One year ago, we dropped you directly into a savage, twisted version of Oz with an exciting advance peek at Danielle Paige's novel, "Dorothy Must Die."
Now, you can soar away from an epic battle between the mad, despotic Dorothy and plucky heroine Amy Gumm with the first chapter of the thrilling sequel, "The Wicked Will Rise." Blood has been spilled, a fire has been set, and a certain Tin Man has just lost a fairly essential body part... and that's only the beginning.
Here's what the author had to say about this next installment of Amy's adventures in Oz:
"The end of book one marked a huge shift for Amy," Paige told MTV News via email. "She didn't know what she was capable of, and now that she has made a kill we will see how that changes her. Amy’s going to explore her magic, and the darkness that comes with it. As alliances and power shifts in Wicked Will Rise, she'll have to decide who is good and who is wicked all over again, and who to trust, including herself."
And in "The Wicked Will Rise," Paige wastes no time in delivering the first brutal test of Amy's courage.
"At the start of the book, Amy's literally up in the air, being carried away from an epic battle with Dorothy and the Tinman by the Wingless. She has the TinMan's blood on her hands from battle, and she is being taken to a safe place... but she won't stay safe for long."
Are you ready to return to the twisted, terrible Land of Oz? "The Wicked Will Rise" is in bookstores March 31, but you can get an exclusive peek at its fiery beginnings right here.
Read on for our EXCLUSIVE reveal of Chapter One! (Be sure to put on your Literary Head, first.)
The Emerald City was burning.
As I zoomed away from the smoking chaos and into the moonlit night, carried in the furry, twig-like arms of a monkey, the skyline crackled over my shoulder in a fury of glitter and flames. It looked like a little kid’s birthday party gone horribly wrong, the formerly majestic towers and skyscrapers collapsing in on themselves in confetti-bursts of jewel and glass. It could have been beautiful, except for the dense, black mushroom cloud of smoke that hovered ominously over the skyline.
I was a long-ass way from Kansas.
My feelings about that might surprise you. Unlike some people, I had never been particularly eager to go back there. When it comes to clichés, there’s one that I’m starting to believe might actually be worth repeating. You can’t go home again.
Exhibit A: Dorothy. She tried to go home twice, and see how that turned out?
Exhibit B: the Wizard. He couldn’t even manage to make it home once. (Okay, maybe that had something to do with the fact that he was traveling in a janky old hot air balloon, but still.)
Then there’s me, Amy Gumm, trailer trash nobody from Flat Hill, Kansas. While I liked to think of myself as about as different as you could get from people like them, it was hard to ignore that we had certain things in common.
For one thing, we had all been carried here from the real world by some unknown force, and while I don’t think anyone had yet figured out what that force was, I had my own theories about why we were the ones who had been chosen.
It’s just a theory, remember. Nothing proven, or even close. But I sometimes wondered if the thing that linked me, Dorothy, and the Wizard was the fact that, back where we’d come from, none of us had ever fit in. Whether we knew it or not. Maybe all three of us had been born in a place we didn’t belong to, and had been waiting to be found by a home that we could really call our own.
Look, I can’t speak for anyone except myself. I don’t even know the first thing about the Wizard, and only a little more about Dorothy. So maybe I’m wrong. It’s just something I’ve thought about. But here’s the thing: once you’ve traveled to the dark side of the rainbow, you’ve reached the end of the line. If you can’t make Oz home, you’re pretty much out of luck.
As far as homes went, Oz wasn’t exactly the most hospitable, but at least I could call it mine. And now it was burning.
My rescuer was Ollie, the monkey I’d once saved from Dorothy’s clutches. Flying at our side, his sister Maude was carrying my unlikely companion: Ozma, Oz’s mystery princess with mush for brains, whose many secrets were only now starting to become clear to me.
