A Mom’s Choice Awards® Gold Recipient
“A book you won’t want to put down.” – Readers’ Favorite ★★★★★
“Will enrapture middle grade fantasy readers.” – Booklife (Editor’s Pick)
“Imaginative and colorful… a page turner from the very first moment.” – The Children’s Book Review
A riveting new fantasy adventure, perfect for fans of Keeper of the Lost Cities and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
It’s not unusual for twelve-year-old Alessia to lose control of her emotions and create a scene at school.
It is unusual when one day she’s attacked there by a giant frog monster and plunged into the underwater realm of Atlantis in an overturned boat.
On arriving in Atlantis, she learns that her long-lost father may have been from there. Determined to investigate, she stays and enrolls in Atlantide school: The Octopus’s Garden.
But uncovering the truth is not easy when the tyrannical Atlantide Emperor forbids asking about missing people. With the help of her newfound school friends, Alessia will have to steal evidence from a grumpy teacher, escape from rebel merfolk and make rhymes with menacing blue people of Minch to discover the key to her past.
Meanwhile, someone knows exactly who she’s the daughter of, and is ready to kill her for it.
Targeted Age Group:: 10-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
It came from a random conversation. A stranger (the friend of a friend) mentioned that according to scientists, we actually know less about the depths of the ocean than we do about Mars.
I was hooked. All I could think about for weeks was the possibility of an underwater world none of us know about.
It goes to show, you never know the impact your words might be having on someone!
Alessia slipped her hand into Mr. McCrum’s satchel, fumbled around until she felt three prongs, and snatched back her cherished fork.
“Hey, what are you doing back there?” Mr. McCrum called out when he saw her behind his desk.
“Just looking at this ‘Rules of Poetry’ poster. Sonnets, haikus, cinquains… fascinating,” Alessia fibbed.
“Alright, class is starting. Back to your seats – all of you,” he groaned.
Alessia hid her fork up her sleeve (thankful that this was Scotland, and it was long-sleeve weather in early September) and went to her desk.
It wasn’t ideal to start the year at her new boarding school by lying and stealing from her teacher. But then, it wasn’t ideal that Mr. McCrum was a completely unreasonable teacher.
He’d inspected all of their backpacks and pencil cases for potentially ‘dangerous objects’. And which ‘dangerous object’ had he seized? Not their very sharp scissors. Not their even sharper compasses. No. He’d confiscated her fork.
She’d tried explaining why she needed to keep it with her, but there was no way to convince him that a fork could be her greatest treasure – even if it was prettier than the average fork, with its blue gemstone, and engraved symbol. She couldn’t blame him. It was an unusual thing to treasure. If she could have chosen what one object her late father would leave her, she also wouldn’t have picked a fork, but there they were.
“Welcome to secondary school,” said Mr. McCrum with the enthusiasm of a cat that’s been forced to wear a party hat. “I’m Mr. McCrum, your form tutor and English teacher. I trust you’ve all had lunch, and been shown to your dorms. We’ll spend the rest of the afternoon here for induction.”
The sea breeze whistled outside the thin windows. Even though the school had only opened recently, it was housed in an old, gothic seaside manor. The result was a classroom with vaulted, blackened stone ceilings, and tacky teal-blue plastic desks. Alessia glanced around wondering which of her new classmates might be her friend, and hoping they weren’t doing the same. (If they were, it was unlikely they’d pick her – the short girl, with deathly pale skin and roughly cropped mousy-brown hair.)
“You may have noticed we’re starting on a Friday afternoon while the other lucky year groups only start next Monday morning. The idea is for you to settle in, make friends, etcetera etcetera,” Mr. McCrum continued. “And we’ll kick off this hippy dippy extravaganza by making a time capsule. So get a piece of paper and write down your name, and something unique about yourself, like your favorite hobby. You won’t look at it again until the end of the year, when you can marvel at how much you’ve evolved between the age of eleven and the ripe old age of twelve.”
He was so disinterested, he couldn’t even bring himself to smirk at his own sarcasm. Alessia decided to keep it short and wrote:
‘Name: Alessia Cogner
Something unique: my favorite hobby is sailing.’
Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth – her stepfather George would never let her on a boat after what had happened to her mother. He hadn’t even let Alessia go to the town pool to learn to swim.
But she wasn’t about to write the real ‘unique’ thing about her.
Back home in Inverness, Alessia was famous – and not in a good way. She was the running joke of her primary school because of her wild overreactions. She had burst into tears when a boy in her class told her his pet hamster died. She’d have uncontrollable laughing fits whenever she saw classmates laughing, even if she hadn’t heard the joke. And when the class soloist forgot the lines to “Silent Night” at the Christmas concert, Alessia became so anxious she fainted. She was bizarrely oversensitive, and couldn’t help mirroring the emotions others were going through and making a spectacle of herself.
No need to immortalize all that in this time capsule. This was her new start. She wasn’t going to be a drama queen anymore.
“Alessia, your paper?” Mr. McCrum stood over her holding out an expectant hand. She froze midway through the fingernail she’d been biting. He was collecting them? Good thing she’d stuck to ‘sailing’ as her ‘unique thing’.
He finished gathering the students’ papers, then turned over the pile and handed them back out to other students.
“You’re each getting someone else’s paper and reading it out to the class, so we get the introductions over with too,” he announced lackadaisically.
