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A Door in the Dark

Book #1 of Waxways

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About The Book

An instant New York Times bestseller!

“For readers who have just finished Naomi Novik’s The Golden Enclaves and are ravenous for more dark academia” (Booklist), this “pulse-pounding” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) fantasy thriller follows six teenage wizards as they fight to make it home alive after a malfunctioning spell leaves them stranded in the wilderness.

Ren Monroe has spent four years proving she’s one of the best wizards in her generation. But top marks at Balmerick University will mean nothing if she fails to get recruited into one of the major houses. Enter Theo Brood. If being rich were a sin, he’d already be halfway to hell. After a failed and disastrous party trick, fate has the two of them crossing paths at the public waxway portal the day before holidays; Theo’s punishment is to travel home with the scholarship kids—which doesn’t sit well with any of them.

A fight breaks out. In the chaos, the portal spell malfunctions. All six students are snatched from the safety of the school’s campus and set down in the middle of nowhere. And one of them is dead on arrival.

If anyone can get them through the punishing wilderness with limited magical reserves it’s Ren. She’s been in survival mode her entire life. But no magic could prepare her for the tangled secrets the rest of the group is harboring, or for what’s following them through the dark woods…

Excerpt

Chapter 1 1
Wind prowled wolflike through the waiting crowd, sinking its teeth into exposed necks and bare ankles. Ren kept her hood up and her eyes down. Still, it found every threadbare hole and feasted. There was an unspoken camaraderie to how everyone in line huddled closer together as it howled. On the first day of every month, Ren left her dormitory on Balmerick’s campus and traveled down to wait in line in the Lower Quarter.

She knew the place by memory now. The patterns on the stone walkway. How decades of passing boots had rounded its edges. The rows of windows that were always boarded shut. Even the other people who waited in line with her, assigned to this particular magic-house.

Sunlight might have warded off the chill, but there wasn’t sunlight in this section of the Lower Quarter. Not at this hour. Not in her lifetime. Ren couldn’t resist looking up.

The Heights hovered magically overhead. When she was a child, it had been a marvel to her. An awe that only grew when she studied the actual magical theories involved. It was no small task for the Proctor family to create an entire neighborhood of glinting buildings in the clouds. Her favorite part had been the relocation of Balmerick University. The building’s foundations had proven rather tricky. Decades of residual magic had made the walls more or less sentient. It turned out they liked where they’d settled down in the Lower Quarter. A team of wizards had used veracity alteration spells to convince each individual rock that the sky was actually the earth. Ren liked to imagine them spending hours underground, lying to the stones.

“Eyes ahead, dear.”

Ren startled. She’d allowed a gap to form in the line. Two strides brought her back into position. She glanced at the woman who’d spoken, an apology ready, before recognizing her.

“Aunt Sloan.”

Not her real aunt. Her mother was an only child, just as Ren was an only child. But every woman who lived in their building was an aunt. Every man an uncle. The other kids were all cousins, until they were old enough to start flirting and figuring out where they could sneak kisses without being seen. Aunt Sloan lived up on the third floor. She worked on the wharf.

“Little Monroe,” she said. “How’s your mother?”

“Doing well. Strong and happy and willful.”

Sloan laughed. “Of course. I hate that our shifts changed. It’s been too long since she and I sat down to play a few hands of barons together. About four years now. Agnes was always such a good time, too. It’s a shame she’s all alone these days.”

Barons was a rotating card game that Ren’s mother loved. It involved seven suits, and the winner was usually the one who got away with the most cheating. Ren quietly took note of the other implications hidden beneath Aunt Sloan’s words. She kept her tone neutral, polite.

“I will tell her you said hello.”

Sloan nodded. “It’s kind of you to stand in line for her.”

Her aunt gestured to the bracelet hanging on Ren’s wrist. It was a memorable piece. A little loop of dragon-forged iron. Smoke black except for the rivulets of flickering fire that boiled in the metal’s depths. Ren’s father had bought it for her mother as a wedding gift. It was for the woman, he’d said, who bent to the will of no one. And a nod to the fire she brought out in him.

Sloan kept prattling on. “… my boys. Too busy to stand in for me. Both of them landed jobs in Peckering’s workshop. Making ends meet. You know how it all goes, dear. Or you did. Before you went off to live in the clouds and do your… studies.”