Even as we sped into the clouds, the ground blurring below us, I was puzzling out the details of how we were flying at all. You’ve heard of winged monkeys, right? Well, Maude and Ollie were not exactly those—or at least they weren’t supposed to be. Not anymore. Although they’d been born with wings, they had both had them removed.
Ollie had cut his own wings off, to free himself from Dorothy’s enslavement. As for Maude—I still shuddered when I thought about how she had lost hers. I hadn’t just seen it happen. I had been the one to do it, sawing them from her back myself using only a small dagger.
Now this was a new Oz, not the pleasant, magical kingdom you’ve heard about. That was a long time ago; long before I’d shown up. In Dorothy’s Oz, you did what you had to do. You made hard choices. You traded flight for freedom, if you had to, even if it meant losing a part of yourself. Sometimes, in Dorothy’s Oz, you had to get your hands a little bloodied. Okay, maybe a lot bloodied.
But even in Dorothy’s Oz, there was still magic, which meant that what was removed could sometimes be replaced when you had the right spell, which was how the monkeys were now flying with paper wings that were buzzing like dragonflies’, vibrating so fast they were just a blur.
The wings didn’t look like much. They were just two pairs of glued-together newsprint and scraps that barely looked like they should be able to support the weight of Ollie and Maude themselves, much less a sixteen-year-old girl like me. But here we were, a thousand feet above the ground and going higher by the second. That was magic for you.
Yes I know it all sounds completely insane. To me, these days, it was just life. It’s funny how quickly you adjust to insanity.
And if you think all that’s insane, try this on for size: in the past several hours, I had tried (and failed) to assassinate Dorothy Gale, the Crown Royal Bitch of the Magical Land of Oz. I’d cut the Tin Woodman open and ripped out his heart with my bare hands. It was still beating with a mechanical ticktock in the bag I had strapped across the bodice of my torn, bloody servant’s costume, where I’d stuffed it for safekeeping.
I had done all that. I was still getting used to it. But there was one thing I knew for sure that I hadn’t done. I hadn’t set the city on fire.
But someone sure had, and now, as I watched the flaming city disappear behind me, I thought I knew who. I suddenly understood that everything I’d been doing back in the palace had made me only a small piece in a much more complicated machine. While I hid in the palace, the Emerald City had been under attack by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, the secret cell of terrorist witches for whom I had become a trained operative. While I had been infiltrating the palace ball, disguised as a servant as I tried to kill Dorothy, they had been laying the city to waste.
I could only trust that they had their reasons. In a world turned upside down like this, where sweet little Dorothy Gale was evil, Glinda the Good was eviler, and most everyone else was either scheming or scrambling to stay out of the way, there were crazier things you could do than putting your trust in people who called themselves wicked.
Not that I really did trust the Order entirely. But trust was almost beside the point. I was one of them, whether I liked it or not. And while I trusted some of them more than others, I had left all of them back there.
The people who had saved me, who had taught me to fight; to be strong.
Nox. The person who had forced me to become who I was now.
They were still back there in the flames, and I was flying away. It was impossible not to feel like I had failed them. I’d had one job to do, and I’d messed it up completely.
“We can’t leave,” I said to Ollie for the fifth time since we’d left the ground, my voice hoarse and tired, my legs sore from where he was clutching me tight. I was gripping his fur even tighter. (I’m not afraid of a lot, but I’ve never liked heights. At least it was better going up than down.) “We have to go back to the city.”
I had to say it, even knowing it was no use—that there was no turning around.
“I told you,” Ollie said in the same weary tone of resigned finality he’d had the first four times.
“I can’t just let them die,” I pleaded. “They’re my friends.”
Once upon a time—how long ago had it even been?—Ollie had owed me his life. But there were lots of once upon a times in this place, and he and I were even now. I think.
“You can’t die,” Ollie said firmly. “And that’s what will happen if we go back there. You’ll die. They’ll die. Oz will die. This is the only way.”
“Your friends know how to protect themselves,” Maude said. “They’ll find us in the North where it’s safer.”