A boy at the back burst into laughter.
“Please, sir. Can I start?” he said.
“Sure,” replied Mr. McCrum.
So naïve. It didn’t take a genius to work out that that boy wasn’t giggling with glee at the idea of making a new best friend.
“I’m Iain and I’ve got someone called Calum’s paper,” the boy started. A boy sitting next to Alessia dropped his pen and his face blanched.
“Hand up, Calum,” said Mr. McCrum indifferently. The boy next to Alessia raised a trembling hand. The class spun around and stared.
Iain cleared his throat.
“So Calum says ‘Something special about me is that I love doing… ballet!’”
Iain’s squeaky pantomime imitation had the class roaring with laughter. Calum’s face strained to attempt a smile. Alessia winced.
“It makes me feel light and free,” Iain continued reading, getting onto his tiptoes and making a mock spin.
Alessia’s throat tightened and her cheeks burned. She tried to swallow back the sensation. She wasn’t going to create a scene on her first day. She had to stop thinking about how Calum felt.
“I hope one day I can be in Swan Lake!” Iain continued in a falsetto voice, holding his arms up and wiggling his fingers.
Calum buried his face in his hands and Alessia felt like a load of bricks were crushing her chest.
“AREN’T YOU GOING TO STOP THIS?”
Silence fell. Alessia was standing, shouting at the teacher like a lunatic. She’d done it again.
“Uh…” Mr. McCrum seemed startled. “I beg your pardon! No shouting at teachers!”
Alessia turned to glare at Iain. “And what’s wrong with you? Do you like making people feel bad?” she said, hating how shaky her voice sounded.
“Lighten up! Can’t you take a joke?” Iain answered. Then, he gasped and swooned to imitate how melodramatic she was being, and laughter rippled through the classroom.
“Now, now, children,” said Mr. McCrum, exasperated.
Iain took a bow and sat, a wicked smile curling his lips.
So much for new beginnings. Alessia had barely made it twenty minutes before getting back her old reputation. Mr. McCrum weakly shushed the sniggering students. Thankfully he collected back the papers and moved onto explaining dinner logistics, so she was able to make it through the rest of class outburst-free. As soon as the bell rang for break time, she dashed out before anyone had a chance to badger her about her display.
She raced out of the building and across the vast moorland school grounds towards the shore, wet mud flecking up her legs. She stopped at the edge of the metallic grey sea, panting.
Maybe she could still leave this school. She could call George from a payphone and ask to move to Germany with him. George was the one who’d raised her, since her mother had died when she was a baby, and her father had died before she was even born. And George wasn’t a bad stepfather, just a little distracted. More ‘kooky scientist’ than ‘caring homemaker’. In their house in Inverness, the roof was leaky, the window frames were rotting, and her bedroom filled with smoke every night for some reason they’d never understood. It was kind of a miracle that she’d survived, but she had. She could definitely move with George.
But even as she thought it, deep inside she knew she wouldn’t. Being here was about more than the boarding school. She finally lived in South West Scotland, next to the village her mother was from – and, for all she knew, where her father was from too. This was her chance to find her roots. That’s why she’d found this boarding school in the first place when George announced he’d gotten a job abroad.
She stroked the prongs of her father’s fork under her sleeve and looked over the edge of the small cliff at the thrashing waves. Even if she didn’t make any friends here, she would stay and find out about her parents – and she’d start by taking the bus to her mother’s village that very weekend.
Rain began drizzling and she was about to head back to school, when she heard a whisper. At first, it was just a faint murmur, buried in the husky laughing sound of the waves rolling in and back out. But then, it seemed to float up from them. It tingled her ears, like a fly brushing past. She rubbed them but couldn’t get rid of the sensation.
She started distinguishing words. Blown into her eardrums. A strange voice saying: ‘Come – something – seven child’?
A shiver crawled down her scalp. She turned to leave, then froze.
There was someone behind her. Or rather, something. A frog-like creature the size of a man.
It lunged at her. She leaped out of its grasp just in time, and fell back on the cold, wet ground.
She screamed, but the crashing water and howling wind swallowed the sound. The creature turned to her. It was a tall green-skinned man, with webbed feet, bulging orange eyes, and an eerie smile permanently traced on his face.
He bounded towards her, stretching out his long scraggly fingers so they looked like two enormous spiders. She rolled out of the way, jumped to her feet, and sprinted as fast as she could away from him when something wet and spongy hooked around her face.
She tried to pull whatever it was off, but it was drenched in a thick glue. She tried to run on, but the thing on her face held her back. Then, it started drawing her towards the frogman. She dug her heels in but they just dragged through the mud.
Viscous treacle covered her hands as she kept trying to wrench the blob off her face. It was so soft and flabby. Yet powerful enough to pull her in. Almost like…
Nausea clutched her throat. The blob around her face was the frog monster’s tongue! Frogs caught flies with their tongues, and now, she was the fly.
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Nathalie Laine is a children's fantasy author. She lives a safe distance away from the ocean, in Paris, France, where she works in marketing. She enjoys: poking her finger into the mini whirlpools that form above bath drains, randomly understanding words in a language she doesn't know, wrongly guessing the double-agent in cold war spy stories, sharing a Turkish meal of Lion's milk, fish and turnip juice with her fiancé and friends, and getting spurned by grumpy cats. She may have snuck some of the above into her novel, Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics (BSc Management 2010).