The prolific author James Patterson (The President Is Missing) is back with another perilous adventure, and EW has an exclusive first look.
Written in collaboration with Emily Raymond, Sophia: Princess Among Beasts tells the story of Princess Sophia, a beloved ruler devoted to her people. Trouble arises when the princess, a voracious reader, is transported to a nightmarish realm populated by the terrifying beasts she read about as a child. To save her kingdom, Sophia must unlock an ancient secret as profound as life and death itself.
Patterson has shared the cover for Sophia exclusively with EW, as well as an excerpt, below. Sophia: Princess Among Beasts publishes July 15 and is available for pre-order.
Excerpt from Sophia: Princess Among Beasts, by James Patterson, with Emily Raymond
Jeanette, my lady in waiting, woke me by tickling my cheek with the feather end of my quill pen.
“Up late writing again, Princess?” she asked. “And what was it this time? A song? A poem? Another appeal to the King about how you should be taught to joust?”
I could tell this last idea amused her; it was another of my unladylike notions. But I didn’t answer. Instead I burrowed deeper into my feather bolster, pulling the ermine coverlet over my head entirely. I’d give my father’s crown for a few more minutes of sleep. I’d been dreaming something wonderful, full of longing, and already I couldn’t recall any of it.
“Sophia,” Jeanette said, her voice still gentle but firmer now. “It’s time to dress. Your father is in the Great Hall, and he expects you to join him. You know he does not like to be kept waiting.”
And so I emerged reluctantly from my bed and dug my bare toes into the sheepskin rug. It was a damp, chill October morning, and I shivered as a chambermaid poked the fire into roaring life. My attendants fluttered around the room, silent as moths. One brought fresh linens, and two others were dispatched to retrieve my gown and mantle. Jeanette herself would unlock the lacquer box to inspect the mound of glittering jewels, choosing which ones should encircle my neck or dangle from my ears. Today, as every day, I was to be scrubbed and dressed and pampered and styled.
“You’d think I lacked the arms to do this myself,” I muttered as Adelie, the youngest attendant, moved to take off my nightdress.
She suppressed a giggle. These indulgences were my royal right and my royal duty, and we both knew it. My father, the king, insisted on every possible luxury for me—except, of course, that of sleeping in.
I made my way toward the great wooden tub of steaming water, scented with verbena, sweet woodruff, and rosemary. The last rose petals of the season dotted the water’s surface, and sinking into the bath was like sliding back into summer’s heat.
I almost could have drifted back to sleep (as Jeanette suspected, I had stayed up half the night). But I had barely closed my eyes when the door to my chamber flung open, and a scullery maid stood gasping on the threshold, her face as white as milk.
“What are you doing here, Margery?” Jeanette demanded. “This is not your place.”
“He’s coming,” the girl whispered. “What they said—it’s true. His army—”
But Jeanette didn’t let her finish. She unceremoniously shoved the girl back into the hall and quickly shut the door. Then she turned back to the room and stared at all of us, and finally me, her expression now dark with worry. My attendants stood frozen, some with their hands to their mouths, and all with terror in their eyes. My heart began to pound in my chest.
Ares was advancing upon our realm.
For weeks there had been rumors: from the bitter north would come an army of ruthless knights, laying waste to all that they saw. No village was safe, and no force could turn them back. Ares’s men were giants, the people said, and Ares himself could not be slain.
Though I did not believe the fevered whispers of frightened villagers, the threat of any attack unsettled me.
“Back to work,” Jeanette said sharply. “It’s only kitchen gossip.”
Was it obvious to everyone that she was lying? It was to me.
Still, they obeyed her. Adelie, visibly trembling, began to pour a thin stream of sweet almond oil into the bath. When she splashed some onto the floor, I reached out and touched her rough hand. “You have nothing to fear from Ares’s army,” I said.
All movement in the room stopped again. Adelie’s older sister, Elodie, stared at me with huge, anxious eyes. Faye, the chambermaid who’d been stoking the fire, began to wail. Her cry was as sharp as a wounded animal’s. “Oh, Princess,” she sobbed, “they say Ares’s men are monsters. I don’t want to die!”