“North, south, east, and west,” Ozma burbled uselessly in a tuneless warble. “No such thing as backward.”
I sighed, ignoring her. I knew that Ollie and Maude were right. But my last glimpse of Nox back in the city kept flashing through my mind: his dark, always-messy hair, his broad shoulders and skinny, sinewy arms. The determined tilt of his jaw, and that look of almost arrogant pride. The anger that was always coiled deep in his chest finally ready to burst out and strike down everything that stood in his way, all of it to save Oz, the home that he loved.
No, not just that. To save me, too.
I had learned so much from him. He’d taught me who I was. Now I might not ever see him again, and there was nothing I could do about it.
“Where are we going?” I asked flatly. Now the burning city was just a tiny orange dot in the vast blackness below us, and then it was gone as if it had never existed.
“To the North,” Ollie grunted. “To the Queendom of the Wingless Ones. Now don’t you think you should try to get some rest?”
I didn’t really blame him for not wanting to talk. It had been a long and confusing night. But I had so many questions that I barely knew where to start.
Among the biggest of all of those questions was Ozma. She looked perfectly comfortable, cradled in Maude’s arms where she was singing a little song to herself, the only one who didn’t seem bothered by anything that had happened tonight. As a gust of cool air hit us and carried us sailing higher into the sky, her hair whipped around her face and she gave a squeal of delight, like this was just a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the county fair. Her green eyes were so bright that it almost seemed like they were lighting our way.
Ozma whooped, wriggling happily as Maude struggled to keep hold of her.
“Hold still, Your Highness,” Maude grumbled. “I can’t go dropping the daughter of Lurline, can I? Queen Lulu would never let me hear the end of it.”
Ozma frowned at the name. “I’m the queen,” she said with an edge of annoyance.
My eyes widened a little in surprise when she said it. Technically it was true—she was the queen. Technically. But Ozma had never quite been all there, and this was one of the first times I’d heard her say anything that actually sounded half-lucid. I studied her face, looking for signs of intelligent life, searching for any trace that remained of the kind, majestic ruler that I’d heard she’d been before Dorothy Gale of Kansas had worked her magic and wiped her brain.
As she blinked back at me, I only saw more puzzles. Who was she?
Was she the dim-witted queen who I’d seen back in the palace, wandering the halls like someone’s senile great-aunt?
Was she the powerful descendant of fairies who had supposedly once been the best ruler Oz had ever had?
Or was she really Pete, the emerald-eyed stranger who had been the first person to greet me when I’d crash-landed in Oz; the kind-faced gardener who had risked himself to keep me company when I’d been a captive in Dorothy’s dungeon; the mystery boy who, at the wave of the Wizard’s hand, had transformed before my eyes into the dizzy, birdbrained princess babbling at my side?
Pete had been all of those people, somehow, and I’d just discovered that he and Ozma were one and the same. What did it all mean?
“Pete?” I asked. I had to believe that he was still in there somewhere. But Ozma simply looked at me sadly.
“Come on,” I said. “If you can hear me, Pete, talk to me.”
Ozma furrowed her brow at the name, and for a second I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition flickering behind her eyes. Was that him in there trying to get out? “Pete,” I said again. “It’s me. Amy Gumm. Remember?”
“I once knew a girl named Amy,” Ozma said, her eyes glazing over again. With that, her jaw slackened back into an expression of placid boredom. She blinked twice and covered her perfect red mouth with a delicate hand, laughing at a private joke.
“There’s magic all around!” she said. “Oh my. The fairies know! I’m a fairy, too!”
I rolled my eyes and gave up, holding on for dear life as we flew higher and higher into the sky. When we passed through a thick cover of damp cotton-ball clouds, the black sky opened up like it was a stage and the curtain had just been raised.
The stars revealed themselves.
I already knew that the stars were different in Oz from the stars I’d known on earth, but from this vantage they were really different. They took my breath away.
