When we heard that Ryan La Sala’s debut novel was marketed as Inception meets The Magicians, we couldn’t help but get excited. Reverie, coming in January 2020 from Sourcebooks Fire, follows a gay teenager with amnesia who is haunted by a drag queen sorceress. Promising a genre-blending, magic-filled thriller, it sounds perfect for fans of Young Adult authors like Zoraida Córdova and Daniel José Older.
Excited? Here’s the description from the publisher:
All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since the accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different… reality itself seems different.
So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is in accident, and only he can stop their town from unraveling.
Sounds amazing, right? You don’t have to take our word for it, because you can read an exclusive excerpt of the novel below! You can also get the first look at the cover designed Leo Nickolls:
Read on, and check out La Sala’s website to learn more ahead of the January 2020 release. You can pre-order the novel here.
Chapter 1: Smithereens
This is where it happened. This is where they found Kane’s body.
It was on the verge of September, and the Housatonic River was swollen with late summer’s weeping. Kane stood among the bishop’s-weed frothing at the bank, trying to imagine what it’d been like the night of the accident. In his mind, being pulled from the river would have been violent. Moonlight sliced to confetti on the black, broken water as paramedics wrenched him up. But this river, during the day, seemed incapable of violence. It was too slow. Just gold water marbled with pollen, kissing his bare legs, and a fleet of silvery fish slowly wreathing his ankles.
Kane wondered if the fish remembered that night. He had the urge to ask them. He remembered none of the accident himself. All that he knew, he’d learned in the five days since waking up in the hospital.
Something struck his head. A pinecone. It bobbed into the water and the silvery fish vanished.
“Stop daydreaming and help me.”
Kane blinked, turning to Sophia. She stood on the bank where the weeds pressed up through crumbling pavement. He considered ignoring her, but she had several more pinecones and was a good shot. Actually, Sophia was a good everything. Just one of those people. Kane normally resented people like that, but she was his younger sister. He adored her. And he was intimidated by her, just a little. Most people were. That’s why he’d brought her along today.
“I wasn’t daydreaming,” Kane said. “I was thinking.”
Sophia whipped another pinecone at him, and he batted it away. “I know that look. You were thinking sad and poetic thoughts about yourself.”
Kane suppressed a smile. “I was not.”
“You were. Remember anything?”
He shrugged. “Not really.”
“Well, I hate to distract you from your moping, but you’re in full sight of the bridge. Anyone driving by could see you.” She was right. The bridge, huge and elegant, hung in the shimmering summer air like a spider’s web. “And we have to meet mom and dad at the police station in like…” She checked her phone. “Forty-eight minutes. And we’re trespassing. And you’re actually trespassing again if you count—”
“I know.” Kane let irritation color his voice. “You didn’t have to come. You know that, right?”
“Well excuse me for trying to help my brother in his time of crisis.”
“I’m not in crisis. I’m just…”
Kane winced. Confused. When he first woke up in the hospital after the accident, when he first realized he was in trouble, it seemed like a good idea to hide behind that word until he could figure out what was going on. The police were asking questions, and the few memories he had from the accident barely made sense. He was confused. But now the word felt like a friend he couldn’t un-make, always popping up to embarrass him. Discredit him.
“I’m not confused,” Kane said. “I’m just trying to clear my name.”
Sophia rubbed a smudge of sap on her palm. “Well, you’re doing a shitty job.”
She was right. He had been acting pretty terrible since the accident. Avoidant. Gloomy. Brittle. But these were things Kane had always been. It was just that now people were looking to him for explanations. They wanted answers, or at least to see a brave survivor of something terrible. Instead they saw Kane: avoidant, gloomy, brittle. No one liked it.
“I heard mom say that Detective Thistler is doing a psych evaluation with you today,” said Sophia. “They’re going to ask you a lot of questions, Kane.”
“They’ve already asked me a lot of questions, Sophia.”
“You might consider attempting a few answers this time. For instance: why?”
Sophia glared at him. “Why did you drive a car into a historical site?”
Staring across the lot at the charred remains of the old mill, Kane’s mind went blank. He’d spent every minute since waking up wondering the same thing.
Sophia went on. “Mom said the police won’t press charges while you’re being evaluated, but I heard that the county might prosecute.”
The whole county? Everyone, all at once? Kane imagined the entire population of East Amity, Connecticut, piled into a jury box. It made him smile.
Another pinecone struck his shoulder. He trudged back to the bank, letting his feet dry on the baking pavement as Sophia took pictures of the bridge. Then his feet were dry, and he couldn’t stall any longer.
“All right, let’s make this quick,” he said as pulled on his boots. “I just need to poke around the crash site. Keep taking pictures, okay?”
“Are you sure it’s safe to go in there?”
They stared at the mill.
Kane shrugged. It definitely wasn’t safe.
