DiscoverYoung Adult Fantasy

First Earth: Book One in the Arch Mage Series

By Cami Murdock Jensen

Loved it! 😍

A young burn victim learns that she's a powerful wizard and becomes an unlikely hero in Book One of the Arch Mage Series.

Synopsis

The moment I declared the last word, I felt a rush of wind from every direction, as though the power surge in my chest sucked energy from the entire Earth. The hurricane of energy imploded into me, and silence caused a still calm to fall onto the room. My skin tingled. Not like neuropathy, but like warm static electricity.

"Whoa," I whispered.

I expected an adventure when I left home for a new internship. A nice, easy, comfortable adventure that a sixteen-year-old burn victim like me could handle. That wasn't what happened. While I translated an ancient text for my new boss, a woman possessed by a ghost tried to kill me. Then an old wizard saved me by taking me to another planet. Saved? As if. Kidnapped is more like it--and that's just the beginning.

Maybe I should just go home and forget about being a wizard. How am I supposed to save a whole other planet, with magic I don't know how to use and an army of demons led by an evil necromancer trying to murder me?

Will you join Agnes on her journey of self-discovery, magic, new worlds, new creatures??

"My only use in life was to hide in a library and read dead languages to a blind man." This is how Agnes Ann Cavanaugh--the main character of Cami Murdock Jensen's YA fantasy book First Earth--views herself. Agnes is a talented 16-year-old, recruited by Dr. James R. Buchanan to translate ancient texts as a summer intern at Boston University, but she's also a self-critical burn victim. Agnes was injured in a fire as a child, and her father died protecting her. She carries this burden as scars on her face that, mysteriously, never quite seem to heal. But, of course, Agnes is much more than she appears.


When Dr. Buchanan asks Agnes to read a tablet from the ancient Jamdat Nasrian civilization, everything goes haywire. A woman, seemingly possessed by a spirit, almost kills Agnes, but an old man appears and whisks her away just in time. Turns out, the tablet is actually an Aether Stone--an object that opens up portals, called Jent Paths, between worlds. The old man is a young wizard in disguise--Temnon, the Arch Mage of First Earth. Earth, as we know it, is Second Earth--only one of many. And Agnes is a formidable wizard.


Before she knows it, Agnes is sucked into the middle of an interplanetary magical war. The commanding King Odric's wayward daughter Nemantia has been draining the magic from wizards, leaving only ashes behind and increasing her own power. With the fate of all the Earths on the line, Agnes must harness her own magical abilities and use them to uncover the truth about Nemantia's betrayal. Along the way, she encounters a wonderfully imaginative cast of characters, including a telepathic dragon of knowledge named Dominath, and Grimmal--a snarky shape-shifting cat called a sciftan.


Although Jensen's novel does have some similarities to The Golden Compass, the book is overall a wildly creative, inspiring tale about hardship and personal acceptance. Agnes dislikes herself and her scars, and she experiences chronic nerve pain. While she realizes early on that being connected with magic soothes her illness, Agnes struggles to understand her powers. It's only when she truly learns to love herself that things become clear. This is a beautiful uplifting message about the power of self-discovery, and an important lesson for young readers to learn. For this reason, I'd pitch this book at middle grade readers: Agnes is the perfect hero for a complicated, difficult age.

Reviewed by

Batavia Public Library Tech/Reference Assistant
Former Literary Agent Assistant at Barbara Braun Associates, Inc.
Former Personal Assistant to Marilyn Stasio at the NYTBR
Former Book Review Editor for KGB Bar Lit Mag
Former Business Manager of the Columbia Journal
MFA in Fiction from Columbia U

Synopsis

The moment I declared the last word, I felt a rush of wind from every direction, as though the power surge in my chest sucked energy from the entire Earth. The hurricane of energy imploded into me, and silence caused a still calm to fall onto the room. My skin tingled. Not like neuropathy, but like warm static electricity.

"Whoa," I whispered.

