A female Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider when Samantha Knox receives a mysterious field diary and finds herself thrust into a treacherous plot. After stealing a car and jumping on a train, chased by a group of dangerous pursuers, Sam finds out what’s so special about this book: it contains a cipher that leads to a cursed jade statue that could put an end to all mankind.
MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…
Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?
Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series!
Title: Curse of the Specter Queen (A Samantha Knox Novel, Vol 1)
Author: Jenny Elder Moke
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Sam let the first door chime go unanswered, occupied as she was with the stack of delicate books cradled in her arms. The second chime earned a grunt of displeasure from her as she scanned the shelves for the first edition of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding she had repaired last week. She spotted it, tucked safely between Kant and Machiavelli. The third chime rang so insistently that she tipped the book forward too hard and it dropped to the floor with an ominous crack.
“Oh dear,” she said, crouching down to retrieve the book. “Mr. Locke, I apologize. And I swear to you if it’s the butcher’s boys again, I will take the broad side of his cleaver to their rear ends myself.”
The spine appeared unmarred, which was more than Sam could say for her disposition as she stacked the book on top of the others and jostled to a standing position. She tottered to the front of the shop and set them down on the desk. In the window stood the rounded figure of Clement’s postman, his face pressed to the glass and obscuring the gold lettering across the door. She checked off each book on her inventory list, letting him freeze in the early January snows of rural Illinois, before crossing to the door and unlocking it. A blast of cold drove it open like an unwanted guest.
“Yes, Georgie, what is it you need?” she asked, shivering back from the chill.
“Got your mail,” Georgie huffed, bustling past her to drop his sack on the desk. He trod in drifts of snow across her pristine carpet and she swept the more offensive piles back out the door as she swung it shut.
“That’s why I had the package drop put in, Georgie,” Sam said.
“So you can leave them in a protected box without them getting soaked by the melting snow you’re tracking in.”
“It’s colder than a brass toilet seat in the arctic out there,” Georgie replied, leaning against his mailbag like he planned to stay. He peered into the stacks behind Sam. “It’s toasty in here, though. Must be nice for you, being tucked up in this place all day.”
“We keep the temperature stable for the books,” Sam said, her patient tone fraying at the edges. She had plenty to do before her long walk home in that same snow, and she couldn’t do it as long as Georgie was here chewing the cud. “Extreme heat and cold damage the leather. You said you had my mail?”
“Oh, sure.” Georgie ducked his head into the thick canvas sack. “Couple of these are too big, wouldn’t fit through the slot.”
Sam was sure his bell ringing had far more to do with the warm interior of the shop than with any oversize packages, but it was too late for that. Here he was already, invading her space and upending the careful equilibrium she maintained. He didn’t care that there was the rest of the inventory list to get to, plus the packages to prepare and send to Mr. Peltingham in London and Mr. Burnham in Oslo, never mind the repairs to the copy of Medieval Remedies for Cistercian Monks they had received at the shop last week. She didn’t have time for Georgie Heath and the trail of muddy snow he dragged everywhere.
He pulled a small collection of boxes from his sack—none of them, as Sam suspected, too large for the mail slot—with an exotic array of stamps across the front. Sam’s heart rate picked up when she spotted Mr. Studen’s scrawled handwriting. He always had the best finds in Paris. She grabbed her letter opener and sliced through the thick paper.
“Books,” Georgie said, in the same tone his father used when talking about the neighbor’s marauding hogs. “Always books, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Sam said with a happy little sigh, extracting Mr. Studen’s letter along with his latest find. “We are a bookshop, Georgie.”
Oh, clever Mr. Studen. She smiled at the first few lines of introduction, a jumble of letters and pictographic marks. He’d sent her another cryptogram, with a small note dashed at the top that read I’m sure to stump you this time.
He wasn’t, but she appreciated the challenge.
Georgie gave a snort. “I don’t know what we need with a bookshop here in Clement, anyhow. We’ve already got a library.”
“A collection of old family bibles does not count as a library,” Sam said, reaching for a pencil and paper. It looked to be a straightforward monoalphabetic cipher despite the distraction of the pictographic marks, but she didn’t want to underestimate Mr. Studen so quickly.
Georgie shrugged. “I was happy enough to give that stuff up the second I walked out of Mrs. Iris’s schoolroom for good.”
“Madame Iris,” Sam corrected.
“Madame,” Georgie said in a gross mockery of the French madame’s accent. “Pa says a book is only good for propping open a door or knocking a fella out.”
“Well I would expect no less from the man who led a town-wide protest when Mr. Steeling hired a Frenchwoman to teach at the schoolhouse,” Sam murmured, making a list of the most frequent letter appearances and the most common letter groupings in the cipher. Georgie craned his neck around, squinting at Mr. Studen’s neat handwriting.
“What is that?” he asked. “Some kind of gibberish?”
“It’s a cipher,” Sam said. “A code. It’s meant to keep a message hidden.”
The last word she said pointedly, looking up at the intrusion of his person on her space. If Georgie noticed her intention—which Sam was positive he did not—he didn’t do anything to resolve it. Instead he scooted in closer, wrinkling up his nose like his father’s prize hog.
“Well, how do you know what it says?” Georgie asked.
“You need a key,” Sam murmured, writing out a few attempts at the letters she thought she might have deduced.
“Do you have the key?”
“Well then how do you know what it says?”
Sam let out a sigh. “I don’t, Georgie. Not yet. I have to decrypt it, which would be much easier to do without so much distracting chatter.”
About the Author
Jenny Elder Moke writes young adult fiction in an attempt to recapture the shining infinity of youth. She worked for several years at an independent publisher in Austin, TX before realizing she would rather write the manuscripts than read them. She is a member of the Texas Writer’s League and has studied children’s writing with Liz Garton Scanlon. She was a finalist in the Austin Film Festival Fiction Podcast Competition in 2017 for her podcast script, Target. When she is not writing, she’s gathering story ideas from her daily adventures with her two irredeemable rapscallions and honing her ninja skills as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Jenny lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two children.
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