The Crimson Skew by S. E. GroveThe Crimson Skew by S. E. Grove

The Crimson Skew

byS. E. Grove

Paperback | July 4, 2017

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The thrilling conclusion to S. E. Grove's New York Times–bestselling Mapmakers Trilogy—a historical, fantastical adventure perfect for fans of Philip Pullman!

It is late August 1892, and Sophia Tims is coming home from a foreign Age, having risked her life in search of her missing parents. Now she is aboard ship, with a hard-earned, cryptic map that may help her find them at long last.

But her homecoming is anything but peaceful. Threatening clouds hang over New Orleans harbor. Sinkholes have been opening in Boston, swallowing parts of the city whole. Rogue weirwinds tear up the Baldlands. Worst of all, New Occident is at war, led by a prime minister who will do anything to expand the country westward. He has blackmailed Sophia’s beloved uncle Shadrack into drawing the battle maps that will lead countless men and boys—including Sophia’s best friend, Theo—to their deaths.

As Sophia puzzles out her next move, Shadrack is peeling back layers of government intrigue, and Theo is bracing himself to fight. A red fog of war is rising, and New Occident’s future hangs in the balance . . .

* "A triumphant conclusion to a prodigious feat of storytelling."--Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "A sharply creative, engrossing trilogy . . . Grove's imaginative world building continues to dazzle in this third entry . . . An enormously satisfying wrap-up."--BCCB, starred review 
S. E. Grove ( is a historian and world traveler. She spends most of her time reading about the early modern Spanish empire, writing about invented empires, and residing in Boston. Follow S. E. Grove on Twitter @segrovebooks.
Title:The Crimson SkewFormat:PaperbackDimensions:464 pages, 7.81 × 5.25 × 1.15 inPublished:July 4, 2017Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142423688

ISBN - 13:9780142423684


Rated 5 out of 5 by from War is on the horizon! Sophia, Theo, and all their friends must race against time and a dangerous red fog to stop a grand war from destroying their homes - and the world! Grove will delight readers with this thrilling and shocking finale to a beautiful trilogy!
Date published: 2018-03-17