For one thing, they weren’t a million miles away in space. They were right here and they were everywhere around us, close enough to reach out and touch. They were flat and five-pointed, none of them bigger than a dime; they reminded me of the glow-in-the-dark stickers I’d taped to the ceiling of my bedroom when I was just a little kid, before my dad had left and before my mom and I had moved to the trailer park. Almost, but not quite: these stars were brighter and sparklier and cold to the touch. Rather than being fixed in the sky, they were moving in a pattern that I couldn’t get a handle on—they were configuring and reconfiguring themselves into brand-new constellations right before my eyes.
“They never get old,” Maude said, sensing my awe. “As many times as you see them like this, they’re always a surprise. This is probably the last time I’ll see them,” she said sadly.
When I glanced into Ollie’s eyes, I saw that they were wide and filling with tears.
I looked at his paper wings, and wondered again how he had come to wear them. I know it sounds strange, but he had always been proud of being Wingless, proud that he’d been able to sacrifice the thing he loved most about himself in order to keep his freedom.
I decided to broach the subject as gently as I could. “Are you ever going to explain where exactly you got those?” I asked him.
“I told you,” he said tersely. “The Wizard gave them to us. They’re only temporary. But they were necessary.”
“But why?” I asked. “And—”
Ollie cut me off. “I promised I would protect you. I needed the wings to get the job done. And they’ll be gone soon enough.”
“But the Wizard . . .”
Ollie squeezed my arm. “Later,” he muttered. “For now, no talking. It’s good to fly again. It feels like being a kid. Just let me enjoy the stars.”
I don’t know if it was the mention of her name or what, but suddenly I felt a wriggling in my pocket and remembered what—who—I was still carrying: Star, my pet rat. Star had come here with me all the way from Kansas, and somehow, she’d stuck by me through everything. There were times—like when I’d been trapped in Dorothy’s horrible dungeon far below the Emerald Palace—when I was pretty sure I would have gone crazy without her to keep me company.
I pulled her out and placed her on my shoulder, feeling her sharp little claws sinking through the fabric of my dress and digging into my skin.
Back in Kansas, I’d hated Star, who technically, had started out as my mom’s rat, not mine. I’ve always heard that rats are supposed to secretly be really smart, but if that’s true, Star must have been playing hooky in rat school. Back home, she’d always been mean and stupid, interested in nothing except running on her squeaky wheel and biting my hand when I tried to feed her.
Being in Oz had changed her, though. In Oz, it was like she had grown a soul. She had become something like a friend—my oldest friend in the world, these days, and we were in this together. I sometimes wondered what she thought of everything that had happened to us.
I wish I could have talked to her about all of it. I mean, animals talk in Oz, right? But not her. Maybe she was just the strong, silent type.
Star snuggled up in the crook of my neck, and we coasted along silently into the night, the stars brushing against my cheeks like little snowflakes. The clouds stretched out in every direction like an infinite ocean. I dipped my fingers in and let them skim the surface, scooping up little cottony pieces just to watch them melt into nothing in my hand.
Up here, things were peaceful. We couldn’t see the burning city anymore. It was just us and the stars. I could almost imagine that Oz was still the place I’d read about in storybooks, the magical, happy land of Munchkins and talking animals, where witches were wicked but could be killed with nothing more than a little old-fashioned Kansas elbow grease and a bucket of mop water.
I was still imagining the Oz that could have been—the Oz I should have found—when I felt Star’s little body slacken against my neck. She was asleep.
That did it. You might think it would be hard to relax in a situation like this—and believe me, it was—but between the twinkling stars and the wind on my face, the swooping up and down as Ollie sailed into one current after another, and the comforting, steady feeling of my rat nestled in my shoulder, soon I was asleep, too. I didn’t dream.
