’s debut novel. THE THORN QUEEN is a whimsical and deeply satisfying tour de force. The book's plucky heroine, Meylyne will grab readers by their heart strings AND make them chuckle from page one. There is nowhere readers will rather be than following Meylyne's romp through the richly rendered, otherworldly Glendoch. Meylyne's journey to save her homeland from an evil queen, and her discoveries along the way, will delight and intrigue readers of all ages." Andrea Alban, author of ANYA’S WAR and THE HAPPINESS TREE
"The phantasmagoria of Holland's world-building is effortless in this topsy-turvy world where perceived evil and perceived good exchange places as each hidden layer of the narrative is thoughtfully revealed...Hand this skillfully written fantasy to fans of Maile Meloy's The Apothecary, Michael Scott's The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Corneilia Funke's Inkheart, and Suzanne Collins', Gregor the Overlander." School Library Journal, Starred Review
Use the arrows to read the first chapter of the book!
There was no doubt that Meylyne had the best seat in the house. Perched in a sprawling Orange Willow, she wedged herself between two branches and looked down. Tyr’s town square had never looked so crowded. Hundreds of people jostled and shouted beneath her.
“Is the entire Above-World here?” she whispered.
“Yes,” the tree whispered back. “Prince Piam only visits once a year.”
Meylyne blinked in surprise. Not because the tree had talked to her - she was used to that - but because she
hadn't realized the prince was so private. Brightly colored scarves and jewels flashed in the sunlight while peddlars’ carts rocked within the flood of people. The smell of kettle-corn and nutmeg wafted up to her and she leaned forward for a better view.
“No way will everyone fit. You can barely squeeze the Tyrians into their town square, let alone all the other Above-Worldians too!”
The tree’s twigs jabbed at Meylyne’s arms and face, forcing her back into the shadows of its branches.
“Ow! Stop it,” she protested.
“Well get out of sight! You aren’t allowed in the Above-World - you’re trespassing here. You know what’ll happen if you get caught!”
The Shadow Cellars, Meylyne thought. Dank dungeons full of bones and worms and vengeful ghosts. And the tree would get the axe if the Royals knew it had helped hide her. She pulled a large orange blossom in front of her. The tree was right. No sense in taking chances.
More and more people swarmed into the square. Just as Tyr was bigger than its neighboring cities, its inhabitants were on the bigger side too. The Tyrians stood in clumps, looking large and faintly orange-hued from the dust of the Orange Willows while the others climbed on the benches and tables, hoisting their children with them. Some even spilled into the icy-cold pond. Here and there, small skirmishes broke out between the Tyrians and their neighbors. A small boy, perched on his father’s shoulders spat shaved ice through his straw at a canary cage hanging from a birdseller’s cart.
“Knock it off or I’ll put you in cage!” the bird-seller roared.
“My bonnet!” another voice howled. “You’re trampling my new bonnet, you buffoon!”
Meylyne giggled as she spotted the hatless victim; a very skinny lady with her hands clamped to her head.
Weedy little thing. I bet she’s a Welkan.
Welke was one of the cities directly bordering Tyr and its plants-only diet left the Welkans with a greenish pallor. A man bent over to pick up the lady’s hat, knocking into at least three others with his big bottom. Even more people yelled at him.
“Don’t you shout at my husband,” a woman bellowed. “This is our town square. You Welkans can clear off!”
The father of the ice-spitting boy set down his son, his face red and radish-like with rage as he advanced upon the big-bottomed Tryian man. On his tip-toes he was half his size. Meylyne gasped as he head-butted the colossal Tyrian in the stomach, presumably because that was all he could reach. The Tyrian stumbled backward, righted himself and then thumped the Welkan's head. Within seconds, two town sentinels dashed over, brandishing their swords and whisked away the offenders. Everyone moved apart, hissing at one another like a bunch of bad-tempered cats.
“It’s dreadful,” the tree tutted. “The Above-World used to live in harmony. Now you’d think the Tyrians and Welkans hated each other.”