Half imploded, the mill sat quarantined behind a web of caution tape. Behind it, rising through the young birch forest, stood the rest of the old industrial complex: a maze of abandoned factories and warehouses that represented the height of East Amity’s manufacturing era. They went on for miles, proud and forever, slowly decaying beneath neglect as the forest grew up under them. This place was called the Cobalt Complex. This building before them—the old mill that looked onto the river—was the crash site. The crime scene. The cherished bit of Connecticut history Kane had rammed a Volvo into, which then exploded, one week ago.
He didn’t even think cars really exploded on impact. That was movie stuff. Yet the mill, and everything within fifty feet of it, was scorched.
Kane laced up his brown leather boots. The old mill was a symbol of East Amity, appearing in the watercolor postcards sold all around town. Kane imagined the watercolor version of his crash. The dotted glass on the pavement. The inferno rendered in pale, tasteful shades of apricot. Greasy smoke eddying upwards in violent, lovely twists against the restrained lavender of sunrise. Very pretty. Very New England.
“Come on, Kane, focus,” said Sophia as she dragged him under the tape.
No new memories came to him in the chilled shade of the mill. Instead came an itch, the sort that simmers through your veins. An instinct. It had been crawling beneath Kane’s skin since they got here. It said: You should not have come back.
Kane stood his ground. He needed answers, and he needed them now.
Sophia sighed. She prodded a blackened beam.
“Try harder,” she suggested. “Use your imagination.”
Kane willed himself calm. He tested his weight on the sloping staircase. The fifth step let out a groan, but it held. “I think that using my imagination is the opposite of what I should be doing.”
“You make stuff up all the time.”
“Yeah, but in this case it might be illegal.”
Sophia drifted farther into the inky interior while Kane climbed to the second floor. From below she called, “You never know. Maybe you’re suppressing your memories subconsciously.”
Kane thought this was a very clever way of making him feel guilty for not being able to produce an explanation. Sophia continued: “Maybe it’ll only manifest through, like, art or something. You should try drawing, or painting, or—” There was a small crash that awoke a brood of bats somewhere in the rafters. Sophia appeared at the top of the steps. The bats settled. “Maybe you should decoupage something. You used to decoupage a lot of things.”
“You think delivering my testimony as a kitschy craft project is going to convince a judge that I’m not insane?”
“Sophia, that is the gayest thing I have ever heard.”
Like a sudden spark, the familiar joke flared between them. In unison, the siblings repeated their favorite refrain: “Just gay enough to work!”
They laughed, and for a second, Kane wasn’t full of dread.
Sophia hopped over a mess of broken bottles to join Kane on a crumbling sill that overlooked the river. They sat in silence in the mill’s stagnant air until Sophia hugged his shoulder. This surprised him; she hated hugs.
“Hey,” Sophia murmured. “We’re all just glad that you’re okay. That’s what matters most. We should be grateful for just that.”
A stitch of guilt pulled tighter in Kane’s chest. He agreed that being okay was what mattered most. He just didn’t agree that okay was what he was.
“Plus,” Sophie said, “your scars are gonna look awesome.”
Kane smiled. His fingers itched to feel the tidy network of burns that wrapped like a crown around the back of his head, from temple to temple. They perplexed the doctors. They were shallow and would heal quickly, but sometimes at night they prickled with heat, turning his dreams to smoke and ash.
A gust dragged across the river, hit the shore, and floundered against the hemlocks and birch.
“Have you talked to anyone from school?” Sophia asked.
“Homeroom sent a card. The librarians sent flowers.”
“What about friends?”
“Lucia sent a note.”
“Lucia is a lunch lady, Kane.”
Kane chewed the soft flesh of his cheek. “I know that.”
“I know you know that. But what about people in your grade?”
“Umm…” Kane felt her consideration as a physical thing. “Homeroom sent a card.”
Sophia let this go, and he was thankful for it. In the past, Sophia had taken it upon herself to conjure him a social life, which she assured him would do wonders for his self-esteem. Wonders! always said with jazz hands. It was a well-intentioned hobby of Sophia’s but had always deeply embarrassed Kane, who did not think he had low self-esteem to begin with. He just wasn’t like Sophia, who needed to befriend everyone and everything. No, Kane liked to think of himself as Discerning! with jazz hands.
And besides, if he truly wanted to, Kane could talk to people. But why risk it? It felt unnatural. It was better to resign himself to safer companions: dogs, plants, books, and Lucia the lunch lady, who gave him extra fries on Pizza Tuesdays.
Something poked Kane’s cheek. He swatted Sophia away. “What?”
“I said that I overheard Dad on the phone with the police today. They said that your accident…wasn’t looking like an accident. That the whole thing seemed deliberate and thought out, and they wondered if maybe you were trying to…”
The cicadas simmered through the silence, an invisible crowd gossiping around them. Kane had to be careful with his words now. Sophia had asked a question without asking it.
“I wasn’t trying to kill myself,” he said.
“How can you know that if you say you can’t remember that night, or the months leading up to it?”
Kane could feel each jagged edge of denial in his throat. He tried to force it up but it cut and clawed. He just knew.
