I’m hosting an excerpt from “Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales”, a fantasy novel by A.C. Birdsong on this Christmas holiday. Enjoy it!
The shop has the peculiar smell of discarded old books. Palmer, the only customer, waddles his way along the tight spaces, unobstructed. Arriving at the rear of the store, he scans the shelves and finds the section marked Automobiles. It’s well above his reach. He sighs and retrieves one of the step stools from another aisle. Setting it before the Automobiles section, he steps up gingerly, using the shelf to steady himself.
With his left hand still grasping the shelf, he uses the index finger of his right to pick out the books there. “Let’s see, Ford, Thunderbird,” he mumbles to himself. “Nineteen eighty-four, ah, here it is, 1985. Hmm. . .what’s this?” One book, much larger than the rest on the shelf, is placed with its binder toward the ceiling. Curious, Palmer tilts the volume to read the title. The book is so massive, it quickly tips and falls to the floor with a loud thump, producing a surprisingly large cloud of dust.
The bored clerk from the front of the shop speaks up. “Everything all right back there?” The tone of voice is flat and unconcerned.
“Yeah, no problem.” He takes the 1985 Thunderbird manual from the shelf and descends the step stool carefully. Sticking the repair book under his arm and bending forward, he picks up the fallen book with a grunt. “Sucker’s huge,” he says to himself.
The book is as large as an old dictionary, leather bound and with gold edging on its pages. The title on the front in embossed script reads The Tall, Thick Book of Tales. A large colorful plate depicting a knight battling a dragon takes up most of the front cover.
Palmer hefts the book and opens it, exposing thin pages like stiff parchment printed with fading black ink. The copyright page reveals it to be a 1925 fifth edition. Palmer flips through the pages, reading none of them and examining the overall condition of the book.
Steps sound along the wall of shelves. Palmer looks up. It’s the clerk. “Find the one you’re looking for?”
Palmer closes the book and rubs the cover. A look of excitement begins to shine in his eyes. “Yes,” he says slowly. He hands the book to the clerk. “Yes, I have. I’ll take this one.”
The clerk reads the title, looks at Palmer, looks back at the title, shrugs, turns, and carries the book to the front. Palmer starts to follow, pauses, and taking the repair manual from under his arm, looks at it, snorts, and tosses it onto the step stool. “To hell with that,” he says to himself, following the clerk. “I’m buying a new car.”
Author: A.C. Birdsong
On a small farm just outside of a tiny town lives Jacob, the last in a long line of Caretakers of Magic. His mission in life as the world’s only magician (in fact the only person who knows magic is possible) is to preserve magical skill in preparation for the day when magic is needed in the world. Other than what is required to train an apprentice, Caretakers aren’t to be practitioners, a tenet Jacob adheres to religiously.
Jacob has been teaching an apprentice, Palmer, for eight years. As a student, Palmer is a dismal failure, but this does not stop him from experimenting. Feeling that the pace of his instruction is unnecessarily slow, Palmer takes the little magic he knows, twists it, and uses it to trap Jacob and a young neighbor Lucy inside an old book of fairy tales (The Tall, Thick Book of Tales). Palmer refuses to release them unless Jacob imparts all magical knowledge to him in an instantaneous way.
From the moment of Jacob’s entrapment, Birdsong creates three interwoven storylines: Palmer’s dealings with the townspeople, who are searching for Lucy and quickly suspect Palmer for her disappearance; Jacob’s journey to escape, which takes him through scenes written into the book by Palmer, designed to harass Jacob and to speed his compliance along; and Lucy’s interaction with the book’s original characters, all magical themselves, trapped within the margins by Palmer’s spell, and are united in their desire to expel the intruders. Added to this mix are an enchanted bookworm and the fairy tales’ narrator, who have objectives of their own.
Readers will enjoy Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales. Birdsong skillfully mixes the real and the imaginary worlds with a lean and fast-paced style. A well-crafted and fun novel with colorful characters and great dialogue written for any fan of adult fiction, and suitable for young adults and older adolescents as well.
A.C. Birdsong wrote the first draft of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales during an unseasonably cold winter in Athens, Greece. “I spent all my time either writing the story or searching for a reasonably warm and cheap place to write it. Often this left me huddled near tepid steam heaters in dingy hotel rooms, and drinking endless cups of weak Nes to fight the cold. Eventually the weather turned, which was not only fortunate for me, but for Jacob and Palmer as well, because they probably would still be fighting it out inside that book otherwise.”
A.C. lives in Seattle, where people voluntarily allow themselves to be trapped in books on a regular basis. This is his first novel.