I expected an adventure when I left home for a new internship. A nice, easy, comfortable adventure that a sixteen-year-old burn victim like me could handle. That wasn't what happened. While I translated an ancient text for my new boss, a woman possessed by a ghost tried to kill me. Then an old wizard saved me by taking me to another planet. Saved? As if. Kidnapped is more like it--and that's just the beginning.

Maybe I should just go home and forget about being a wizard. How am I supposed to save a whole other planet, with magic I don't know how to use and an army of demons led by an evil necromancer trying to murder me?

Will you join Agnes on her journey of self-discovery, magic, new worlds, new creatures??

I Am Chased by the Sun

A beam of light somehow penetrated the cloudy sky, reflected off the side mirror of our aged Volkswagen convertible, and glared into my eyes. Too excited to let anything interfere with my adventure, I leaned forward to push the mirror away. Much better. Now the light didn’t shine in my eyes, and I couldn’t see the wrinkled, raging burn scars marring my face. 

“Sun chasing you again, Agnes?” Mom teased, her cheer brightening the gray morning. 

I adjusted my felt hat. “I’m never going to outgrow that moment, am I?” 

“Nope. It’s one of my favorite memories of you. Poor little baby. For years you endured the operations at Shriner’s, and the pressure garments, and damaged nerves. You were in constant pain, but you never complained about that. No, you worried about the sun chasing you. Only two, and you were so serious. Adorable.”

“I’m still serious. The sun does chase me,” I insisted. “Scientists say light travels in straight lines, but I can’t accept that when the sun dodges buildings just to find me.”

Mom sparkled when she laughed. I was really going to miss her.

A long strand of her light brown hair blowing in the wind distracted me, and I nearly missed a road sign with an arrow and “Boston University” in bold print. “There’s the sign, Mom.”

“I see it.” Her arms, smooth and tanned from her second job as a recreational assistant for a daycare, heaved on the steering wheel as she whipped the car around the corner onto a tree-lined street. “What’s the number again?”

I pulled a thick sheet of paper out of my shoulder bag and found the address of our destination in the upper-right corner. “It’s 798,” I told her. “Another few blocks.” 

Below the address, a few typed paragraphs punctuated the creamy expanse. It was crazy to think how this letter changed the course of my life. Though I’d memorized it weeks ago, I read it again.


Dear Miss Cavanaugh,

I am pleased to offer you the chance to be my summer intern. Your scholastic achievements, though impressive, pale in comparison to your optimistic nature and obvious capabilities. You have been a great inspiration to me in our past endeavors, and I am enthused to have your help with my latest work. You will continue using your talent for reading ancient texts to assist me in my research of the magics in cultures past. If you perform adequately, I will hire you permanently and offer a scholarship to Boston University.

In addition, since you are sixteen and still a minor, you are not eligible to room in the dorms. I would like to once again offer you a place to stay. My capable aide, and your old compadre, the delightful Ms. Chippy has agreed to take charge of you and my granddaughter, Sadie, who will be spending the summer with me in my Boston penthouse. (Refer to address above.) I have no doubts that the two of you will become great friends. 

I’m looking forward to working with you again, Agnes.


Dr. James R. Buchanan, Professor Emeritus of History, Boston University


I adored James Buchanan. I mean, who wouldn’t? He was like your great uncle who regaled you with wonderful stories at Christmas. I especially loved his fantasy books. They had enough historical fact to bring them to life and help me escape from my own life of pain. Besides, what other rich, smart, famous author would take an almost handicapped kid with scars etched across her right cheek, neck, and shoulder and make her feel needed? Then again, he didn’t care at all what I looked like: he was blind. His granddaughter? Probably not blind.

“You still okay with this, sunshine?” Mom’s concern cooled her cheer a few degrees. 

“Mostly.”

“What’s wrong? We’ve stayed with Dr. Buchanan dozens of times. He’s more of an uncle to you than your real uncle.”

“I have an uncle?”

Mom sighed. “Technically. But I’d trade him for James in a heartbeat if it were legal.”

“Dr. B’s the greatest. It’s not him . . .”