“Yes, terrible,” Meylyne replied, although secretly she had found the whole spectacle more entertaining than upsetting. A bronze-skinned peddler caught her attention as he weaved deftly through the crowd. Fragments of his cries floated up to her.
“… silks from Ka-Ffyr … spiced apples, three for a penny …”
“I’d give anything for an apple,” she murmured.
“Don’t even think about going down there,” the tree replied. “You stay where you are ...”
The tree’s words were drowned out as someone boomed through a megaphone—
“MAKE WAY! MAKE WAY! HERE COMES PRINCE PIAM!”
The crowd parted to let through a line of guards mounted on white horses. All wore the Cardinal House uniform; black feathered helmets, gold-and-turquoise suits, and shiny black boots. The horses’ manes were braided with gold ribbons and bells jangled around their ankles. Meylyne felt the usual combination of awe and disdain at the sight of them.
Thirteen guards. Those tall orange-faced ones must be Tyrians. The little sprouty one’s a Welkan. She squinted at the others. They were further back and harder to make out. One of the guards looked toward her and she ducked back behind the branches. After a few seconds, she peeped out.
He was still looking at her.
Her palms began to sweat. Counting to ten, she peeped out again and her whole body sagged in relief.
Phew. He’s gone!
“That was far too close,” the tree reproached her, trembling. “I’m shaking in my roots! What if he had suspected something?”
Meylyne swallowed. Trespassing in the Above-World really was the stupidest thing she had ever done. Well, not so much the trespassing—it was the hanging around part that was stupid. After all, she’d got what she came for. Reaching into her pocket, her fingers closed around a small, hard object.
Mother won’t believe it when she sees what I found for her.
Picturing the look of happiness and admiration on her mother’s face, a warm glow swelled inside her, squelching the remorse she had felt just seconds earlier. She could stay a few extra minutes to see Prince Piam. No one would notice her. She was too small to be mistaken for a Tyrian and too big for a Welkan, but with her long black hair and pasty complexion she could easily pass for a merchant’s daughter from Mirym.
“Don’t worry. I swear I’ll go home the minute I’ve seen Prince ...”
Meylyne’s mouth snapped shut as a squat, roundish lady crawled up next to her. Pink-faced and puffing, she looked around and then stared at Meylyne. “Who are you talking to? Shift over, dearie, there’s room for two up ‘ere.”
“I don’t like her,” the tree whispered.
Meylyne studied the lady as she ogled the crowd. She obviously hadn’t heard the tree. Not that that surprised her. Apart from her father, she was the only Hearer left that she knew. The lady’s jowl hung down from her chin to the base of her neck and wobbled violently as she waved her arms in the air, squealing, “I think I see ‘im!”
The branch beneath them swung from side to side, tipping Meylyne out of her nook. She grabbed hold of the branch above her.
“Oops—sorry dearie!” the lady apologized, grabbing the back of her cape. “Didn’t mean to do that.” She gave Meylyne a quick once over. “What’ve you got underneath that cape? You look more like a big black crow than a little girl!”
And you look like a big pink iguana.
“Get away from her,” the tree urged. “She’s trouble.”
The lady squealed again. “Oh look! It is ‘im!”
“Move back,” the tree hissed. “Now!”
Meylyne bit her lip. If I move back now, I’ll miss my chance to see Prince Piam.
“In a second,” she murmured.
Crouching down next to the lady, Meylyne ignored the tree’s sighs as another procession trotted into the square. It was led by a boy with blond, shoulder-length hair and skin the color of sand from the Drylands and although he wore the same uniform as the guards, he was clearly not a guard.
Sitting very straight on his beautiful Palomino mare, he smiled and waved at the people around him.
The lady elbowed Meylyne.
“You can tell he’s a Cardinal, can’t you? Look at them big brown eyes and dimples. Ooo but he ‘as grown. I saw ‘im last year and ‘e was ‘alf his size then! He looks to be twelve now.”
Yes, Meylyne thought, her eyes riveted on the prince. He does look about my age. But so ordinary. You’d think with his disease and being a Cardinal prince and all, he’d look a bit different.
