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Seekers of the Wild Realm

Fablehaven meets How to Train Your Dragon in this action-packed fantasy about a young boy and girl who become reluctant allies when caring for a baby dragon—the first in brand-new duology!

Twelve-year-old Bryn has always dreamed of becoming a Seeker, just like her dad. Only the Seekers are allowed to journey from their small village into the fantastical, untamed wilderness of their island known as the Wild Realm. Once there, they obtain magical items for the village and use magic to protect and heal the incredible creatures native to the Realm.

When one of the elderly Seekers retires, leaving a vacant position, Bryn knows this may be her chance. There’s just one problem: Only boys have ever been Seekers. And the training master makes it clear he will not be training a girl.

But then Bryn’s biggest rival for the Seeker position, a boy named Ari, shows up at her door. He reveals the baby dragon he’s been hiding, and the two strike a deal—if Bryn helps care for the dragon, Ari will share all his training with her.

Even as the two bond over their love of magical animals and their secret trips into the Wild Realm, Bryn doesn’t completely trust Ari’s motives. Especially as she suspects Ari may know more than he’s letting on about the enemy clan stirring up unrest in their village.

When all these secrets come to a head and the stakes are at their highest, Bryn realizes it’s up to her to save her family…and the Realm.

Chapter One ONE
I gaze into the clouds, but there’s no sign of dragons.

Papa says they’re most likely to start their morning hunt at dawn, so I always scan the skies at this time of day, when the sun is low on the horizon and the first rays of pinkish light shimmer on the surface of the sea. Spying the dragons on their morning hunt, when they leave the safety of the island to fly over the ocean, is the only way to catch a glimpse of them outside of the Realm. But aside from the occasional shadow, I never see much of anything.

“Staring at clouds again?” teases a familiar voice.

I grin at Runa. “Looking for dragons.”

“Of course you were.” Runa smiles. “But we have to hurry if we’re going to get everything done. Didn’t you say your mama gave you a long list?”

She’s not wrong. It could take the whole morning to pick up all the stuff Mama asked for from the village. Which is why I always talk my best friend into accompanying me on these boring errands. Runa makes everything more fun.

“Well, in that case…,” I say. “Race you!” I take off down the dirt path before she has a chance to respond.

“You cheater!” she calls, her footsteps pounding after me.

Runa’s parents’ farm is outside the village, all the way to the end of the lane and over the hill, so we have a long ways to go to reach the center of town. The soft earth and wet grass stick to my bare feet as I run, and the wind whips my hair from my face. The morning air is chilly, even this late in the summer, and I almost wish I’d grabbed my coat.

I crest the top of the hill and stop to catch my breath. In front of me, our little village is nestled in the crook of the bay. The ocean spreads out to the south, glimmering in the sunlight. The fishermen’s boats are just visible out on the water, pursuing the day’s catch. Rising hills surround the other three sides of our village, gradually giving way to even steeper plateaus and soaring mountain peaks. There, in the highlands, lies the Wild Realm.

Papa has told me all about it, of course. The mountains, the waterfalls, the forests. The crystalline lakes and spouting geysers. Not to mention the massive glaciers that lie to the north and the lava fields spread in the shadows of the volcanoes that bisect the island in a diagonal line. There’s a whole world up there in the Realm, one that’s uninhabitable for humans but makes the perfect home for the world’s most magical creatures. One that’s accessible only to Seekers, who can fly to its heights on the backs of dragons in order to collect the magical treasures that lie within.

Seekers are the only people on the island who get to access the Realm; it’s forbidden to everyone else. I’ve never seen it, of course, but my papa was a Seeker, back before he hurt his leg, and he’s told me everything about his adventures. Until I can become a Seeker myself, I’ll have to be content with scanning the skies for dragons and praying I catch a glimpse of one.

“I’m going to catch you!” Runa calls. She’s gaining on me. I take a quick gulp of air and launch myself down the hill.

The dirt path winds past my family’s hut and the neighbor’s before widening at the edge of the main village square, where the bells are announcing dawn. It’s bustling—fishermen heading down to the shore, shopkeepers opening their doors, the men heading to work while the women rush to trade goods. Runa and I are neck and neck as we race toward the large tree that marks the center of the village square. We both tag it at the same time.

“I think we have to call that a tie,” Runa says when she catches her breath.

“Fine,” I say, panting hard. “So where do you want to go first?”

“Not the fishmonger,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “Then we’d have to smell the fish all morning.”

“Good point. Let’s try the bakery.”

Before we continue down the path, she brushes off the hem of her skirt as if there’s some dirt on it, though I don’t really see anything. Even after running all this way, Runa still manages to be neat. We do look alike in some ways—we both have light-brown skin and dark-brown eyes, like everyone else in the village, and we also share raven-black hair. But where mine is an unruly mop of curls, Runa’s is always in orderly braids without a single strand out of place. She never gets mud on her hems, and only gets dirt on herself when she’s riding her horse or mucking out the stable. I, on the other hand, am always dirty and don’t have a horse or a stable.

