Ten year-old Stanley Delacourt loves his quiet life in the peaceful village of Meadowwood. At least, he does until his best friend is killed. Then the town library—where Stanley lives and works—is burned to the ground. The individuals responsible for both tragedies are a nasty group of soldiers. They work for the kingdom’s new leader, Christopher Siren. With the grown-ups too fearful to take action, Stanley vows to confront Siren. He plans to get answers and demand justice. Little does he know that his journey will involve sword-wielding knights, kidnapper fairies, and dark magic.
Stanley has only two allies back home: a witch named Meredith, and a young apothecary called Sophie. Can they help him discover the reason behind Siren’s crimes and end this terrible reign? Or is Stanley set to become the next victim in the tyrant’s evil plot?
If you enjoy the fantasy works of Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, or Philip Pullman, then explore the world of Stanley Delacourt today!
Chapter One—In Which We Visit a Library
If you looked on a map and tried to find the village of Meadowwood in the kingdom of Hartlandia, you may walk away disappointed. You’d likely feel the same way if you attempted to locate it in any book labeled “History.” And historians would definitely have a hard time recording the goings-on in the library of Meadowwood. There were no clocks in the library. It was an eternal place where time did not exist.
Ten-year-old Stanley Delacourt had just finished explaining this to Mrs. Boyden for the third time. But she still didn’t seem to understand.
“Yes, but . . . how does one tell the time in here?” The pretty young woman tilted her head to one side in confusion. Stanley was afraid that her tiny top hat—already perched at an angle—would fall right off. It was already bobbing somewhat dangerously.
“Well . . .” Stanley began, unsure of what to say. He looked down at the front desk where books were checked out. He was standing behind the counter, opposite Mrs. Boyden. Being new to Meadowwood, she didn’t yet understand the way things worked.
“And then there’s that sign outside—on the big oak doors in front. ‘Library open sunrise till sunset. Come in and help yourself.’ Isn’t there supposed to be a librarian to help patrons?” she asked.
Her hat bobbed again when she turned to look at the door. For a moment, Stanley feared it would fly off and smack another patron in the face. It appeared to have many sharp pins that held it to her head. Someone might get hurt.
“Er, yes, Mrs. Boyden. But the hours don’t necessarily mean there’ll be a librarian on duty. You see, there haven’t been any assigned librarians since, well, since my parents died.” He desperately wanted to mention something about her hat, but didn’t want to seem rude.
Mrs. Boyden let out a little gasp. “Oh my! I’m so sorry to hear that. Was it recently?”
“No, ma’am. It happened when I was one year old,” Stanley explained. “A plague swept through the village around that time. But the librarian who worked here before my parents—he’d been retired—came back for a bit. Just long enough to raise me, teach me the ways of books. That was . . .” Stanley thought for a moment. “Just over nine years ago.” The pretty lady adjusted her hat. For a moment, Stanley thought all was well.
“I see,” Mrs. Boyden nodded. Unfortunately, the nodding made her hat go up and down again. Stanley considered reaching his hands out to catch it if it fell. He winced at the thought of the pins pricking his hands. “And now you are the proper age to become a librarian?” she inquired.
“Not exactly,” he said, his voice getting tighter. He really was going to have to say something about that hat. “But the truth is, I do most of the related tasks these days. The retired librarian mainly dozes in a sun-warmed chair in the southeast corner.”
“Most interesting.” Mrs. Boyden nodded again. Stanley wasn’t sure whether to move left or right—the hat could easily fly off in either direction. “I am glad that Meadowwood has a library. That was one of the most important things I told my husband about when we looked for a place to live. ‘Mervil,’ I said to him, ‘no matter where we end up in the kingdom of Hartlandia, we must find a place with a library!’”
“A fine reason to pick Meadowwood, ma’am.” Stanley smiled. It was always nice to meet another library enthusiast. Even one with a slightly deadly hat. “Though it is one of the smallest towns in the Northernlands. So you plan to settle down here, then?”
