Genre: Upper middle grade fantasy
Word Count: 65000
Thirteen-year-old Simon makes electricity with his fingers. Sparks crackle from his hands when he’s nervous, when he’s angry, when he loses control; since his mom died, that’s almost every day. If he doesn’t get a handle on this normal thing everyone else seems to manage, someone’s going to figure out he’s a freak. He’s terrified that someone will be his only friend, Rose.
Normal seems impossible when Simon finds out he inherited his mom’s powers; she was Cartographer, the one magician granted the power to sense and map the ever-changing portals between the near worlds. The connections are controlled by the Substrate, the sentient blank space in which the worlds – including Earth – clump together like atoms in a molecule. The Substrate divides its time between pretending to be omnipotent and manipulating humans into its service. Now it expects Simon to take over his mom’s job.
When Rose disappears he knows he must find a way to refuse. He learns she’s stuck partway between worlds, in the blank of the Substrate. He can’t lose her; he must find her. But the Substrate has other ideas. It doesn’t consider his little girlfriend a matter of cosmic importance, and there’s a serious problem brewing on one of its pet worlds; a rogue sorcerer has found a way to sever the linked worlds, risking every life within them. The sorcerer has one demand: he wants someone, anyone, to give him Rose.
To find his friend and save the worlds Simon must control his magic, hold his own against the Substrate, and find the link between Rose and the sorcerer, before she’s lost forever.
The long dust road ended with a signpost. It was cracked and sun-bleached and looked likely to crumble in a stiff breeze, but if you squinted you could make out the words announcing this was Tallarook Station, for anyone who cared to know. Simon doubted anyone did. He pressed his nose to the back window, peering out as the chauffeur parked the car.
The place looked like the surface of Mars and signs of civilization were scant. A handful of crispy, miserable weeds had failed to survive. A blistered payphone loomed over the scrap of shade where a wallaby lay, either sleeping or dead. There was no platform. Simon didn’t even notice the train at first glance, and no wonder. It was so filthy it blended in with the endless red grit sea. It was a passenger train, but if anyone ever travelled here, where did they go? Where could they go? He glanced at the horizon. Dark, indistinct somethings flickered through the heat haze until he ordered himself to stop being stupid. There’s nothing there but nothing. When the door opened, he almost jumped out of his skin.
The chauffeur’s eyes flicked to the nose-print on the otherwise pristine glass. For a moment he looked like he was wrestling a compulsion to break out his Windex, then he bowed and said, “It seems we’ve arrived.” He trotted round to the trunk without waiting for a response.
Simon shuffled out. The heat sucked the sweat from his skin. He couldn’t help thinking the air was still thirsty.