Her panic was contagious. Elodie and Adelie, too, began to weep. But ancient Ana, who had been making my bed, hauled the sobbing Faye upright, slapped a hand over her mouth, and hurried her out of the room. Then she poked her head back through the doorway andthreatened everyone else with the switch if they didn’t calm themselves immediately.
I looked then at wise, sturdy Jeanette. I had known her my whole life, and she was the closest thing I had to a mother. I wanted desperately for her to reassure us. But that wasn’t her task. It was mine.
I drew myself up from the bath. Adelie, remembering her place, hurried to wrap my shoulders in a soft cloth. “There’s no such thing as monsters,” I said. “Our enemy may be preparing his attack, but our armies will meet in the field. You are safe inside the castle, which is an unassailable weapon in itself.”
“Go on,” Jeanette urged. “Tell them.”
I made sure my voice didn’t betray my own fear. “The moat that surrounds Bandon Castle is our first defense,” I explained. “Men cannot swim with swords and shields, and any of Ares’s soldiers who attempt to cross the bridge will be shot by our marksmen.”
“Suppose some arrows miss?” Adelie whispered.
“Then the enemy comes to the gatehouse’s iron-plated door. Should they get through this—which they won’t—they find themselves in a narrow, winding passageway, where they will be pierced by arrows shot through slits in the walls.” I gave each of my attendants what I hoped was a comforting look. “And don’t forget the murder holes,” I added, “which allow our guards to pour torrents of boiling water down from the ceiling!”
“Excuse me, Your Highness,” Jeanette said, “perhaps before you go on.…” She held out a chemise of white linen, so fine spun it was almost transparent.
I looked down at my body: my breasts goose-fleshed, my legs slender and dripping wet. I had been giving a speech standing half naked in a tub!
I flushed. Propriety had never come naturally to me. “Forgive me,” I said, and were it not for Ares, I would have laughed outright. As it was, I stepped from the bath, holding up my arms so Jeanette could slip the chemise over my head.
“Now that you’re properly covered,” she said quietly, “you can continue to soothe their fears.”
“Suppose they survive the gatehouse’s murder holes,” I went on, as two attendants brought forth a high-waisted gown with trailing sleeves, cut from blue silk shot through with silver thread, and edged with lace as pale and delicate as spiderwebs. “They come to the outer castle wall, where more marksmen wait on the battlements above.”
The rustling silk pulled tighter against my ribs as Jeanette set to work on the buttons. It felt wrong to dress so exquisitely on a day such as this, but I knew my father’s rules. It didn’t matter what forces might be amassing against us; my duty was to look as pleasing as a painting.
Adelie brought me burgundy slippers embroidered with violets, and her sister waited with a velvet surcoat in a rich midnight blue—the shade my father liked for me to wear. Then Jeanette led me to little stool before a tall mirror. I sat down carefully, readying myself for what came next: five hundred strokes of a boar’s bristle brush through my long, dark hair. After that, Jeanette would arrange the shining waves into artful clusters, coils, and ringlets. I will admit, I did always like this part.
Elodie seemed to have gained some of her color back, thanks to my reassurances.
Adelie, on the other hand, said, “But what if—
Jeanette glanced up from her brushing to silence her with a look.
“There’s another thick wall beyond that,” I reminded them. I gestured to the ancient, leather-bound tome I kept on my bedside table, Myths: Demons and Monsters. “You are no more in danger from Ares than you are from the imaginary monsters in this book. You have my word.”
Elodie, smiling shyly now, came forward with an ornately etched tray of glittering bottles, each filled with the distilled essence of a flower. I pointed to the eau de rose in its ruby glass vial. I shivered as she touched the dropper to my neck, and the scent of roses—my mother’s favorite flower—filled the room.
As Jeanette finished plaiting my hair and fastened a necklace of pearls and sapphires around my throat, I thought of what lay inside that second wall, should it be breached: the broad castle yard, the gardens, the Great Hall.
But I did not mention this to the women and girls in my bedchamber.
I stood regal in my gown, armored by the splendor of silk and jewel. “Ares’s men are soldiers like ours,” I said. “They do not have the strength to breach Bandon’s walls, and they will not mount a siege with winter fast approaching. They will soon seek easier conquest elsewhere. We should not look upon the coming days as different from any other.”
Only Jeanette still looked uncomforted. She bowed her head. “May what you say be true, Princess,” she said quietly.