Mom nodded in understanding. “Oh. It’s the new roommate, isn’t it? Agnes, honey, your scars aren’t as bad as you think they are. Once Sadie gets to know you, she’ll love you. It can be risky—trusting strangers—but it’s usually worth it.”

My legs started to tingle. Drat it. Stress always set off my neuropathy. Damaged nerves were no fun. The tingling I could handle, but if I got too stressed, the tingling would increase to stabbing pains or worse. And thinking about what this internship meant to Mom stressed me out. Mom could never afford college, not after paying all those medical bills, so my only shot at a real career lay in this internship. I wanted to impress Dr. Buchanan and earn a scholarship, but I was nervous about his expectations and terrified of living with a girl I’d never met.

Precious few people saw past my deformed face, and none of them were kids my own age. Elementary school was a disaster. Mom yelled at the principal, took me out of public school, and enrolled me in online courses, so I didn’t have a lot of experience socializing. Practically speaking, I knew I wasn’t in first grade anymore, but emotionally, I couldn’t help but wonder if the rejection would start all over.

The sun found me again. A patch of reflected light danced on the sleeve of my gray hoodie, daring me to catch it, but Mom reached over to put a gentle hand on my arm, chasing it away.

“I’m sure Dr. Buchanan told his granddaughter all about your scars,” she assured me. “I know you hate riding the train, but if you don’t want to stay in Boston, I can bring you in every day and take you home to Melrose at night.”

“No, Mom. That’s four hours out of your day. I’ll be fine coming home on the weekends.” I sighed. “One new roommate staring at my face is better than a whole train full of strangers. I’m grateful Dr. B offered to let me stay.”

“Okay, sweetie. It’ll be fine. I know it.”

I hoped so, because I didn’t have time to worry anymore. We arrived. Luckily, Mom sighted an open parking spot in front of Dr. Buchanan’s apartment building and parked the convertible. I shoved my letter back into my bag, pulled my felt hat down over my white, dry, stubbly hair, and wrapped a pink, silk scarf around my scarred neck. A round, Latina woman sat on the front stairs and flashed a smile as I swung the car door open.

“Miss Agnes!” she trilled.

“Hola, Ms. Chippy!” I eased my prickling legs onto the curb and climbed up the steps while Mom fed the meter.

Ms. Chippy waited with her arms wide. “Ay! Mi Chiquita, I’m so happy to see you!” 

She wrapped her plump arms around me. It didn’t matter if my new roommate didn’t like me, Ms. Chippy did. She slid her card over the card reader to open the front door as she chatted.

“You are taller! Bueno! But still too skinny, eh? Come in, I have food waiting! You come, too, Mama Lillian. Señor Doctor and Miss Sadie will be home soon, then Greyson will carry the bags.”

Sadie was the granddaughter, but . . . 

“Who’s Greyson?” I asked as we rode the elevator to the top floor.

“A student of the doctor. So handsome, with dark skin and big muscles. You will fall in love with him, yes?”

Great. A boy. Like meeting a girl wasn’t scary enough. I wished Ms. Chippy wouldn’t tease me like that. A jolt of pain stabbed my thigh. I guess I flinched because Mom linked a supportive arm in the crook of my elbow.

Dr. Buchanan’s penthouse gleamed, a perfect blend of modern and antique. Historical treasures mounted on sleek shelves lined the walls, and curios from ancient cultures perched on abstract pillars. For someone who couldn’t see, Dr. Buchanan had great taste in decorating.

“This way, chiquita.”

The spicy smell of salsa welcomed us as Ms. Chippy bustled into a modern dining room and pulled out a fancy, carved chair from the table for me. Happy to get off my legs, I sat down.

“I have juevos rancheros for breakfast,” she declared.

“We ate before we left, Ms. Chippy.” Mom may as well have spoken to the table. Ms. Chippy had bullheaded ideas about the healing power of food.

“Pulled pork or chicken with your eggs, Miss Agnes? Pork, I think, to fatten you up.”

“She can’t eat much, remember?” Mom tried again. “Her neuropathy medicine causes nausea.”

Ms. Chippy ignored my mom, charged through the swinging doors leading to the kitchen, and returned with two plates piled high with her cooking. She plopped them on the table in front of us.

