For Ages
10 to 99

The Secrets of Solace is a part of the World of Solace Series collection.

From the acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Mark of the Dragonfly comes another magical and thrilling tale that takes readers on an exciting new adventure. Perfect for fans of Wrinkle in Time!

   Lina Winterbock lives in the mountain strongholds of Solace. She’s an apprentice to the archivists and should be spending her days with books, but the Iron War has changed everything—it’s too chaotic to study. The strongholds are now a refuge, so instead of learning about how to preserve the objects that mysteriously fall from the sky, she whiles away her time exploring the hidden tunnels and passages of her home.
   And in one of the forgotten chambers, Lina discovers a secret. Hidden deep in a cavern is a half-buried airship like nothing she has ever seen before.
   Then she meets Ozben, a mysterious boy who has a secret of his own—a secret that’s so dangerous it could change the course of the Iron War and the world of Solace forever.

Praise for Jaleigh Johnson’s The Secrets of Solace

★ “Highly recommended for those who have finished with Harry and are too young for Katniss.” —SLJ, Starred
An engaging world rich in detail, mayhem, and adventure. . . . All aboard for fantasy lovers with a dual penchant for girl power and keeping up with the Indiana Joneses.” —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Jaleigh Johnson’s The Mark of the Dragonfly
★ “This magnetic middle-grade debut . . . [is] a page-turner that defies easy categorization and ought to have broad appeal.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred
★ “Heart, brains, and courage find a home in a steampunk fantasy worthy of a nod from Baum.” —Kirkus Reviews, Starred
★ “A fantastic and original tale of adventure and magic. . . . Piper is a heroine to fall in love with: smart, brave, kind, and mechanically inclined to boot.” —SLJ, Starred

An Excerpt fromThe Secrets of Solace


“Apprentices, quiet!” The excited chatter in the classroom almost drowned out Tolwin’s exasperated shout. “You’d think that none of you had ever seen a simple box before.”

From her seat near the back of the classroom, Lina Winterbock snorted in amusement. An archivist, even a junior apprentice like her, knew there was no such thing as “a simple box.” Not when that box had been shipped from the meteor fields up north.

The classroom for Archival Studies was an amphitheater, the desks arranged in a semicircle on stone tiers carved out of the cavern’s natural rock formations. At the bottom, in the teaching pit, there was a scarred oak table and a podium beside it for the teacher. The box that had caused the pandemonium sat in the middle of the table. Lina’s teacher, the archivist Tolwin, stood behind the podium. His apprentice and assistant, Simon, stood at Tolwin’s side, scowling at all the noise. Though to be fair, the sour expression could just be Simon’s version of a smile. With him, it was hard to tell.

As Tolwin swept his gaze over the fifty-odd students assembled in the classroom, Lina turned her attention away from the box and sank as low in her seat as she could manage without actually falling to the floor. It didn’t matter. The teacher’s sharp eyes found her anyway and narrowed as his lips pressed into a thin line of displeasure. Lina forced herself to stare back at him without flinching, but it wasn’t easy. Tolwin’s glare felt like a spider skittering down her spine. A large, hairy spider with fangs.

Given the incident last year, Tolwin’s reaction to her wasn’t that surprising, but Lina kept hoping maybe he would fall and hit his head and somehow forget the whole unpleasant business. Normally, she would never wish a head injury on anyone, but it might make her days in Archival Studies a bit easier.

Lina released a tense breath as Tolwin finally looked away from her, and she eagerly refocused her attention on the mysterious box. What was Tolwin hiding in there? Some new bit of technology? A painting? Or maybe even a manuscript? Mystery poured from the depths of the box, filling Lina’s mind and quickening her heart.

Where do you come from? How far have you traveled? What secrets do you hold?

Lina had never been to the meteor fields or the scrap towns where all these strange objects were gathered. They were located far to the north of the archivists’ strongholds, in the Merrow Kingdom. But she’d heard plenty of stories of the violent meteor storms that ravaged the land up there. For reasons that even the wisest of the archivists hadn’t been able to discover, the boundary between their world of Solace and other lands was thin in the meteor fields, and on the night of each full moon, it dissolved completely. With no barrier, objects from other worlds tumbled from the sky in clouds of poisonous green dust. It was the poorest people in the north, the scrappers, who bravely took on the task of harvesting these meteorites. They cleaned up whatever objects were still intact and sold them at local trade markets to make money to live on.