“Kane, two days is a long time to go without calling. And stealing Dad’s car? That’s larceny. And I know you don’t want to talk about it, but if you don’t clear you psych evaluation, Mom says that you might have to go live—”
“Stop it,” Kane said, harsh now. “Look, I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you more. I wish I knew where I was, or what I was doing.”
In a small voice Sophia said, “Or who you were with.”
“Well, someone must have pulled you out of this burning building and then helped you to the river. They should have checked your body for fingerprints.”
Of everything, this unsettled Kane the most, as though he could feel the grip of ghosts upon his flesh. He felt the way the mill looked: history, in smithereens, haunted with the sort of shadows that squirm.
“Not that you can leave prints on a body,” Sophia said. “I checked.”
A familiar sense bristled over Kane. Sophia had always thought of him as a bit of project. Had she made investigating the accident her latest focus? Did she know more about this than she was letting on?
“What else do you know?”
Kane might have noticed Sophia look away too quick if he wasn’t watching a shadow behind her break away from the wall and scamper, huge and spider-like, across a doorway.
“Something’s in here,” he whispered.
He pulled her beneath the sill and along the wall, his eyes never leaving the doorway. “Something’s in here,” he whispered. “I saw something move.”
“Kane relax, it’s probably a bat.”
Just then they both heard a creak on the stairs—the cry of the fifth step. Whoever it was must have known they’d given up their position. The mill shook as something large and fast thundered up the stairs and burst onto the second floor.
Kane and Sophia dashed into the closest room—one with a vaulted ceiling blackened by soot, a floor rotted through, and a heavy metal door. Kane swung it shut and slammed down the latch a moment before something rammed into the other side. The hinges screamed, but the latch held. Again and again something tried to muscle through, the ceiling releasing clots of dust each impact. Then came the awful sound of metal scraping metal. A key, maybe? Or claws?
“There!” Sophia pulled Kane toward a window leading onto a roof so badly damaged it looked ready to cave in. Together they picked across sagging beams and shimmied under them. Inside the building, the shadows boiled—unreal, massive shapes that scuttled through the darkness below, tracking them.
He caught Sophia’s wrist just as her leg plunged through a rotted portion of the roof, but their weight was too much. In a plume of dust and decay, the roof tilted beneath them, throwing them down so hard Kane’s teeth snapped together.
They were…outside? They’d tumbled over the mill’s back edge. Around them shivered desiccated ferns bathed in thick yellow light. Behind them the structure continued to shake ominously. Kane’s hand found Sophia and they ran, crashing through the forest of scorched saplings as a portion of the mill collapsed completely. Splinters showered their backs.
Kane threw a glance over his shoulder and saw a towering shadow printed upon the rolling cloud of dust and ash, so tall it could have been a tree. But then it turned and, finding them, lunged after.
Kane focused only on keeping up with Sophia as they shot into the Cobalt Complex’s sprawling maze of ancient buildings, pitted roads, and equipment overgrown with ivy, to the edges where rotten fences held back the forest. They’d hidden Sophia’s car in the neighborhood that backed up against the mill, behind a wall of mountain laurel.
“Well shit,” Sophia said as she flung herself into the driver’s side. She gulped breaths. “That was—”
The sound of sirens cut into Kane with the finality of a guillotine as a police cruiser rolled out of the shade, stopping before their idling car. Sophia let lose an elaborate string of bad words.
“Mr. Montgomery, we thought it might be you,” said one. Kane couldn’t even look her in the eye. “Step out of the car, please.”
Together, they scooted from the car. Sophia shook off her shock first. “You don’t understand. We were just walking along the path when this thing came out of nowhere and chased us. This massive animal…”
Sophia’s voice fizzled out, leaving Kane to wonder if she’d seen the shadow that chased them. One officer said something into their radio. The other turned to Kane. “The Cobalt Complex is a crime scene, Mr. Montgomery.”
Kane’s mouth was dry. He nodded.
“And private property.”
“That you’ve trespassed on once already.”
The world went wobbly beneath him. He grabbed the car’s hood to keep from falling. What the hell were those things? There was no way to describe them and no point in doing so. The police wouldn’t believe any of it. They would think Kane had caused the damage to the mill himself. Again.
“It was my idea,” Sophia blurted. “It was, I swear. I asked to come here. I wanted to see…to see it all for myself. The mill. Kane didn’t even want to come. I made him come back. Please don’t get him in more trouble.”
The officers eyed Sophia incredulously. Her hair, the color of cocoa powder, had come unbraided and floated around her jaw, a few strands caught in glistening spit at the edge of her frown. She had on her Pemberton uniform—the all-girls private school in town, which was an honorable and mysterious institution that gave all the locals a superstitious pause—but it was a mess from their run. Still, the cops paused.
One nodded toward Kane. “Detective Thistler let us know you’ve got an appointment with him and your parents this afternoon.”
“Yeah,” Kane said. “We were on our way. We’ll head over right now, I promise.”
Everyone waited to see if a consequence would happen, and it did. The same officer rounded the cruiser and popped open the backdoor. “Miss, you head home. Kane, grab your stuff. You’re coming with us.”