by Jacqui Culler (@CullerPictures)

YA Fantasy
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Query

CAPERS, CROWNS, AND THIEVES is a 91,000-word, multiple point-of-view YA fantasy. It’s set in a 1920s-inspired city and features gangsters, magic, and romance.

Readers who enjoy a swaggering main character and themes of self-discovery found in The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah and Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller would likely enjoy the first book of this trilogy.

Nineteen-year-old Jules was raised to be a thief, but these days the only thing she steals is the show. Instead of using her illusion magic to pull off heists, she uses it to perform in the Circus Aurora, and she loves it. Or she did until the King of Callore tricked her into coming to his city to perform, kidnapped her troupe, and demanded she steal a mysterious item for him if she wants to see her friends again.

With only ten days to break into a magical shop and steal what’s in its safe, Jules is short on time—and people she can trust. Her only options are a beguiling fellow thief who’s either the key to her heist or planning to double-cross her, and a charming crown prince locked in a tower who she can’t seem to stop visiting. As she gets closer to the prince and pulling off her heist, she questions who she is besides a thief and a performer—and why the king really brought her to his city. It will take every ounce of cunning she has to save the people she cares about and leave the Kingdom of Callore in one piece.

Like Jules, I have a love of performing and did ballet for over fifteen years. My writing experience includes writing video scripts for a teen audience and writing copy for a digital marketing company. I live in Los Angeles where I work in the film industry and freelance as a graphic designer.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

First Five Pages

Jules had broken her word.

But it was almost showtime, and the only breaking allowed at the moment was the metaphorical one that involved a leg. In a matter of minutes, Jules would take the stage as the Ringmaster of the Circus Aurora. She would slip into that confident persona as easily as the boots she’d just slipped on and prepare to dazzle a king.

Right now, though, she was still in her tent, sitting at her dressing table and trying not to think about broken promises. She still hadn’t decided on a glamour for tonight’s show and time was running out. Her hazel eyes stared back at her in the mirror and she glamoured them an impossible blue, making them twinkle like stars in a dark sky. She concentrated on her illusion magic once again and her chestnut hair doubled in length, gleefully spilling down her back. Different eyes and hair weren’t exactly a groundbreaking disguise, but they would do for tonight. What mattered was the fact that she looked different every show. She found it helped add to the mysterious allure of the Ringmaster that kept the crowds coming—and helped keep her past identity a secret.

“Ten minutes to showtime!” someone announced from outside her tent.

Before she rose from her seat, Jules shoved any lingering thoughts about broken promises down, down, down, until the only thought left on her mind was that of the center ring.

By the beings, she loved it. That feeling of stepping into the spotlight, how the air hummed with anticipation and possibility, and how taking a deep enough breath could fill you up with it too.

If she was being perfectly honest—something Jules didn’t do very often—putting on a show wasn’t that different than pulling off a heist. She’d spent most of her nineteen years stealing for the crime boss who raised her, but she’d left that life behind almost a year ago and had no intention of returning. No one in the Circus Aurora knew that she had illusion magic or about her past as an infamous thief, and it would stay that way. These days, the only thing Jules stole was the show.

With half a thought, she wrapped her magic around her, creating a veil that would make her invisible to anyone who looked her way, and headed for the big top. Normally, she wouldn’t veil on her way there, but this was the city of Brimlad—a place she was never supposed to come back to. She couldn’t be too careful, although the most danger she seemed to currently be in was accidentally stepping in a gopher hole while she navigated this lumpy field. It had been an empty plot of land only two days ago, but now, it was a jumble of canvas structures, circus equipment, and people rushing toward the big top. Jules expertly wove her way through the commotion, her eyes fixed on the tent with its point so high that it simply vanished into the darkening sky. Not that any of the crowd outside it was bothering to look up. Everyone was craning their necks, eager to get a glimpse of what was inside; anxious to get a seat before they all filled up.

Jules was tempted to linger and listen to their predictions about the show, but pulled herself away to enter the big top through a back entrance. While still in the shadows, she lifted her veil, making sure no one noticed her appearing out of thin air then continued her trek backstage. As she went, she greeted the familiar faces of her troupe and exchanged wishes of good luck, especially since they’d be performing for royalty tonight.