“Eat now, yes.”

Enough food to feed a varsity track team weighed down my plate. I couldn’t eat it all even without my medicine. Lucky for me, the elevator dinged, and a rich tenor voice called out from the entry.

“Ms. Chippy! You must stop preparing such delicious dishes. I shall burst out of my suits.” Dr. Buchanan entered the dining room, tidily dressed and wearing dark glasses that contrasted with his silver hair. He looked like a retired secret agent. Or a hip grand duke. In my honest opinion, he was the coolest guy on Earth.

“You are a grown man, Doctor. You mind yourself,” Ms. Chippy chastised.

Dr. Buchanan stopped abruptly and turned right to me. His face lifted with joy and hope.

“Agnes, my dear, is that you?”

How could he possibly know where I was sitting? I walked to him and shook his outstretched hand. “Hello again, Doctor.” I tried to sound grown-up and internship worthy, but I gurgled like a draining sink.

“Oh, Agnes, I’m simply chuffed!” Dr. Buchanan cupped my hand in both of his. He could make a cockroach feel wanted. “I could feel your aura the moment I entered your presence.”

“Aura?” I didn’t think Dr. Buchanan was the flower-child type.

“Yes, aura, for lack of a better description. You exude light and all that is noble in this dreary world. But I’m sure you hear that all the time!”

Nope. Not ever. People did turn to me full of excitement, but when they saw my face, their expressions fell, sometimes into pity, sometimes fear, sometimes worse. I was so used to it.

A young female voice in the throes of high-pitched flirting giggled from the elevator entrance. Dr. Buchanan had no trouble placing the voice or who caused it to giggle.

“Sadie, my lamb, and Greyson, come meet my new intern.” Whenever Dr. Buchanan spoke, his voice lifted with excitement, as though every word were important to him and gave him great joy.

Seconds later, they entered the dining room. Sadie’s blonde curls curved as much as her silhouette, and she flashed a full-lipped smile at the young man next to her. Greyson appreciated the attention, and he responded by draping a muscular arm over her shoulders and dropping his head closer to hers. Together, they took one look at me, and the happiness faded from their faces. Big surprise. Sadie’s smile fell to pity, a common reaction, but Greyson’s face took on a strange, indifferent expression that I hadn’t seen before. Refreshing.

“Sadie, lamb,” Dr. Buchanan directed, “why don’t you show Agnes to your room? And Greyson, if you’ll be so kind as to assist the lovely Mrs. Cavanaugh and bring up the luggage?”

“Sure.” Greyson seemed to be a man of few words.

Sadie recovered in an instant and pointed to the hall. “This way, Agnes. I’m totally excited to share my room with you!”

What a liar. I could always spot a lie. Mom said it was my special talent. But Sadie lied to be kind, so I didn’t hold it against her. I followed her down the hallway and through a door into another world. Well, not literally. Our huge bedroom was decorated just like a princess chamber in a medieval castle. Only better. Thick Persian rugs, cherrywood writing tables, and richly colored tapestries blended with the latest wall-sized TV and high-tech desktop computers. Dr. Buchanan had gone out of his way to make Sadie, and me, feel welcome. This had to be the most elegant bedroom I’d ever seen.

“Fabulous, isn’t it!” Excitement—or maybe ner-vousness—made Sadie’s voice as high-pitched as flirting did. She leaped onto one of the four-poster canopied beds. “I love staying with Papa James! My mom would never decorate her flat like this. She likes a stark, modern style. But here, I’m like a princess! Of course, it helps that Papa James is richer than a king. That’s why he retired early and started writing. Did you know he’s a famous author?”

“Yup.” I reached into my bag and brought out his latest bestseller, Andromeda of the Centaurs, a novel based on Greek mythology. 

Sadie pointed excitedly at my book. “I loved that one. How Belen was in love with Andromeda the whole time.” Sadie swooned, remembering the story. “Did you know she was under a curse?”

“No!” I gushed, happy to have something in common with my new roommate. “I thought it was going to have a tragic ending. Like a Japanese honor over all thing. I loved it so much I read it twice in two days.”