Read from the Book

Prologue   July 23, 1892   Dear Shadrack,   The foul weather in the Territories has continued. The heavy clouds, motionless and low, seem now to be a permanent fixture. I cannot remember when we last saw the sun. But now things have taken a turn for the worse. Something has happened this day that I have never seen before and that cannot be explained. I scarcely trust myself to describe it. Let me tell you how it happened.   I awoke in the middle of the night to a commotion at my door. A woman I know from the nearby town of Pear Tree stood there. Esther had a look about her that I have seen only once before, on the face of a man who fled and outran a forest fire: grief, disbelief, and confusion swirled in her eyes. She seemed unsure of whether she was among the living or the dead. “Casper?” she whispered. “Is it you?”   I told her it was. I did not understand the tale she related to me, and it had to be repeated many times. Even when I finally understood her words, I still could not make sense of them.   She said it had started in the evening, a while still before sunset, for there was yet light enough to see. She had been taking the children’s clothing down from the drying line when she saw a red vapor spilling over the stone wall of her garden. Wondering what it was, she watched the strange substance approach until it rose and swelled, immersing her and the clothesline, obscuring even her house from view. For a time she stood, waiting anxiously. She realized the vapor smelled sweet, like a flower. Then the smell changed. It grew foul—like rotting meat.   She heard a distant scream, and the sound filled her with panic. Fighting through the fog, she burst into the house. She found the crimson vapor clogging every room and passageway, and the panic rose to terror. Calling for her children, she made her way through the house half-blind. Then she saw the intruders: three giant rats as large as full-grown men, their black eyes cruel, their yellowed teeth sharp. Seizing a knife from the kitchen, she chased them through the house, fearing what they would do or had done to her children. The rats closeted themselves in the pantry and hissed at her through the door.   She could not find her children anywhere.   She called for them with growing desperation, finally stumbling outside. Then she realized that her own cries were being echoed by others everywhere, in every house of Pear Tree. The entire town blazed with panic. Something tugged at her mind, some uncertainty, but she could not place it. She knew only that something was not right.   It is the fog, she finally realized. I am confused, and it began with the fog.   She found her way along the road, though the sounds on either side were terrifying. When she finally made her way out of Pear Tree, darkness had fallen. She could tell that she had left the fog behind, because her mind began to clear. Looking back upon the town, she could see nothing in the settled darkness, but she heard ceaseless screams and shouts. The impulse to turn back and seek her children warred with the impulse to seek help elsewhere. Uncertainly, still confused by what she had seen, she came here and woke me in the dead of night.   I assembled all the council and within the hour we were on the road to Pear Tree. We arrived just as the gray day was dawning, putrid and damp as every day has been all this month. The crimson fog had passed, but it had left its mark in more ways than one. A thin sediment of the purest red coated every surface: the stone wall surrounding Pear Tree, the leaves of every tree, the roof of every house, the surface of every path and road. As we made our way slowly into the silent town, we saw what else the fog had left behind: the human wreckage.   The first thing we saw was a man sitting on his front step, holding a woman’s laced boot. When we spoke to him, he ignored us entirely. I approached and asked if he was hurt. Finally he turned his eyes to me and held up the boot, saying, “Wolves don’t wear shoes.” He seemed stunned by his own statement. We could gain nothing more from him.   Some of the houses and barns had been burned with their occupants. The smell was unbearable. Many houses that stood intact had doors ominously ajar, and I caught glimpses of broken furniture, torn curtains, shattered windows.   I will not describe it further, Shadrack, for it is too horrible, but I believe in those few hours half the lives of Pear Tree were lost.   We returned to Esther’s home. She was shocked, of course—shocked into silence and shaking beside me as we walked. “There is something,” she said, her voice breaking, as we neared her house. “There is something I do not understand.”   “There is much that I do not understand,” I said.   “How,” she went on, as if I had not spoken, “how were the rats able to barricade the door to the pantry?”   