“Oh yes—most definitely!” She nodded again, and the hat came almost three-quarters of the way off her head. But it stayed on at the last second. “Settling down, just like I always dreamed. Perhaps I’ll start a family. Or maybe a small business. But tell me, Mr. Delacourt, I still don’t understand why the library has no clocks.”
Stanley didn’t mention that there was one clock—his alarm clock—in the bedroom upstairs. It wasn’t as if patrons could see it.
“Well, when I’m working down here,” he explained, “I can usually tell the time by the position of the sun.” Stanley pointed to a window. “Right now, for instance, it’s likely midmorning. I hope that helps, ma’am. But I guess the whole point of a library is for people to—oh! Excuse me, Mrs. Boyden. I’ll be right back.” Stanley had suddenly noticed one of the Pierson twins climbing a light fixture. Again.
“I still don’t see why they couldn’t have at least one clock . . .” Mrs. Boyden murmured.
She walked away from the counter to examine the latest book arrivals. Stanley didn’t see her for the rest of the day. He really hoped she managed to keep her hat on.
If he hadn’t been interrupted by the twin’s climbing, he would’ve liked to clarify to Mrs.
Boyden why there were no clocks. It was because books made the whole world slow down. Sometimes, it even stopped just long enough for you to enjoy it. Under those circumstances, a clock would be pointless.
As soon as Stanley went back behind the counter to begin sorting returns, he came face to face with a wizened old man. He had a large, heavy cane which he banged with a thwap for emphasis.
“Need books on etiquette for the grandkids,” the man snapped. Thwap! He had an over-loud, creaky-croak of a voice, whose sharpness seemed to match the cane.
“Darn tooters don’t know how to respect their elders, mind their manners, that sort of thing.” Thwap! “And don’t be all day about it, either! Got a schedule to keep, sonny.”
“My name is Stanley,” Stanley said gently. He didn’t want to upset the old man. He seemed the sort who wouldn’t hesitate to hit a young person—or any person—with that cane. “And you have a schedule, you said?”
“Yes—a very important schedule!” the man harrumphed. Thwap! This time the cane actually banged the side of the counter. Stanley jumped back in fear. But the old man didn’t seem to notice.
“Breakfast at seven, then napping,” he continued. “Lunch at twelve. A little reading, maybe another nap. Then supper at six, and off to bed. Everyone should follow a schedule, I think. That’s what young’uns need nowadays to make ‘em courteous. Order. Discipline. And rules—lots and lots of rules.”
With the words “lots and lots” he struck the cane especially hard on the floor, making tiny dents. Stanley definitely did not want to be hit with that cane.
“Of course, sir. Right this way.” Stanley led the man to the Manners section. He failed to mention that rules wouldn’t necessarily make anyone more polite. Best to keep on the man’s good side, he thought. The cane banged fear into him with each step they took.
“And stand up straight there, you!” the elderly patron barked as they walked. Thwap! “What is it with all this slouching I see?”
“Sorry, sir. My shoulders do stoop a little,” Stanley agreed. “It’s probably from leaning over so many books.” He kept quiet about the fact that he also stooped because of his tallness. Stanley’s height made him feel awkward and exposed, so he slouched to knock himself down a few inches.
After searching through the books on etiquette, he found the one he was looking for.
“Here you go, sir—just what you need,” Stanley said softly. “Manners and Morals for the Masses.” He handed the book to the old man, making certain to do so at arm’s length. He was almost out of the cane’s reach. Almost.
“What was that?” The old man cupped his ear and leaned closer, taking the book. Unfortunately, this brought Stanley closer to the cane. “Can’t hardly hear you!”
Stanley repeated himself, louder this time. It was something he had to do several times a day, no matter who he was helping. The truth was, Stanley was a quiet boy by nature. When he spoke, his voice almost seemed to disappear. In fact, his whole figure often disappeared into whatever book he was absorbed in at the moment. When that happened, sometimes it seemed like no one heard his voice or saw his face for days.