But despite our differences, we’ve been friends since before we could walk, and she knows me better than anyone, except maybe Papa. When I get distracted halfway to the bakery by a sprig of moss growing outside the blacksmith shop, anyone else would think it was weird, but Runa just laughs. “From staring at clouds to staring at the ground,” she says.

“This is laekning moss,” I say, ignoring her teasing. “It can be used in healing tonics to treat fever.”

Runa’s eyes light up. “Really?” she says, stepping closer. I grin. She might tease me about my fascination with plants and magical creatures, but she’s just as passionate about her healing gift as I am my nature gift. “How does it work?”

“No idea,” I say. “But Papa says it’s rare in the summer. I should help it grow a little, and we can tell Elder Ingvar to come collect some for his tonics.”

Runa steps away from the moss, and I reach for my magic. The plant’s life force is soft but strong, and I seek it out with my gift. I give it a gentle nudge with my magic, feeding the spark of its life force, and feel it grow, the energy softly swirling. The moss spreads, climbing higher up the wall.

“Come on,” Runa says when I’m done. “Let’s find Elder Ingvar.”

We cross the village square and head toward the squat hut that houses all of Elder Ingvar’s medicines and tonics, right next door to the doctor’s. Inside, the hut is packed with tight rows of shelves, all covered in bottles and jars filled with healing ointments and salves and powders. The little shop feels too claustrophobic to me, but Runa loves to wander along the shelves and read all the little labels on the jars.

Elder Ingvar is talking with a customer at the back of the shop, and we wait patiently for them to finish. I recognize the customer as Olga, the elderly lady who lives near the docks.

“I can’t believe they would let them come back,” Elder Olga is saying. Her voice sounds strained, like she’s worried about something, and Elder Ingvar frowns.

“But surely the Seekers wouldn’t agree unless it was safe.…”

“I think they’re still arguing about it. Disgraceful. You’d think the council could agree among themselves.”

Even though Mama says it’s rude to eavesdrop, I can’t help perking up. The five people from the village who are chosen as Seekers also serve as the village council, making many of the decisions about the way things run and settling disputes. Not that there are many decisions or disputes in such a small village. In recent memory, their biggest decision was whether Elder Frida’s potatoes were encroaching on the neighbor’s rutabagas. Still, I can’t help but be fascinated every time someone mentions the Seekers. If I’m going to be one someday, I want to know everything.

“Never should’ve resumed communication with them in the first place, in my opinion,” Elder Olga is saying. She starts to add something else, but Elder Ingvar, who has just noticed Runa and me, clears his throat, and Elder Olga turns around to see us.

“Good morning, girls,” Elder Ingvar says. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

That’s the end of their mysterious conversation—Elder Olga finishes her purchase and turns to leave. But as she passes us, she stops. “Stay away from the docks, girls. You hear? Nothing but trouble.”

“What trouble?” I ask.

Her face darkens. “The Vondur, of course.”

Runa gasps, and my eyes widen. But before we can ask anything else, she shuffles away and leaves the shop.

I turn immediately to Elder Ingvar. “What did she mean?”

His mouth is a tight line. “Nothing for you to worry about. Just talk.”

“Are the Vondur back?” I ask.

Elder Ingvar looks reluctant to answer. “Rumor has it that the Seekers have given the Vondur permission to dock again at the next trading day,” he says. “But it’s just a rumor, nothing more.”

Runa and I look at each other. The thing about living in a small village is that there are lots of rumors—but many of them are true. Conversations about the Vondur always make me a little nervous. All the mainland clans come to our island periodically to trade, except the Vondur, who have been banned. Our history with them is rocky at best. Papa says that many years ago, a ship of Vondur magicians tried to conquer our island and force the villagers out, because they wanted to take over the Wild Realm for themselves. Luckily, their magic was no match for the Seekers, who drove them away. They haven’t been to the island since.

The Vondur don’t have magical gifts of their own, the way us islanders do; instead, they perform dark spells by using items or creatures imbued with magic. Papa says they’d rather butcher a dragon than protect it, so that they could use its parts for their strange potions and spells. That’s why the Seekers guard our island’s creatures so closely. The Vondur might kill every creature on the island if they get the chance.

I can’t imagine why the Council of Seekers would give the Vondur permission to trade here again. Seeker Oskar, who is the oldest and therefore head of the council, was a Seeker back when the Vondur tried to conquer the island and helped to drive them away. Could they really have become peaceful enough to trade with in such a short period of time? They’ve always been known for waging war, invading their neighbors, and killing dragons.

I want to ask Elder Ingvar more, but he quickly changes the subject, asking us what we’ve come in for. We tell him about the moss, and he thanks us profusely before sending us on our way.

Outside the shop, I blink in the suddenly bright sunlight as Runa leads the way to the bakery.

“Do you think they’re right?” I ask. “About the Vondur?”