Sadie stared at the title of the book, lost in her own thoughts. “Papa James sure has a gift for taking his readers to a new world.”

“You’re so right. His books are why I chose him in the first place.”

“What does that mean?” 

I guess Mom was wrong about Dr. Buchanan telling Sadie about me. Time for a little backstory. I dropped my shoulder bag on the floor and sat in the Queen Victoria chair next to the other bed.

“I met him through the Burning for Wishes Foundation four years ago.” 

Sadie shrugged, her eyes blank. Clearly, she was never a childhood burn victim. 

“They’re a nonprofit group that grants wishes to burned kids,” I explained. “Reading Dr. Buchanan’s novels about ancient cultures and their ideas of magic helped me deal with, well, everything. So, when Burning for Wishes offered to grant me a wish, I chose to meet him. Mom and I stayed a week at his New York mansion. That’s when I started reading to him. Now we visit all the time.”

Sadie caught on. “Oh, I get it. Papa James told me about his young muse. He’s right, you act really grown up for being only sixteen. I guess you had to grow up fast because of all the surgeries and everything. He says you help him see what he can’t, and your descriptions bring the ancient stuff to life. Oh, I used to get so sick of hearing about you, but then I realized if you weren’t reading to him, I would be, or one of his students, and seriously, I don’t love Latin.”

No lie this time. I had to give Sadie credit for one thing. She was fairly genuine. Plus, she’d stuck around for more than three minutes. Nice.

“I don’t love Latin either,” I laughed. “All that boring research makes Dr. Buchanan’s stories believable, so I put up with it.”

Sadie tenderly transferred a massive collection of cosmetics from her bag to her vanity while she talked. I’d never seen so many products.

“Papa James didn’t say how you met. I’m glad his books helped you. They helped me too, when my parents got divorced. I can’t tell you how much I wished I could be swept away into some magical world. Turning eighteen and moving here was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Ouch. Poor thing. I guess she didn’t have it as easy as I thought.

“Shared custody?” I asked.

“More of an amicable agreement. Officially, Mom got custody, but I hardly ever see her. She’s a fashion designer in London, Dad’s an attorney in California. Papa James immigrated here from England when they married to stay close to family, and just after he became a citizen they divorced and moved to opposite sides of the globe. I spent summers on the beach and the rest of the time in boarding school.”

“You don’t have an accent?”

“I do when I want one. I’m just like Papa James. We can both turn off our accents at will. I sound like a Californian with my dad, and a Brit with my mom. It’s really confusing.” Bitterly, she opened the vanity drawer and dumped in a pile of plastic tubes. “I wish they had just let me move here with Papa James, so I could at least pretend at normalcy.”

Double ouch. Sadie was beautiful, but I didn’t want to trade places with her for anything. I placed some prescription creams in my nightstand, wondering how to answer.

“Jeez,” I ventured, “that must have been rough. But I know what you mean. Dr. B is the best. Reading a few faded manuscripts are worth getting to stay here for the summer.”

“I know, right?” she brightened. “Except for one thing.”

She belly-flopped onto the bed and reached over the edge into her bag, her feet kicking behind her as she pulled out a hand mirror and checked her mascara.

“I’ll have to order a full-length mirror,” she complained, staring into the glass. “I mean, who lives with no mirrors in their house?”

Me. That’s who. But did she really want me to answer her question? Or just agree that mirrors were an absolute necessity to civilization? She had been open with me, so I risked honesty.

“I don’t have any mirrors at my house.”

Her hand, with the mirror, dropped to the fluffy duvet in shock. “No way! How can you live without mirrors?”

“It helps when you hate your reflection.”

Oops. More dramatic than I intended. Sadie’s candor made me forget to be careful. Her face filled with pity. Served me right. I grabbed my notebook and a handful of pencils from my shoulder bag and headed to the desk to avoid eye contact.

“Sorry,” she said, her voice finally dropping to a bearable octave. “I didn’t think. At least your big, brown eyes are pretty.” A lame, but sweet, recovery attempt. “So how did you get burned? Can I ask that?”