“He’s coming right this way!” the lady wheezed. “Oh but he’s a scruffy one. Look at his hair all uncombed like that! Merciful heavens, he’s comin’ right underneath us—Prince Piam … Prince Piam!”
Leaning over the branch, the lady stretched a pudgy hand toward the Prince, shoving Meylyne to the side as she did so. There was a loud snap as one of the branches broke.
“Whoah!” Meylyne cried, grabbing at some twigs above her. They came away in her fingers. Everything next was a blur as terror like electricity jolted through her … world tilting … stomach lurching … lady thrusting out her hand ... fingertips brushing ...
Meylyne plummeted toward the prince. His head snapped up and he grunted like a hog as she hit him square in the chest. Together they thudded to the ground. The prince
cushioned her fall but still the world swam and she tasted blood and ice in her mouth. Struggling to breathe, she was dimly aware of flailing hooves and a blur of guards grabbing the reins, pulling the terrified animal away. Other guards dropped to the prince’s side.
“Are you alright, sir?” one guard asked. Another grabbed Meylyne’s cloak. In a flash, she was on all fours. Scooting backward, she twisted out of his grasp.
“Oy—you! Come back here!”
Meylyne scrambled into a thick ring of ferns bordering the pond. The dense leaves instantly swallowed her up. The guard made as if to follow her.
“Leave her,” another guard cried. “The prince is looking like puddled milk. We have to get him back to the palace, sharp-like!”
“Heavens, you’re right! Come on then, let’s get him on his horse. You lot - find that girl!”
Meylyne heard the guards wheeze as they heaved the prince onto his horse and then hooves clattering as they charged out of the square. Others began poking their swords into the ferns. Meylyne gasped as a sword grazed her chin.
On her hands and knees, she scuttled around to the other side of the pond as fast as she could and peered out. A mass of legs ran this way and that. She waited for a break in the traffic and then sprang into it. Pushing her way forward, she caught flashes of steel through the people crisscrossing before her. She was on the other side of the square—the entrance not far away.
“Keep walking,” she muttered to herself. “You’re almost at the gates. Just a few feet more …oh no!”
Guards stood on either side of the gates. One looked straight at her and she ducked into a tea-house. It was dark inside, with no one behind the counter. The armchairs and tables were empty too. A smell of orange and cardamom wafted from a pot, hanging over a fire. As Meylyne sped toward the latrines in the back, she heard someone entering behind her.
“I know you’re in here,” a voice warned. “Come out and there’ll be no trouble.”
Meylyne ran into one of the stalls and locked the door behind her. There was a small window above one of the clay commodes, just big enough for her to squeeze through.
Please, please, please be open.
She climbed upon the commode and pushed the window. It didn’t budge. An old latch held it at the top. While she struggled with it, the door to the latrines opened and slammed shut. Footsteps thudded toward her stall. The door handle jiggled.
“Open up at once!”
Meylyne set her eyes on the latch. “Vagabotch!” she hissed.
The latch began to swell and Meylyne ducked as it burst, shards of rusty metal clattering into the walls around her.
The door handle stopped jiggling and the voice came again. Now it sounded alarmed.
“What’s going on?”
Great. Meylyne groaned inwardly. Just add unauthorized use of alchemy to my list of crimes.
The latch was supposed to have melted quietly, but as usual she’d got the incantation wrong. Hoisting herself up onto the windowsill, she looked down. The street below was empty. A short drop to the ground and she was free.
There was a crash and the door to her stall flew open. A voice roared behind her.
“Hey - stop!”
Meylyne felt a hand brush the back of her cloak as she jumped. She landed on her hands and knees, got her bearings, and then dashed into a deserted side street. A few feet away, a grate rusted in the ground. Within seconds she was on her haunches, grunting as she heaved it aside. A set of rungs led down below. Lowering herself into the hole, she clung on with one hand and gritted her teeth as she pushed back the grate with the other. It slowly scraped into place.
Meylyne leaned her forehead against a rung. She knew the guard wouldn’t follow her into the Between-World; trespassing in another world was far too serious an offence. She enjoyed a fleeting sensation of relief before the horrible truth sank in.
And that’s not even the worst thing I did today!
Elise Holland © 2018