Three months ago, King Gerard of Callore had personally invited the Circus Aurora to Brimlad to perform for him and the crown prince. He’d persuaded them to leave their base on the continent of Galantea and make the trip across the sea by paying triple what they normally made and covering all travel expenses. It was an offer worth splintering a few cracks in an old vow—or so Jules had repeatedly told herself on the voyage here.

She dared to get a glimpse of the king and prince now. They should be sitting front and center since the whole row had been reserved for royalty and their guests, and—

It was empty.

None of their seats had a single person in them, and there was, what? Only a minute to go before Jules opened the show? A spike of hot anger pierced through her. The king had gone to all this trouble to get the famed Circus Aurora here, and he couldn’t be bothered to watch them?

It was possible he might slip in at the last second, but the crowd outside was becoming more and more muffled, which meant the entrances to the big top were being sealed shut. It was circus policy for them to be kept closed during the entire show so as not to have any interruptions. No one would be allowed in. Not even tardy royalty.

The seconds ticked by, and then the lights dimmed before going out completely. A silence and stillness swept through the whole tent, so quiet that Jules could hear her own heartbeat. With each beat, she pushed any thoughts of kings and princes and broken promises out of her mind and locked eyes with the crew around her. They gave her a nod that she returned.

Showtime.

The soft, sandy floor of the stage masked the sound of her footsteps as she walked out into the darkness and found her mark in the center of the ring. Jules struck a pose and then waited until a lone spotlight suddenly blinked on, harshly illuminating her from high overhead. The heat of the light warmed her, and she let it thaw any last worries that had refused to melt. She held perfectly still to give the impression she wasn’t even breathing, and given how silent the crowd was, it was possible they weren’t either.

Jules stood with her head bowed, one gloved hand holding onto the rim of her satin black top hat, the other resting on a polished wooden cane held out in front of her. She was still as a statue, relishing how the crowd was holding its collective breath as they watched and waited, taking in her appearance. The blood red bow tie at her throat. Her bright white vest with ruffles running down her chest. How her crimson tailcoat with sparkling gold trim flared away from her body as it reached for the floor. Since appearing, her long legs in their black pants and knee-high boots hadn’t moved a single muscle, but somehow the gold tassels on her shoulders and buttons on her jacket were winking in the light.

Sensing she had every pair of eyes in the tent solely on her—and they would be quite foolish not to—she tilted her head up to the crowd. Her red lips took their time to form her favorite wicked grin, her only feature visible for the harsh shadows.

“Welcome…to the Circus Aurora.”

Jules didn’t yell it. She didn’t need to. She knew they could hear her perfectly, and not because of any magic that amplified her voice. It was magic of another sort—the kind only a certain type of performer like Jules could wield. The kind with the ability to capture an audience and render it completely transfixed.

“As you may have guessed, I am the Ringmaster.” She pulled the cane closer to her body and rested both hands on it while she squared herself off to the elevated stands in front of her. “And I’ll be your host tonight.”

Jules raised her head enough to let her sapphire eyes sparkle mischievously in the light, but only for a split second. Her head dipped back down and the spotlight cast shadows across her eyes again, any blue now lost to the darkness. The smile was gone too.

“I have no doubt that what you experience tonight will put your wildest dreams to shame. Your heart will pound in your chest, your eyes will glisten at the sheer beauty of what you see, and your voice will be hoarse from laughing and cheering. By the end, you’ll be left reeling, unsure of what you just witnessed, second guessing what’s real.”

The tension in the air might as well have been a taut string between her and the audience. They were motionless, hanging onto her every word, and Jules loved it so much, she had to keep from grinning.

She broke from her pose, breaking the tension along with it. Twirling her cane, she took to pacing the length of the stands, but angled her face down so it stayed hidden in shadow. The spotlight obediently followed her, keeping her perfectly within the center of it.

“This is where I remind you that, here at the Circus Aurora, we use the latest technological innovations to trick your senses,” she said, amusement in her voice, daring the audience to believe otherwise. “It’s just a spectacular show on a warm summer night for an outstanding crowd.”

Her wicked grin returned.




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Photo by Cyrus Crossan on Unsplash

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