The scrappers’ best customers were the archivists, who bought up as many of these otherworldly artifacts as they could. They paid special attention to any object that might reveal hints of what life was like in unknown worlds. It was the archivists’ mission to preserve the artifacts and record whatever knowledge they gleaned from them, both for its own sake and because they believed that the more people learned about these other worlds, the more they would come to understand their own. It was a unique calling, one that, even as an apprentice, made Lina’s life very different from the lives of people living in other lands.

“I said quiet!” Tolwin barked, shaking Lina from her thoughts. Anger deepened the crisscrossing lines on her instructor’s face. His bushy brown-gray hair even seemed unhappy. As he glared at the students, the noise level in the room gradually dropped to a quiet murmur. “Today I’m going to conduct a hands-on experiment, the purpose of which is to test your understanding of the archivist principles you’ve been taught so far.” Tolwin gestured to the box on the table. “You’re all wondering what I’ve got in here, yes? I hear you whispering about it, trying to guess which division it came from.”

Naturally, Lina thought. It was the first thing any archivist would wonder. The six general divisions--Flora, Fauna, Technology, Language/Literature, Cultural Artifacts, and Medicine--formed the basis for all the archivists’ work. At the end of their long years of study and apprenticeship, each of the students in this room would end up working in one of those divisions.

Tolwin rubbed his hands together as if to build suspense. “All I will tell you, to start, is that there is an object inside the box that was discovered in the meteor fields only two weeks ago.”

An astonished hush fell over the classroom at this announcement, and Lina sat up straighter in her seat. Apprentices rarely got the opportunity to see, let alone study, an object newly recovered from the meteor fields. That privilege was usually reserved for the senior archivists.

“Well, now that we’ve finally achieved silence,” Tolwin said dryly, “we can begin the lesson. First, I will require a volunteer. Simon, would you care to select someone?”

Hands shot up all over the room as the students squirmed in their seats and shot pleading looks at Tolwin’s apprentice. They all wanted to be the first to examine the object inside the box.

Only Lina sat with her hands folded tight on top of her desk. All the while, her heart banged against her ribs, begging her with each unsteady beat to raise her hand and volunteer. But, curious as she was about the secrets and wonders contained within the box, she didn’t trust Tolwin. She didn’t trust anyone who made her feel spider legs on her spine.

And then Simon said something that made her heart stand still. “I think . . . I think Lina Winterbock looks eager to volunteer.”

Lina’s stomach dropped, and she caught the malicious glint in Simon’s eyes as he motioned for her to come down and join them in the teaching pit.

“Ah yes, I believe you’re right.” Tolwin glanced up at her, and the slightest of smiles curved his thin lips. “Come down and stand in front of the table here, Miss Winterbock.”

Lina’s mind raced even as she slid her chair away from her desk with a quiet scraping sound. All eyes in the classroom fixed on her, which automatically brought a deep flush of embarrassment to her cheeks.

At times like this, Lina wished more than anything that she could look across the room and meet the eyes of a best friend, someone who would giggle and stick her tongue out at Tolwin when his back was turned, and who would mouth a few encouraging words to her while she faced down the teacher. She’d even settle for a temporary friend, one who appeared under only the direst of circumstances. She wasn’t picky.

Focus, Lina.

Whatever game Tolwin and Simon were playing, the way Lina saw it, she had three possible countermoves. She could refuse to volunteer, which would thwart Tolwin but also probably get her kicked out of class. There was always the option of feigning sickness. Lina considered it as she stood up and made her way down the stairs. All she had to do was clutch her stomach and run out of the room as if she were about to vomit. If she played it up enough, Tolwin might even believe her.

But that would give him the satisfaction of knowing that he’d scared her off.

Which left option three. Lina squared her shoulders and approached the box on the table, prepared to play along with whatever Tolwin had in store. Maybe, if she was good enough, she’d find a way to outsmart him and avoid the trap he and Simon had set.

“Now then, Miss Winterbock,” Tolwin said, coming around the podium to stand beside her at the table. “We’re going to play a game of make-believe.” He pointed to the box. “I want you to imagine that you are a senior archivist--the very position everyone in this room aspires to--and that this object has just been delivered to your workshop. Tell me, how would you begin your examination of it?”

Easy question. Apprentices learned those steps as part of their introductory course work. Lina cleared her throat for the recitation. “Upon removal of the object from the box, I would first determine--”

He held up a hand, stopping her. “Wait a moment. You say you would remove the object from the box. Do so, please.”

Lina saw the other apprentices’ eyes widen. She was just as shocked herself. She’d never expected Tolwin to let her handle the object. What was in that box?

Cautiously, palms sweating, fearing a trick but not knowing what it was, Lina lifted the lid off the box and set it carefully on the table. She inched forward to peer inside, then let out a quiet sigh of relief.