“There are always rumors about the Vondur,” Runa says. “It’s probably nothing.”

“But they don’t usually dock here on trading day,” I say. “Why would the council let them?”

Runa opens her mouth to respond, but a shout makes both of us jump. Elisa runs toward me, yelling my name.

My little sister hardly ever runs—she gets bad coughing fits that make it hard for her to breathe, and Mama strictly forbids her from running anywhere. So seeing her barreling toward me through the village square means that something’s happened. Something big.

“Elisa?” I say. “What’s wrong?”

She stops beside me, panting for breath. She’s small even for six, and her hand-me-down skirt nearly drags the ground. “Seeker Oskar,” she says when she catches her breath. “He came over this morning to talk to Papa. He said he’s retiring.”

Runa frowns, not getting it, but a grin slides across my face. “You’re sure? He definitely said that?”

Yes,” Elisa says, crossing her arms in indignation.

“What’s going on?” Runa asks.

“Don’t you see?” I say, grinning even wider. “There are always five Seekers. So if Seeker Oskar is retiring, that means there will have to be another competition in order to replace him.”

“A Seeker competition?” Runa asks, finally catching on.

“Yes! And since I’m twelve now, I’m old enough to enter! Don’t you see what this means?”

“Let me guess,” she says, smiling. “You’re going to compete.”

“I’m going to compete, and I’m going to win.” I feel like dancing across the village square and shouting the news for all to hear.

This is it. The opportunity I’ve been waiting for.

I’m going to become a Seeker.

Alexandra Ott holds a BA in English from the University of Tulsa. She currently lives in Oklahoma with her tiny canine overlord. She is the author of the Rules for Thieves and Seekers of the Wild Realm series. Visit her online at AlexandraOtt.com and on Twitter at @Alexandra_Ott.

Twelve-year-old Brynja lives in a small island town near the Wild Realm, which is home to a variety of magical plants and animals. Five Seekers serve as guardians of the Realm, maintaining the balance within it. Bryn wants to be a Seeker more than anything else in the world, both because she loves the creatures of the Realm and because the Realm will give her access to magical plants that can help her sickly little sister. However, only boys have ever become Seekers. Thus, when a Seeker retires and competitions are held to choose the next Seeker, Bryn is not allowed to train with the other competitors. Nonetheless, Bryn is eager to change how things have always been, and when Ari—her biggest rival—offers to train her in exchange for her help looking after a baby dragon, she cannot bring herself to refuse. In both setting and rendering of creatures, readers will find similarities to such big-screen properties as the How To Train Your Dragon series, though the plot is original if ultimately predictable. This island society is not racialized—all the human inhabitants have "light-brown skin" and "raven-black hair"—and the book's primary focus is on gender inequalities faced by women. The ending is not completely smooth, but Ott's fast-paced fantasy highlights the importance of persistence, especially with regard to changing society's (rather set) ways. An immersive and fun—if predictable—series opener. (Fantasy. 8-12) 

– Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2020

Twelve-year-old Bryn is determined to become a Seeker like her father before her. She knows that she would be the first woman to take on the role of explorer and protector of the magical Wild Realm, but she doesn’t realize just how much resistance her set-in-its-ways community would have towards a female earning that title. When Bryn, considered too delicate, isn’t allowed to train for the competition, she is furious until Ari, a quiet fellow competitor, offers to pass along the training to her in exchange for help caring for a young dragon that he has secretly squirreled away. Bryn hesitantly agrees, and the real adventure begins. It’s a thrill to explore Ott’s magical kingdom, and it’s a particular delight to watch all of the relationships develop between the main characters; whether familial or friendly, they feel incredibly warm and true. Though its final revelations won’t come as much of a surprise, this well-executed story offers a wonderfully imaginative world for young fantasy fans to dive into.

– Booklist, April 15, 2020

Twelve-year-old Bryn’s greatest dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as one of her village’s five Seekers, those responsible for protecting the Wild Realm—a magical region covering the far reaches of their island. That way, she can see the Realm’s marvels and retrieve the rare flowers that alleviate her younger sister’s coughing fits. When the Seekers announce a competition to replace a retiring member, Bryn is sure she has a shot, but no girl has ever held the position, and she’s swiftly prohibited from training. Ari, another competitor, comes to her with a bargain: if she helps him take care of the baby dragon he hatched, he’ll help her train. Even though only one can be Seeker, they soon become fast friends, which helps when the competition takes an unexpectedly dangerous turn. With this engaging series opener, Ott (Rules for Thieves) uses her fantastical setting to challenge the idea of restrictive gender roles—not only does Bryn wish to become the first female Seeker, Ari, an empath, is looked down upon by those with more physical talents. Sympathetic characters, clear stakes, and an interesting social structure offer layers to this enjoyable fantasy. Ages 8–12. Agent: Victoria Doherty Munro, Writers House. (July)

– Publishers Weekly, May 25, 2020

More books from this author: Alexandra Ott