I confess that I did not take her meaning. It seemed a pointless question in the midst of such a catastrophe. No doubt the truth had begun to dawn on her before I saw even the faintest glimmer of it. But when we reached her house I understood. Hurrying, anxious with her sudden doubt, she rushed in and made her way to the pantry door. She knocked upon it urgently. “Open the door,” she sobbed. “Open the door, I beg you.”   There was a scuffle, and we heard heavy things shifted aside one by one. The door opened a crack and Esther’s three children peered out at us, their eyes wide with fear.   It is a distortion, Shadrack, a skewed perception that changes the reality before you into something dreadful. The survivors who could assemble their thoughts described to us different visions—all terrifying. There were no intruders, no monsters. The fog caused the people of Pear Tree to turn upon themselves.   If this is done by human hand, it is the cruelest act I have yet to see. If it is done by nature, it is no less frightening. I ask you: What is this? Is it part and parcel of the weather that plagues us, or is it something unrelated? Has it happened only in Pear Tree, or elsewhere, too? Please—tell me what you know.   (This will be given to Entwhistle, as you asked. Instruct me if I should do otherwise in future.)   Yours,   Casper Bearing     Chapter 1   Hispaniola   —1892, August 2: 7-Hour 20—   Though the United Indies makes a legal distinction between merchants and pirates, safeguarding the privileges of the one while prosecuting (on occasion) the crimes of the other, in practice they are almost indistinguishable. Both hold property in the Indies— sometimes lavish property. Both exert considerable influence on the Indies’ government. Both enjoy access to the seas and trade with foreign Ages. Indeed, it is, for the outsider, difficult to see where merchants end and pirates begin.   —From Shadrack Elli’s History of the New World   Sophia awoke to the sound of a woman singing. The voice was low and languid and sweet, as if the singer had all the time in the world; it sang of mermaids and silvery stars and moonbeams shining on the sea. It took Sophia a moment to remember where she was: Calixta and Burton Morris’s estate on Hispaniola.   With a sigh of contentment, Sophia stretched against the soft sheets. She lay in bed with her eyes closed, listening to Calixta singing in the neighboring room as she brushed her hair and dressed. Suddenly the song was interrupted by a shout of dismay and a thump, as if from a booted foot striking a trunk. “Where are my tortoiseshell combs?” Calixta wailed.   Sophia opened her eyes and smiled. Splinters of light were pushing their way into the dark room. As the protests next door became fervent curses, she got out of bed and opened the tall wooden shutters, revealing a small balcony. The sunlight of Hispaniola was blinding. Sophia shielded her eyes until they adjusted, and then she caught her breath with delight at the sight before her: the grounds of the estate and, beyond the grounds, the shining ocean. Marble steps led down to a long lawn bordered by bougainvillea, jasmine, and birds-of-paradise. A straight path paved in white stone cut through the lawn to the beach. The Swan, anchored at the pri­vate dock, bobbed serenely on the sparkling waters.   “Sophia!” Calixta called. Sophia reluctantly made her way back into the bedroom, where Calixta stood holding what appeared to be a billowing curtain in a shocking shade of fuch­sia. “Look what I found,” she declared triumphantly. “This will fit you perfectly!”   “What is it?” Sophia asked dubiously.   “Only the finest silk New Orleans has to offer,” Calixta exclaimed. “Try it on.”   “Now?”   “It’s midmorning, you lazy thing! We have plans to make and people to see, and I insist you be well dressed for it.”   “Very well,” Sophia replied agreeably. Of course Calixta already has plans made, she said to herself, and of course she already has out­fits chosen for everyone as part of those plans. Sophia had found on the voyage from Seville, across the Atlantic, that it was almost always better to let the pirate captain have her way.   She slipped out of her nightgown and let Calixta help her into the silk dress, which was indeed beautiful. Sophia exam­ined herself skeptically in the tall standing mirror beside the bed. “I look like a little girl impersonating the famous pirate Calixta Morris. And I can barely breathe.” She reached for the shoulder strap. “I’m taking it off.”   Calixta laughed. “No, you’re not! We’ll do your hair properly and get you stockings and shoes. A little powder and orange-flower water. That’s all.” She gave Sophia a quick kiss on the cheek. “And you’re not a little girl anymore, sweetheart.” She turned to the doorway. “Yes, Millie?”   A maid wearing a black-and-white uniform stood in the doorway. “Will you want breakfast here or downstairs, Cap­tain Morris?”   “Have the others woken?”   “They are all downstairs, Captain, except for your brother.”   “Still snoring soundly, no doubt,” Calixta muttered. “We’ll join the others downstairs, Millie—thank you.”   Millie left the room with a brief nod.   “Let me just get my things,” Sophia said, moving to gather her satchel.   Calixta stopped her, taking her hand. “You’re safe here, Sophia,” she said. “Our home is yours, and you have nothing to fear. We won’t have to bolt at a moment’s notice. You can leave your things in your bedroom.”   Sophia pressed Calixta’s hand. “I know. Thank you. Let me find my watch.”   Damask curtains, gilded mirrors, and delicate furniture upholstered in cream and blue: Calixta’s hand lay behind the effortless luxury. Sophia’s pack, satchel, books, and clothes— gray and worn from two Atlantic crossings and a perilous jour­ney through the Papal States—made a dirty pile that seemed to have no place in the sumptuous room. “Got it!” She tucked the watch into a hidden pocket of the fuchsia dress.   “Down we go, then,” Calixta said. Not to be outdone by the fuchsia, she was wearing a lemon-colored silk with gold trim. She trailed a hand along the polished banister as they descended the wide marble steps to the main floor.   Their travel companions were in the comfortable breakfast room. Sitting side by side on a white couch beside the win­dows, Errol Forsyth, a falconer from the Closed Empire, and Goldenrod, an Eerie from the edges of the Prehistoric Snows, looked out at the ocean with rather dazed expressions. Sophia thought to herself, not without amusement, that they seemed just as out of place in the gilded mansion as she felt in the fuch­sia dress. Goldenrod sat stiffly, her pale-green hands folded in her lap, her long hair wild and windblown. She looked like a tuft of grass on a plate of porcelain. Errol, his clothes even more worn than Sophia’s, rubbed the scruff of his chin, pon­dering the view. Seneca, Errol’s falcon, blinked unhappily from his perch on the archer’s shoulder.   At least Richard Wren, the Australian sea captain, seemed at ease. He stood in a wide stance before the windows, happily munching a piece of toast as he took in the view.   “I trust you all slept well?” Calixta asked, gliding toward the table, where fruit and pastries, butter and jam, coffee and sugar awaited.   “I can’t remember the last time I slept so well,” Wren exclaimed, saluting her appreciatively with his toast. “The most soothing sound of the waves, the softest pillows, the most comfortable bed. Calixta, I am afraid that once this search concludes, you will find me at your doorstep, an unin­vited but eager guest.”   “You are most welcome,” Calixta replied, pleased.   “Thank you for your hospitality,” Goldenrod said, rising from the couch. “It is wonderful to be at last on land and in safe circumstances. You and your brother have given us the safest of safe havens.”   Sophia had wondered, when she saw the Swan in the port of Seville, how Goldenrod and Errol would take to the pirates. Calixta and Burr were flashy and boisterous, while Errol and Goldenrod were grave and quiet. But to her surprise, after only a few hours, the four seemed fast friends. Their common bond with Sophia paved the way, and then, as they conversed, each pair discovered in the other the quality they most valued: loy­alty. From there, it was easy for Errol and Goldenrod to find amusement in what they perceived as the pirates’ frivolities, and it was easy for the pirates to pardon what they perceived as Errol and Goldenrod’s incorrigible gloominess. The Swan’s pirate matron, Grandmother Pearl, who watched the unex­pected friendship emerging among them over the course of their monthlong voyage, affectionately dubbed them “the four winds.” And Wren was like an ocean current among these four winds: warm and good-natured in temperament, he adapted to his circumstances. He could be loud and rowdy, and he could be grave and quiet.   “Agreed,” Errol said. “We should not stay more than a day—”   “I insist you stay a week.” It was true that two of the four winds blew much more forcefully than the others, directing them and anyone around them with merciless, if friendly, force of will. “I am only too glad that we can offer you safety,” Calixta continued, spooning brown sugar into her coffee, “when there seems to be so little of it to spare.”   A month’s worth of newspapers had been waiting for them the previous evening. Despite their weariness, the travelers had snatched them up, reading and exclaiming while Millie and the other servants answered the volley of questions about the embargo declared by the United Indies, the secession of New Akan and the Indian Territories, the acquittal of Minister Shadrack Elli in the murder of Prime Minister Bligh, and the declaration of war by the new prime minister, Gordon Broad­girdle. “What does the morning paper say?” Calixta asked.   “This thing they are calling ‘the Anvil’ appears to be making life difficult throughout New Occident,” Wren said.   “‘The Anvil’? Sounds like the name of a tavern I’d rather avoid,” she replied breezily, seizing a slice of pineapple.   Wren gave the pirate a wry look. “It’s an anvil cloud. A heavy cloud that precedes a storm.”   The previous night, Sophia had taken a pile of newspapers upstairs and pored over them before falling asleep. Though the political events dominated the news, the growing prominence of what the newspapers called “the Anvil” had intrigued her. “But they’re using it to describe any number of things,” she put in. “Weather disruptions that have been happening all month. Sinkholes, storms, flash floods, even earthquakes.”   “ ‘A second sinkhole in Charleston,’” Wren read from the paper he had picked up, “‘consumed Billings’s crossroads to the west of the city, and noxious fumes were reported emerging from the sinkhole the following evening.’” He paused. “And on the coast off Upper Massachusetts, the anvil clouds obstructed a lighthouse, causing two shipwrecks.” He shook his head. “New Occident seems to be experiencing very strange weather.”   “It’s very worrying,” Goldenrod said, her green brow furrowed. “So many unusual patterns at once cannot be coincidental.”   “Yes,” Calixta murmured. “Bad weather. Always annoying. Any important news?” she asked meaningly.   Wren glanced at the paper again. “Skirmishes in the Indian Territories, but they are described in only the most general terms.”   “I very much doubt the veracity of these reports,” Golden­rod said.   “Naturally,” Calixta agreed. “One wonders about the reli­ability of the sources, and I have no doubt that Broadgirdle is doing his best to shape what we do and don’t know. Where is my useless brother?” she asked pleasantly, and considered a slice of cake drizzled with honey. “We have plans to make.”   “I am here,” said a groggy voice from the doorway. Burr’s handsome face was still heavy with sleep as he staggered into the room. “I heard a rumor that somewhere in this fantasti­cally overstaffed mansion one could procure a hot cup of cof­fee. Is it true?”   “Oh, poor thing. You were expecting it to appear at your elbow when you woke up?”   “I was, rather,” Burr grumbled, pouring coffee into a por­celain cup. “But you have trained everyone who works here to think of it as their mansion, and they are wonderfully inde­pendent thinkers, so apparently what I expect counts for very little.”   “You will feel better after the coffee, my dear neglected brother.” Calixta pushed a plate toward him. “Have some cake. We need to find a way to get in touch with Shadrack, and we need to decide on our entry point to New Occident, since all the ports are closed to us.”   “New Orleans, surely,” Wren said, sitting down at the table beside her.   “If the Swan can take us to New Orleans, Errol and I can take Sophia north through the Indian Territories,” suggested Goldenrod.   “Is that not too much of a detour for you?” Much as Sophia wanted their assistance, she was well aware of how every day prevented Errol from searching for his brother. Indeed, she was well aware of how every member of the company was there because of her, accepting risk and inconvenience on her behalf.   “We go as far as you do, miting,” Errol assured her. “Until we see you safely back in Boston with your uncle.”   “There is no safety to be had in Broadgirdle’s Boston,” Burr commented dourly.   “The Ausentinian map says we are to part ways,” Sophia said carefully, voicing the concern that most troubled her. “I know we have discussed this before—”   “You put too much stock in the divinatory power of those little riddles, sweetheart.” Calixta patted her hand.   “However much the Ausentinian maps may prove true in retrospect, we cannot plan to separate because they predict that we will separate,” said Errol.   “He is right, Sophia,” Goldenrod agreed.   “But they are not little riddles,” Sophia insisted. They had gone over this many times on the Atlantic crossing. “Every­thing the maps have said has come true. And I am not say­ing we should plan to separate. What I am saying is that we should use the map to anticipate what might happen and plan carefully.”   Burr suddenly looked much more awake. “Speaking of divinatory power,” he said, “that’s how we should get word to Shadrack: Maxine!”   “Who is Maxine?” Wren and Sophia asked at the same time.   “Yes, Maxine,” Calixta murmured. “That is actually a good idea.”   Burr sat back with a satisfied air. “Of course it is. I am only surprised you admit it.” He turned to Sophia. “Maxine Bisset. In New Orleans. We have known her for years—utterly reli­able. A bit of a fortune-teller, which is why my sister turns up her nose, but she also runs the best correspondence—”   There was a shout from the other end of the mansion. Everyone at the breakfast table fell silent and waited, listening; they heard the anxious clatter of running feet, and then Millie’s voice calling, “Captain Morris! Captain Morris!”   Calixta stood up just as Millie reached the room, breathless. “What has happened?”   “Tomás has seen horsemen,” she panted, “coming this way along the road.”   “And what of it?”   “He was out repairing the gate. And brought this.” She handed Calixta a long, thin sheet of paper, looking rather the worse for wear from exposure to the elements. “They have been posted everywhere the last two weeks. But we thought nothing of it until now.” The group gathered around Calixta, who swore under her breath.   A fair drawing of Richard Wren occupied the center of the flyer. Around it were written the terms:   Reward: 2000 pieces silver for the capture and conveyance to authorities in Tortuga of outlaw Richard Wren   “Why did you not tell me of this last night?” Calixta demanded.   “I’m sorry, Captain Morris.” Millie wrung her hands. “We didn’t think. I only heard you call him ‘Richard,’ and it didn’t occur to me—”   “How many horsemen?”   “At least thirty, Tomás said.”   “Too many,” Calixta said quietly.   “It is the League.” Wren’s face had gone ashen as he realized the Australian forces from which he had fled were so closely in pursuit. “They must be searching for me everywhere on the Atlantic, for they have no way of knowing I am here.” Everyone looked at him in silence. “The safest thing would be for me to turn myself in.”   “Absolutely not!” cried Calixta.   “Two thousand pieces of silver are terribly tempting,” Burr conceded, “and they would jingle most cheerfully in a little wooden trunk, devised especially for silver pieces, which we could shake now and then to remind ourselves—”   “Burr,” Calixta cut in, rolling her eyes.   “Only jesting!” Burr smiled. “Of course we cannot give you up—absurd. But we must leave, and soon.” He pointed at the tall windows. “I can see them cresting the hill, and they will be here in minutes. Though the staff are disconcertingly adept with sword and dagger, I think my sister would prefer to keep such confrontations out of the house. Very bad for the upholstery.”   Calixta gave him a smile full of warmth. “You can be so thoughtful, Burr.” Then she put her hands on her hips. “To the Swan, then.”   “To the Swan!” her brother agreed. “Friends, you have three minutes to pack.”   There was a moment’s pause, and then everyone raced from the room.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Crimson Skew★ "A triumphant conclusion to a prodigious feat of storytelling."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review★ "A sharply creative, engrossing trilogy . . . Grove’s imaginative world building continues to dazzle in this third entry . . . Enormously satisfying"—BCCB, starred review★ "A fantasy series unlike any other . . . Grove has created a wonderfully unique series with multiple layers for students and teachers to explore."—VOYA, starred review"Wildly inventive . . . Readers enamored by Sophia’s travels and Grove’s uncommonly original fantasy world will be satisfied by this bittersweet conclusion, which leaves plenty of room for further tales."—BooklistAccolades for The Glass Sentence (Book #1)A New York Times Bestseller An IndieBound BestsellerA Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the YearA Kids' Indie Next Top Ten BookA Junior Library Guild SelectionA Summer/Fall 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices Selection★ "Brilliant in concept, breathtaking in scale and stellar in its worldbuilding; this is a world never before seen in fiction . . . Wholly original and marvelous beyond compare."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review★ "A thrilling, time-bending debut . . . It's a cracking adventure, and Grove bolsters the action with commentary on xenophobia and government for hire, as well as a fascinating system of map magic."—Publishers Weekly, starred review★ "Stellar . . with impeccable character development and sophisticated, intricate setting details."—BCCB, starred review"I loved it! So imaginative!"—Nancy Pearl"Not since Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass have I seen such an original and compelling world built inside a book."—Megan Whalen Turner, New York Times bestselling author of A Conspiracy of Kings"Absolutely marvelous [and] completely original. I love this book."—Nancy Farmer, National Book Award-winning author of The House of the Scorpion . . . and for The Golden Specific (Book #2)A Kid's Indie Next SelectionA Junior Library Guild SelectionA New England Book Award FinalistAn iBooks Best of the Month Selection★ "Readers will find a wealth to explore, as the author manages to create memorable characters, an endlessly intriguing world that, even with the provided maps and her uncle's careful explanations, still remains an almost complete mystery, and a plot that merits every single page of this lengthy volume."—BCCB, starred review"Brilliantly imagined and full of wonder."—Kirkus Reviews"This delicious blend of magic, history, and science will continue to delight fans of intricate world-building and rich storytelling."—School Library Journal