She’d expected some ugly critter with spines or horns to jump out at her. Reaching both hands into the box, she pulled out a small, ornate jewelry chest. Made of some kind of dark metal with bands of gold on the lid, the chest was in remarkably good shape, considering it had come crashing to the ground in a meteor storm.

And that wasn’t the only thing strange about the object. Lina couldn’t help wondering how the archivists had managed to acquire the item so recently, with the Iron War raging between the Merrow Kingdom, where the meteor fields were located, and the Dragonfly territories to the south. The archivists were their own separate nation and had refused to choose a side in the conflict between the two lands, but even so, trade shipments were slow in coming from the Merrow Kingdom, when they arrived at all.

But Lina didn’t have time to dwell on that mystery. Tolwin wasn’t finished with her.

“Now,” he said when Lina put the jewelry chest on the table, “continue with your examination. How would you begin to identify this object?”

Lina scanned Tolwin’s face for any clue that he was trying to trick her, but the man’s expression was unreadable. She cleared her throat again and hoped her voice remained steady. “First, we need to note the material the object is made of and determine whether it’s organic or inorganic,” she said. “If inorganic, which this is, we then determine whether or not its composite materials are native to our world of Solace.”

“Excellent,” Tolwin said, though his tone was anything but warm. He turned to the class. “Would any of you care to guess what this object is made of?”

Five hands shot up in the air. Tolwin nodded to a girl who’d been sitting next to Lina. “Pewter, with gold bands,” she guessed.

“Good eye,” Tolwin said, smiling thinly at the girl. He turned his attention back to Lina. “So far, we have identified an inorganic object made of materials native to Solace. If we were conducting a true examination, laboratory tests would need to be done to confirm this, but for now, we’ll move on with the demonstration. I assume you know the next step, Miss Winterbock?”

Lina met Tolwin’s eyes and saw the look of challenge there. Of course she knew the next step, as did everyone else in the room: classify the object according to one of the six divisions of archivist studies. But that involved examining the chest more closely--at the very least, lifting the lid.

And that’s where Tolwin would spring his trap. Lina could see it in his eyes. There was something in the box. Something meant just for her, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

Lina clutched her hands in front of her to keep them from shaking. She cast about for anything that could help her and spied a ruler on a little shelf behind Tolwin’s podium. Before he could protest, she walked over and grabbed it. Returning to the chest, she fitted the edge of the ruler beneath the lid and gently lifted it.

Creaking hinges echoed in the amphitheater as the chest opened, and a faint moldy smell tickled Lina’s nose. Half the class leaned forward in their seats to get a better look at what was in the chest, while the other half craned away. It seemed they were all expecting something grand or dangerous to pop out.

And then Lina realized with a jolt that the chest was empty. A water-spotted lining of red velvet covered the bottom of it, but otherwise there was nothing, no waiting horror inside. Lina laid the ruler on the table and let out the breath she’d been holding. Tolwin had just been messing with her, trying to build suspense and make her afraid. She hated to admit that it had worked. Behind her, Simon chuckled, and Lina’s cheeks flamed.

“Very good, Miss Winterbock. Now that you’ve so bravely conquered the obstacle of opening the chest,” Tolwin said, amid titters of laughter from the class, “perhaps you could continue with your analysis?”

Lina gritted her teeth and nodded, determined not to let Tolwin get into her head. She thought the box belonged to the Cultural Artifacts division, but it didn’t hurt to check to see if there were any mechanical components that might designate it as Technology. Sometimes these small jewelry chests were also music boxes. You just never knew.

She reached into the box and felt along the velvet lining with her hands, searching for any machinery, but as far as she could tell, there was none. A Cultural Artifact, then.

She opened her mouth to say so, when suddenly she noticed a slight tingling in the tips of her fingers, as if they were falling asleep. At first, she thought it was just her nervousness, but then the sensation traveled into her hands, and Lina’s heart began to beat faster.

What was happening? No, it couldn’t be a trap. The chest was empty. She’d checked.

“Is there a problem, Miss Winterbock?” Tolwin asked, his voice deceptively serene. “We are all awaiting the results of your analysis.”

Lina tried to ignore him, focusing on her hands. She turned them palms up and saw with a growing panic that her fingers were starting to swell. A fine film of red dust coated the tips where she’d been feeling around in the chest. She hadn’t noticed it at first because it was the same color as the velvet, but she could see now, looking closer, that it covered the whole inside of the chest. She reached up to try to close the lid and found that her fingers had gone completely numb. The chest teetered as she fumbled with it, and the lid shut with a snap. More faint laughter threaded through the room, ringing in Lina’s ears.

Under the Cover