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Something Close to Magic



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About The Book

A baker’s apprentice reluctantly embarks on an adventure full of magic, new friendships, and a prince in distress in this “appealingly breezy” (Kirkus Reviews) and “deftly written” (School Library Journal, starred review) young adult fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Margaret Rogerson and Gail Carson Levine.

It’s not all sugar and spice at Basil’s Bakery, where seventeen-year-old Aurelie is an overworked, underappreciated apprentice. Still, the job offers stability, which no-nonsense Aurelie values highly, so she keeps her head down and doesn’t dare to dream big—until a stranger walks in and hands her a set of Seeking stones. In a country where Seeking was old-fashioned even before magic went out of style, it’s a rare skill, but Aurelie has it.

The stranger, who turns out to be a remarkably bothersome bounty hunter named Iliana, asks for Aurelie’s help rescuing someone from the dangerous Underwood—which sounds suspiciously like an adventure. When the someone turns out to be Prince Hapless, the charming-but-aptly-named prince, Aurelie’s careful life is upended. Suddenly, she finds herself on a quest filled with magic portals, a troll older than many trees (and a few rocks), and dangerous palace intrigue.

Even more dangerous are the feelings she’s starting to have for Hapless. The more time Aurelie spends with him, the less she can stand the thought of going back to her solitary but dependable life at the bakery. Must she choose between losing her apprenticeship—or her heart?


Chapter One One
It was midmorning when a stranger pushed through the door of Basil’s Bakery.

The baker’s apprentice, Aurelie, was in the midst of a conversation with a man who was seeking assurance that the cinnamon loaf contained quite enough—but not too much—cinnamon. “Excess cinnamon,” he said gravely, as if it were some fatal error, “irreparably unbalances the gustatory experience.”

It was a snort that drew Aurelie’s attention to the stranger, who was now standing nearby.

Over the course of her three years as an apprentice, Aurelie had grown familiar with the faces of many of the people in the village where Basil’s lay, just north of the Underwood. But she had never seen this particular girl before.

The stranger was dark eyed, raven haired, and beautiful, certainly, but there was sharpness to it—a beauty with teeth. She wore a traveling coat of black velvet with a matching black dress underneath, a small motif of leaves stitched in gold thread all across it. Even her gloves matched, embroidered in the same fashion. It gave Aurelie pause to see someone in the village dressed so fine, but maybe she was the daughter of a merchant or a particularly prosperous tradesman. The New Rich, Mrs. Basil liked to say. Some people think more of them than they do of the nobility, you know.

And why is that? Aurelie was duty bound to respond.

Mrs. Basil looked at her squarely. They’ve earned their wealth, she replied, and failed to see the irony in it.

The stranger smiled, and even her smile had an edge to it. “Pardon me,” she said. “I was just thinking that I would much more readily trust a baker to handle my gustatory experience than a”—she assessed the man for a moment—“moderately successful apothecary. Though not nearly as successful as he boasts.”

“Why, I—”

“Would like the cinnamon loaf? An excellent choice. Here, Baker.” The stranger moved forward and handed Aurelie several coins. Aurelie hurriedly packaged the cinnamon loaf, and the stranger handed it to the man.

“The impertinence—” he blustered.

“Is astounding, yes.” She fixed the man with an unwavering stare. “Goodbye.”

With a huff and a muttered curse, the man left.

Aurelie was bewildered and awed in equal measure.

The stranger cast her a glance. “I’m sorry, were you hoping to continue that conversation?” Before Aurelie could reply, she went on. “I thought not. Three morning buns, please.”

Aurelie went to fetch the buns. She got the curious feeling that the stranger was watching her, but when she snuck a quick look back, the girl’s eyes were fixed on the case filled with cakes and patisserie.

When Aurelie returned, the stranger rested one arm on the counter and leaned toward her almost as if they were friends, in on some secret together.

“Do you think you could assist me further?”

“Of course, miss. What else will you have?”

“I need something that’s not in the case.”

“We can take a special order, but it may be several days, depending on—”

“I need your help in finding someone.”


“I know there are ways. Ones that most Commonfolk aren’t privy to.”

Aurelie paused for just a moment before wrapping the buns in paper and passing them across the counter. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”

The stranger extended one gloved hand. Aurelie reached out, expecting payment for the buns, but instead, five smooth, round stones fell into her palm.

Seeking stones.

“Something tells me you know just what to do with these,” said the stranger.

The stones felt warm in Aurelie’s hand. She couldn’t be sure if it was heat transferred from the stranger’s grasp or from the hum of magic flaring inside Aurelie, surging up to meet them.

Aurelie swallowed, and her voice sounded strange to her own ears, oddly far away. “How do you know that?”

The stranger’s eyes shone. “I know everything.”

About The Author

Photograph by Jing Nie

Emma Mills is the author of several young adult novels, including Foolish Hearts, First & Then, and Something Close to Magic. When she is not writing, Emma can be found editing scientific manuscripts, tending to her large collection of succulents, and deep diving into various fandoms. Emma lives in St. Louis with her dog Teddy, who is best described as a big personality in a tiny package. You can find Emma on X (previously known as Twitter) and Instagram (@Elmify) or at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (June 13, 2023)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665926911
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

"This novel has in-depth character development with a fantasy world that comes alive as the story progresses. . . Strongly recommended for Dungeon & Dragons enthusiasts. With a unique world, characters to root for, and a deftly written plot, this book is highly ­recommended."

School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

"Nuanced, profound scenes mingle with lighter, humorous moments, making the characters feel real and their growth believable. . . Mills’ mastery of language is on full display here, with fun, clever prose and dialogue that are bound to make readers laugh out loud. . . Classic fairy-tale settings, compelling mysteries and a charismatic cast of characters make Something Close to Magic an entertaining, fast-paced read, and its ending strikes the perfect balance between satisfaction and the promise of more adventures. Readers will be reminded of The Princess Bride."


"Teens who relish light, character-driven stories will enjoy this fantasy . . . The dialogue is filled with dry repartee that is also highlighted in a particularly well-crafted epistolary interlude showcasing the growing feelings, despite their social class differences, between Aurelie and the prince. . . This appealingly breezy novel will whet readers’ appetites for magic and adventure."

Kirkus Reviews

Awards and Honors

  • High School Sequoyah Book award Master List (OK)

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