The old man looked down at the book, mouthing the words to the title. He flipped through it and began to smile.
“Say, this is just what I need!” he exclaimed. “Surprised you found it so quickly. Seems like such a messy, disorganized building, you know? At least from the outside.”
Indeed, the library resembled an old Victorian mansion. It had spindly turrets, porches, balconies, pieces of roof, and too many windows to count. They all fought for space on the rambling façade. But inside, everything knew its place, thanks to Stanley.
“Well, I do my best to keep it tidy.” Stanley breathed a sigh of relief that he was not likely to be whacked with the cane after all. He walked back to the front desk to check out the man’s book.
He had to admit that looking after the library was a big job. When Stanley was on duty, there were catalog cards to file and worn-out volumes to repair. There was dusting, sweeping, and window-washing. There were children to shush, and the occasional food-fight to break up. Stanley had yet to figure out how people smuggled in the food.
And the re-shelving of books. The endless, endless re-shelving.
“But I don’t mind,” Stanley said. “It’s my home, after all. Just buffed the wooden floors yesterday. Mopped the corridors too.”
“You’re a hard worker then, that’s certain!” the old man declared with satisfaction, handing Stanley his library card. He looked around the orderly room and nodded. “Yessir. That’s what young people need nowadays.” Thwap! “Lots and lots of hard work. Well, at least you seem like a polite young man. Not like my grandkids. You should hear the way they talk, Sterny!”
“Stanley.” He rubber-stamped the book for the man and gave back his library card.
“Huh?” The patron cupped his ear again. He leaned the cane closer, and Stanley wondered if he’d changed his mind about hitting him with it.
“I said, ‘Have a nice day, sir!’” Stanley said loudly. He couldn’t really blame the patron for forgetting his name. He could never remember the old man’s either. After all, Stanley was so shy he wasn’t brave enough to introduce himself to all the townsfolk. He didn’t know even half their names.
The man gave one last satisfied nod, and finally, Stanley felt he was safe from the evil cane. But just then, the patron bumped the heavy stick against the boy’s shoulder—hard—in a gesture of approval. It was all Stanley could do to not cry out. Then the old man smiled and walked away, the book under his arm.
Stanley rubbed his own arm for a good five minutes. When the feeling came back into it, he continued sorting returns. He loved the covers of reds, golds, and greens. These were the faces on the many thousands of friends he’d made. At the moment, they also helped distract from the pain in his shoulder.
But stealing a glimpse at the Pierson twins, he worried they were up to no good. They weren’t making trouble at the moment, but did have their heads leaned together. And they were whispering. It made Stanley nervous. Perhaps he should go talk to them before—
A strong odor of tuna suddenly filled the air. Patrons noticed it immediately. They wrinkled their noses and looked around for the source of the smell. Then, Stanley saw them cutting a wide berth for a man entering the library.
“Mr. Curtis!” Stanley called, and gave a little wave. The curly-mustached man approaching the front desk was one of his favorite patrons. He also owned the town fish shop. The fishmonger’s had been owned by Mr. Curtis’s father, and his father, for as long as anyone could remember. Stanley doubted that the present Mr. Curtis had ever considered another profession.
“Hello, my good friend Stanley!” he said with a broad smile. It made his mustache jump up towards his cheeks. The fishy scent continued to rise. Several people began moving away from Mr. Curtis, making sour faces. But Stanley was used to the smell by now.
“I’ve come to check out that new book I hear you have: Our Fish, Our Friends,” Mr. Curtis explained.
“I set it aside for you, Mr. Curtis.” Stanley pulled the book out from underneath the counter.
“Splendid!” Mr. Curtis said, admiring the cover as he weighed the book in his hand. “This’ll make me a hero down at the fish shop. They didn’t believe I could get such a valuable book! And you’re a hero for helping me, Stanley.” He handed the boy his card from out of his pocket. A small minnow tumbled out with it and flip-flapped away.