When my eyes fluttered back open, the sun was a red wedge on the horizon. Morning was dawning, and all of Oz was spread out below us like an old crazy quilt. I’d never been in an airplane before, but somehow I had a feeling that this was better. We were flying low enough now to make out the details of the landscape—the purple swatches of farmland bordered by toy-sized villages; the winding, glittering rivers and the hazy, jagged mountains to the north.
In the distance was a dark, forbidding forest that stretched as far as I could see. I had a feeling that was where we were headed.
But as I watched the scenery below us, I noticed that something was happening down there. Something was changing. All across the grassy plain, I could see little pinpricks of color appearing and then spreading. When I looked more closely, I realized they were flowers, blossoming by the second. A few minutes later, the grassy plain wasn’t grassy at all—it was an enormous, ever-changing expanse of blossoms popping up in every color I could imagine. Some were big enough that I could count the petals from all the way up here.
The forest ahead of us was changing, too. At first, I thought that it was just because it was getting closer, but no. As we approached, it became easier to make out the fact that the trees were actually getting taller, twisting up into the sky, gnarling into each other, the branches wrapped in thorny, snakelike vines.
The trees had faces.
The wind howled, and I shivered before I realized that it wasn’t the wind at all. It was the trees. They were screaming.
“The Fighting Trees,” Maude said in surprise, noticing them at the same time that I did. “It can’t be . . .”
“What’s going on?” I asked, looking up at Ollie.
“Dorothy hated the Fighting Trees. Exterminating them was one of the first things she did when she rose to power,” Ollie said. “If they’ve returned . . .”
“But how?” Maude asked him sharply.
Ollie just shrugged and raised his eyebrows at me. “Did your friends do this?” he asked. I didn’t know. All I knew was that the world was rewriting itself before my eyes. Like a story being torn through with a red pen.
Whose story was it, I wondered?
Suddenly someone else spoke: “The magic is returning,” Ozma said, like she was explaining the simplest thing in the world. I did a double take. Had she really just spoken in a full, totally intelligible sentence? Ollie and Maude were both staring at her like she’d grown a third eye.
But before she could say anything else—before we could ask her any questions about what she’d said—Ollie screamed.
I looked up and saw what he was talking about: two dark, giant birds were speeding straight for us, beating huge black wings and shrieking in an earsplitting chorus.
So much for the cheery little birds that Oz was supposed to be home to.
“Amy!” Maude barked. “Can you . . .”
I was already on it, mumbling a spell under my breath, trying to gather up a fireball in my hands as Maude and Ollie wove and zigzagged to avoid our attackers.
It was no use. The birds were on top of us before I could summon more than the tiniest flame. They screeched madly and circled over our heads, their big black wings blocking out the sun, and then they dove for us.
All I saw was their fearsome, strangely human faces as they slashed their long, razor-like beaks into Maude’s and Ollie’s wings, ripping them from their backs with the ease of someone tearing open a bag of potato chips. Then, as quickly as they’d appeared, the birds were speeding off into the distance, their work done. The air was filled with shredded bits of paper that had held us aloft, scattering on the breeze.
For a moment we all hung in the air like Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon. Then we were falling.
The ground was getting closer by the second. Ozma whooped with joy. This was the second time in less than twenty-four hours that I’d found myself plummeting toward certain death, and I was getting kind of sick of it.
But I didn’t scream. Instead, I felt strangely calm in a way that I can’t really describe. It was like everything outside of me was happening in slow motion while my brain kept on moving at normal speed.
Once upon a time a girl named Amy Gumm had come to Oz on a tornado. She had fought hard; she had been loyal and fierce. She had done things she’d never in a million years imagined that she would.
She had learned magic; she had been a spy. She had lied, and stolen, and been thrown in the dungeon. She had killed, and she had not regretted it.
She had been both good and wicked and everything in between. She had been both at once, too, until it was hard for her to even tell the difference anymore.
That was my story. Well, I figured as I tumbled from the sky toward certain death, at least the ending will be killer.