There it was. The neighborhood’s favorite slice of gossip. Ren knew the others always wondered how she’d gotten into a private school like Balmerick. What trick did the Monroes have up their sleeves? They always praised the achievement to her face, but she knew exactly what they said behind her and her mother’s backs. Reaching for the stars, isn’t she? Bound to come back empty-handed.

The line moved. Ren used it as an excuse to drop the conversation. She kept her eyes forward and waited patiently until it was her turn. A pair of doors were propped open. The building to which they belonged was hunched and industrious, singular in its purpose. A government official sat at a table. His hair was slicked back, eyes narrowed in meticulous calculation. He offered the barest of nods when Ren stepped forward.

“Vessel?”

“I have two that need to be refilled, sir. One is mine. One belongs to my mother.”

She slid off her mother’s bracelet and set it on the table. Next she reached for the wand hanging from the loop on her belt. Her own was shaped like a horseshoe. Both ends curved to sharpened points, but the central section offered a crude handle for her grip. She preferred this style to the aim-and-point wands. She’d found it far easier to control the range of her spells.

The government accountant briefly appraised both items.

“Listed under Agnes Monroe and Ren Monroe.”

He ran a finger down the list of names. She saw him pause and knew the question he’d ask before his lips even moved. “And what about Roland Monroe?”

The name shivered down her spine the way it always did when a stranger spoke it so casually. Ren saw a brief vision of his body, bent in all the wrong ways. Every time she came to collect her monthly allotment, they would say his name before tracing the line across to see the explanation for his absence. Ren spoke the word before the man could. The smallest of victories.

“Deceased.”

He tapped the notation in front of him and nodded. They never showed sympathy. Never whispered a condolence. It was just a status that determined how the rest of the transaction should go. This particular arbiter didn’t even bother to make eye contact.

“Very well. I’ve got you listed for an allowance of one hundred ockleys per vessel. The law requires I inform you that another magical stipend will be avail—”

Ren cleared her throat. “I’ve got coin to add more. If that’s okay?”

“How much?”

“Just twenty mids. I earned a few tips this week.”

He hunched back over his list to make another notation. Ren had learned never to add too much. A big down payment could earn unwanted attention. Sometimes the government would investigate. Cut off your welfare entirely. She couldn’t afford for that to happen.

“Twenty mids convert to about two hundred more ockleys.”

If you want to be precise, it’s 201.32. But Ren only nodded at the approximation. An ockley was the exact amount of magic it took to use a single-step spell. Named for Reverend Ockley, who Ren knew had come up with the original and very incorrect equation. His math had been honed by far cleverer wizards, but he was the one in the history books. Sometimes, being first was all that mattered. Ren looked up and realized the accountant was staring at her. He repeated himself.

“Which item do you want them added to?”

“The bracelet,” she answered. “My mother could use the extra spells.”

A well-worn lie. It fit like an old shoe at this point. Her mother hadn’t used any of their magical allowance in years. The man didn’t ask any questions, though. He simply turned and handed the two vessels to a hired runner. The young girl slipped inside the warehouse through an interior door. Ren caught a glimpse of the factory-like rows. Discolored gases churned in the enclosed space. It was still strange to think the city’s entire magical supply came from underground. Ren knew the histories. She’d memorized all the dates for her exams back in undergrad. She could recite the year that her people—the Delveans—first landed on this continent. She knew the name of the woman who’d cast the first recorded spell in their people’s history, and the group of wizards who’d invented the conversion process that refined raw magic into a form that could be dispensed to the masses. Like every other primary school student, she’d memorized the names of the four ships that had sailed up the eastern seaboard to land in what would one day become Kathor.

She’d also read through all the modern theories and conspiracies about magic refineries. One author claimed there was infinite magic underneath their city and that the five wealthiest houses had created a scarcity model to keep the rest of the population underfoot. Another claimed that the city’s supply was nearly depleted, and when it ran out, society would completely collapse. After spending time with the scions and heirs at Balmerick, Ren suspected the former was far more likely to be true.