Stanley accepted the card, wiping off the salty water. “Thank you, sir. But really—I’m no one’s idea of a hero.” He checked out Mr. Curtis’s book and returned the card. He could’ve sworn he saw several other minnows swimming around in the man’s pockets.
“In fact,” Stanley continued, “I hear I was pretty pale and sickly-looking when I was born. Story goes my parents had to convince everyone I wasn’t an albino.”
Mr. Curtis started to laugh, the water in his pockets making a sloshing sound. Some of it even landed on the floor.
“Not that they had anything against albinos, of course,” Stanley said hastily. “It’s just that I wasn’t one. Plus, everyone knows albinos have pink or red eyes. Mine are light green.”
Mr. Curtis laughed even harder, and sloshed even more water. The floor around him was becoming a small puddle. “I do remember how relieved your parents were—may the gods rest their souls—when your complexion deepened. It was sometime around your first birthday. But I suppose long days in a library leaves little time for the sun to tan your skin.” There was almost a touch of pity in Mr. Curtis’s voice.
“But at least your hair’s gotten a bit browner since you were a babe,” he said with better cheer. “Still one or two odd streaks of white in it though, I see. Anyways, if you like working in the library, that’s where you should be, no matter how pale it makes you.”
“Oh yes, sir,” Stanley agreed. “The library is my favorite place in the world. I love everything about it.” Even the floor around Mr. Curtis, he thought, which he reminded himself to mop up later.
“There is something nice about a library, isn’t there?” Mr. Curtis said. He nodded and took in the familiar scenery. “The scent of ink and worn, dusty pages.”
“The shiny, crisp look of new books,” Stanley chimed in, eyes aglow. “All filled with adventure and new friends.”
“The ‘craaaaa-ck’ fresh books make as they open, and the soft ‘plop’ when old ones close!” Mr. Curtis finished triumphantly. “A fine place, this library is. And I noticed you recently cleaned the big globe in the center hall.” He nodded a “hello” to two patrons who entered. They started to smile at him, but breathing in the fish scent, walked away in a hurry. Stanley was grateful they didn’t trip and fall in Mr. Curtis’s puddle.
“Yes—the globe definitely needed cleaning,” Stanley replied. He didn’t tell Mr. Curtis that sometimes, he still played an old globe-game. The one where you point to the globe, then spin it with your other hand. Wherever you’re pointing when the spinning stops is where you’ll eventually visit, live, marry. Or maybe even die.
But Mr. Curtis’s comment reminded Stanley he also had to wipe off the old maps that dotted the rooms. They were getting dingy again. You could hardly read some of the names on them! There were real and imaginary places. Many were places Stanley wondered what it would be like to visit.
“Glad you’re here to keep the place shipshape,” Mr. Curtis said. “Staying a long time then, are you?” He patted the minnows in his pockets. They were growing fidgety.
Stanley loved the library—his library—and never imagined he’d have to leave.
“Oh yes, sir. In fact, I don’t plan to ever—oh dear! Please excuse me!”
It was quite a while before Stanley managed to pull Durand Pierson (the elder twin by three minutes) off the chandelier. That made the third time today! Although Mrs. Pierson had been very apologetic, Stanley was relieved to see her and the children leave the library. He was sure now that the rest of the day would go much more smoothly.
It had been an exhausting day.
The Pierson twins had managed to get onto the roof directly after leaving the library. Stanley tried for to coax them down for several hours. Their mother went back and forth between begging and yelling. Finally, the Meadowwood Fire Department had to be called to bring in ladders. Stanley watched the twins ride off in the fire wagon, making siren sounds, while Mrs. Pierson hollered at them.
After they’d left, Stanley still had to oil the creaky ladders that climbed the stacks. But he was too worn out to ride across the bookcases on them, the way he usually did. He didn’t even want to think about the bookcases he’d have to fix soon. Several shelves were once again sagging with the unbearable weight of volumes.
