By David Canfield
March 04, 2019 at 02:00 PM EST
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Chris Colfer is launching a new series set in his best-selling Land of Stories universe.

EW has an exclusive preview of the award-winning author’s next middle-grade book, A Tale of Magic…, which centers on Brystal Evergreen, a young girl destined for greatness, but forced to survive the oppressive Southern Kingdom. Her only escape is books, but it’s illegal for women to read in her country, and working as a maid at the local library is the only way to access them. She eventually finds a book about magic that changes her life forever — and discovers she herself is capable of magic. The only problem: Magic is despised and outlawed, and Brystal is convicted for her crimes.

“There are children in this country who think the flag is supposed to be at half mast, so needless to say, it’s an interesting time to be a middle grade author,” Colfer tells EW. “I wanted to write a book that, not only takes my young readers on a whimsical adventure, but also helps them cope with our challenging and ever-changing reality. But most importantly, I wanted to tell a story that teaches children to ‘never surrender your joy or your ambition to the times you live in.'”

Colfer launched his Land of Stories universe with the novel The Wishing Spell, which became a no. 1 New York Times best-seller in 2012, and has found consistent success as an author in the years since. “The success and reaction to The Land of Stories series has been the greatest privilege of my life,” he says. “A little girl recently wrote to me and threatened ‘You better write another book series or else.’ So, for my own safety, I’m happy to oblige her. Although A Tale of Magic… acts as a prequel to The Land of Stories series, it’s an original story I hope all readers will enjoy.”

Colfer adds of the cover, which EW can exclusively reveal below, “Brandon Dorman’s incredible artwork is the best “first glimpse” an author could ask for.”

Below you can check out the gorgeous cover as well as a fun clip detailing its package. EW can also debut an excerpt from A Tale of Magic…, which introduces the mysterious Madame Weatherberry, who saves Brystal and takes her to an Academy of Magic to teach her to become a fairy — only to be suddenly called away on suspicious matters.

A Tale of Magic… publishes Oct. 1 and is available for pre-order.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Excerpt from A Tale of Magic…, by Chris Colfer

King Champion tensed his brow and glanced at Madame Weatherberry as if she were speaking a foreign language. “Witchcraft?” he mocked. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Then allow me to explain,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Witchcraft is a ghastly and destructive practice. It stems from a dark desire to deceive and disrupt. Only people with wicked hearts are capable of witchcraft, and believe me, they deserve whatever fate they bring upon themselves. But magic is something else entirely. At its core, magic is a pure and positive art form. It’s meant to help and heal those in need and can only come from those with goodness in their hearts.”

The king sank into his chair and held his head, dizzy with confusion.

“Oh dear, I’ve overwhelmed you,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Let me simplify it for you, then. Magic is good, magic is good, magic is good. Witchcraft is bad, witchcraft is bad, witchcraft is—

“Don’t patronize me, woman—I heard you!” the king griped. “You’re saying magic is not the same as witchcraft.”

“Correct,” Madame Weatherberry said with an encouraging nod. “Apples and oranges.”

“So, if not witches, what do you call people who practice magic?”

Madame Weatherberry held her head high with pride. “We call ourselves fairies, sir.”

Fairies?” the king asked.

“Yes, fairies,” she repeated. “Now do you understand my desire to enlighten your perspective? The world’s issue isn’t with fairies who practice magic, it’s with witches who commit witchcraft. But tragically, we’ve been grouped together and condemned as one and the same for centuries. Fortunately, with my guidance and your influence, we are more than capable of rectifying it.”

“I’m afraid I disagree,” the king said.

“I beg your pardon?” Madame Weatherberry replied.

“One man may steal because of greed, and another may steal for survival, but they’re both thieves—it doesn’t matter if one has goodness in his heart.”

“But, sir, I thought I made it perfectly clear that witchcraft is the crime, not magic.”

“Yes, but both have been considered sinful since the beginning of time,” Champion went on. “Do you know how difficult it is to redefine something for society? It took me decades to convince my kingdom that potatoes aren’t poisonous—and people still avoid them in the markets!”

Madame Weatherberry shook her head in disbelief. “Are you comparing an innocent race of people to potatoes, sir?”

“I understand your objective, Madame, but the world isn’t ready for it—heck, I’m not ready for it! If you want to save the fairies from unfair punishment, then I suggest you teach them to keep quiet and resist the urge to use magic! That would be far easier than convincing a stubborn world to change its ways.”

“Resist the urge? Sir, you can’t be serious!”

“Why not? Normal people live above temptation every day.”

“Because you’re implying magic comes with an off switch—like it’s some sort of choice.”

“Of course magic is a choice!”

NO! IT! IS! NOOOOT!

For the first time since their interaction began, Madame Weatherberry’s pleasant temperament changed. A shard of deep-seated anger pierced through her cheery disposition, and her face fell into a stony, intimidating glare. It was as if Champion were facing a different woman altogether—a woman who should be feared.

“Magic is not a choice,” Madame Weatherberry said sharply. “Ignorance is a choice. Hatred is a choice. Violence is a choice. But someone’s existence is never a choice, or a fault, and it’s certainly not a crime. You would be wise to educate yourself.”

Champion was too afraid to say another word. It may have been his imagination, but the king could have sworn the storm outside intensified as Madame Weatherberry’s temper rose. The fairy closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and calmed herself before continuing their discussion.

“Perhaps we should give His Majesty a demonstration,” Madame Weatherberry suggested. “Tangerina? Skylene? Will you please show King Champion why magic isn’t a choice?”

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