As the interior door shut with a thump, Ren watched the girl vanish with the two most valuable items she possessed. She wondered how the accountant—who’d barely even looked at her—might react if he knew all the spellwork written into the veins of each of those vessels. All the time she’d spent hammering perfection into her stances and her enunciations.

All he sees is another welfare wizard.

“You can step to the side. She’ll return shortly.”

Ren complied. She felt an itch at the back of her neck. A whisper of an echo of a curse. This was where she always stood as she waited for her items. She knew that the alley over her right shoulder ran straight and narrow, down to the place where her life had changed forever. Every time she stood here, she tried to resist looking. And every time she failed. As Aunt Sloan stepped up to speak with the accountant, Ren looked down that arrow of an alleyway.

It pointed to the distant canal bridge. Unfinished back then, it was the place where her father had turned to wave back at her. Ren’s eyes found the wooden bench where she’d sat down to wait for him. Sometimes she couldn’t believe it was still there. Like a relic that she’d summoned from her own memories. And then she imagined hearing the sound of the earth grinding beneath their feet as it had that day. The way her father had looked back one final time before he fell. Her entire life, changed in less than a breath.

“Your things?”

The girl was back, standing with both vessels held out. Ren liked to imagine she saw a new glow in them, but the truth was they looked exactly the same. She accepted both vessels, and the runner slipped back to her position behind the table. Ren glanced at the line one more time.

Everyone was waiting. She knew they’d refill their vessels and use spells that unwound the knots in their backs. Spells that added strength to get them through another grueling day. Aunt Sloan liked to spice her soups with a little magic. Others entertained grandchildren with clever charms. She almost envied the thought. Using magic to touch up their days. Meanwhile, she would spend the next few weeks trying to create entirely new spells with her meager allotment. Doing her best to impress people who seemed to find nothing so impressive as their own lives.

Ren took a final look, tucked her wand into a waiting belt loop, and started to walk.

About The Author

Photograph © York Wilson

Scott Reintgen is a former public school teacher from North Carolina. When he’s not writing, he uses his imagination to entertain his wife, Katie, and their three children. Scott is the New York Times bestselling author of the Waxways series, the Nyxia trilogy, the Dragonships series, and the Celia Cleary series for younger readers. You can find him on Instagram @Reintgen, on X (previously known as Twitter) @Scott_Thought, or on his website at ItsPronouncedRankin.com.

Why We Love It

“This is the fantasy/thriller mash-up I never knew I needed! It’s the perfect pairing of satisfyingly rich world-building and edge-of-your-seat tension that also features a main character I can only describe as Hermione Granger meets Kaz Brekker. Need I say more?”

—Kate P., Editor, on A Door in the Dark

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (March 28, 2023)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665918688
  • Grades: 9 and up
  • Ages: 14 - 99
  • Lexile ® HL690L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

* "A pulse-pounding series launch from Reintgen. Reintgen combines inventive worldbuilding, intricate plotting, and a strongly developed, racially diverse cast to craft a twisty tale of classism, redemption, and revenge."

Publishers Weeklystarred review, 1/30/2023

* "Placing elements of a locked-room mystery and an original magic system within the familiar trappings of a school for magic, this is a no-holds-barred tale of revenge, atonement, and the pursuit of justice set in a world diverse in skin color and social classes. Ren is a protagonist for the ages: equal parts smart, calculating, and ruthless, forming a lethal package as an avenging angel. Truly fantastic."

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Readers craving the electrifying twists and turns of a thriller alongside a healthy dose of magic will find their prayers spectacularly answered in Reintgen’s A Door in the Dark. With dexterous prose, an impellent plot, and characters you can’t turn away from, this story sinks its claws into you and doesn’t let go."

–Ayana Gray, New York Times-bestselling author of the Beasts of Prey trilogy

"Magical boarding school students mysteriously stranded in a hostile wilderness? Yes, please. Reintgen blends thriller and fantasy in an absolute page-turner. I love when you don't see the twists coming, and this flawlessly delivers."

–K.D. Edwards, author of The Tarot Sequence

Awards and Honors

  • Publishers Weekly Best Books
  • TAYSHAS Reading List (TX)
  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Top Pick
  • Kirkus Best Young Adult Books of the Year

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More books in this series: Waxways