He did manage one last look at the main room as dusk fell. It was his favorite time in the library. Shafts of sunlight streamed through the huge windows that made up the Eastern Wall. It bathed the cherry-wood bookshelves in a warm, rosy glow. Sunlight glinted off whatever metal was in the room—brass handles, necklaces, a reader’s button. It gave the impression that parts of the library were winking at you.
Afterwards, Stanley was so tired he could barely crawl up to his bedroom. He slept in an alcove in the attic. It was not by punishment that Stanley slept there—he preferred it. For one thing, it had an unbeatable view of Meadowwood. For another, it was the quietest place in the library. Barely the size of two or three beds, it made for a cozy reading space. Especially when he placed a mug of hot cocoa on the waist-high stack of books by the nightstand. Sometimes, he had a fruit or meat pie beside the cocoa. And although Stanley kept the downstairs neat and orderly, his “bedroom” was bursting at the seams with books.
Stanley often read at night in an armchair by the fire in the West Wing, half-waking, half-dreaming. Characters and landscapes seemed to spill out from between the covers. With a moth-eaten copy of Peter Pan on his lap, he’d feel a fairy’s fingers playfully tap his shoulder. Poring over a volume on sea serpents, he’d look down to find one staring up curiously at him, circling his leg. Sometimes he even made up his own stories. He’d argued with kings in the kitchen, talked to dragons in the den, and fooled goblins in the garden. It was fun pretending things. Especially if you didn’t know whether they’d ever happen in real life.
As Stanley crawled under his blanket, he smiled to think of Mrs. Boyden. Although she might not like the library’s absence of clocks, she was sure to love Meadowwood. He certainly did. In fact, Stanley loved the town almost as much as his library. How each house and garden was different from the rest, yet they all shared the same cozy feeling. How quiet, burbling streams fed the Rambling River as it wound a drowsy path to the bay.
One of Stanley’s favorite spots in the town was the meadow for which it was named. He liked the way the meadow spread out like an enormous, rippling carpet. Small bumps grew into larger hills that rose and fell until they hit a large forest. After that was the mountain wall of Widow’s Peak. Home of the royal family, Widow’s Peak was all the way in the Westernlands. But the mountain was so big you could see it from anywhere in Hartlandia.
Stanley enjoyed seeing the meadow’s lush greenery when he walked through its groves of knobby oaks. These were the trees that gave the town the other part of its name: Meadowwood. Beneath the cool, sheltering branch-arms, he felt safe and at peace.
Yet for all Stanley’s fierce love of Meadowwood, something was missing. When he thought of it, an ache arose, like a tender bruise on his heart. As if a strangeness stood him just outside the simple happiness of the townsfolk. He was never really quite at home—even though it was his birthplace. Sometimes, Stanley felt as though he were living in a soap bubble. One where no one could see, hear, or know the real him. Funny—he never had the feeling when the meadow’s grove enveloped him in green. When he was younger, he’d taken that soap-bubble sense as evidence he was different. Special, somehow.
But as he grew up, a colder, colorless feeling had replaced those thoughts. It whispered, “You will never fit in here. Never truly belong. You’ll sit alone forever in your filmy, transparent world, until you fade away to nothing.”
Everyone else in Meadowwood had a future that seemed fixed. Yet Stanley had trouble seeing his future self. Others’ lives tended to go in a set pattern, but even with the library, Stanley felt adrift. Unclaimed and unanchored. Even if he did turn out to have a specialness, what good would it do if he never got to use it? Or if no one ever found out about it? The troubling question of the future remained.
But Stanley decided to push such grim thoughts from his mind. He had to get plenty of rest for tomorrow. It was the day of the Spring-Sprung Festival, and he was attending with his two best friends: Sophie and Will. He wound his alarm clock to make sure it would ring properly the next morning. He wanted to rise in time to pick up Sophie. Together, they’d walk to the boat race which always began the festival. That was where they’d meet up with Will.
Stanley couldn’t afford to be late. If he was, Sophie would kill him. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about his future, one way or the other.