“Yeah. It’s fine.” I’d told the story a million times anyway. “It happened when I was a baby,” I began as I organized my stuff in the heavy drawers. “My dad was a manager in a chemical plant. One night, he took me on a drive so my mom could rest. While he was out, he stopped by his work to grab a file. That was when the whole plant blew up. I got seriously burned and fractured my spine when my dad fell. I still have nerve damage that bothers me, but I survived. The doctors all say it was a miracle.”

Sadie’s mouth, frozen with horror, was wide enough for me to flick a quarter inside.

“So your dad?” she whispered.

“He died.”

“What caused the explosion?” Sadie asked, concern showing on her face.

“Something to do with lint dust, a hot floor, and the mixing tanks. An accident.”

Indignation propelled Sadie upright. “Oh, your mom totally sued the company, right?”

“Of course not. It was nobody’s fault.”

Sadie stared at me, unbelief shouting through her hazel eyes. “But your face! Oh, and your dad! I would sue everyone in sight if some company killed my dad. How can you be fine with it?”

“I’m not.” I leaned back in the chair. “It’s been sixteen years, and my stupid scars refuse to fade. They should be silvery white by now, but they still look fresh. The doctors are mystified. And my hair”—I lifted up my hat to show her my short, white, dry hair—“won’t grow. Permanent heat damage.”

“No wonder you avoid mirrors.”

“It’s okay. My mom tells me when I have spinach stuck in my teeth.”

“Hey,” Greyson said from the doorway.

I slammed my hat back on my head. He leaned against the doorframe, one hand hooked in his designer jeans and the other easily carrying a suitcase stuffed with all my material possessions. Sadie had at least four huge bags already piled in the room. Hmm. I didn’t own much.

“Aww, you are so sweet, Greyson,” Sadie’s voice ascended to flirtation altitude, and she tossed a blonde lock skyward. “Just drop it there. Thanks so much.”

Setting the suitcase down, he nodded in my direction. “Your mom’s leaving.”

I stood on my tingling legs to go say goodbye. As I shuffled toward the door, Greyson didn’t move aside for me. He smelled like warm cedar. Man, he was attractive. Ms. Chippy nailed it. I already crushed on him, but he was way too old for me; plus, I didn’t have a chance with Sadie around. I glued my eyes to the floor and covered my blushing with the brim of my hat as I squeezed past him into the hall.

Car keys jangled as Mom and Dr. Buchanan stood by the elevator.

“Leaving already, Mom?”

“Gotta get back to Melrose in time for work, sunshine. I wish I could stay.” For a moment, I thought tears welled up in her eyes, but she blinked before I could be sure. She folded back the brim of my hat and kissed my forehead. “You do your best for Dr. Buchanan. And call me tonight. I want to hear all about your first day. Promise?”

“Promise. Love you, Mom.”

“Fare thee well, Mrs. Cavanaugh,” Dr. Buchanan added.

“You’ll take good care of her, won’t you, James?”

Dr. Buchanan bowed gallantly. “I pledge, on the honor of my noble ancestors, dear Lillian.”

She hurried into the elevator, and the doors slid closed, leaving me with a nauseous feeling that had nothing to do with my medicine. Against the silver, metal doors, a reflection of sunlight sparkled and danced. Deep down, underneath my sick tummy, a weird feeling sunshine. I wish I could stay.” For a moment, I thought tears welled up in her eyes, but she blinked before I could be sure. She folded back the brim of my hat and kissed my forehead. “You do your best for Dr. Buchanan. And call me tonight. I want to hear all about your first day. Promise?”

“Promise. Love you, Mom.”

“Fare thee well, Mrs. Cavanaugh,” Dr. Buchanan added.

“You’ll take good care of her, won’t you, James?”

Dr. Buchanan bowed gallantly. “I pledge, on the honor of my noble ancestors, dear Lillian.”

She hurried into the elevator, and the doors slid closed, leaving me with a nauseous feeling that had nothing to do with my medicine. Against the silver, metal doors, a reflection of sunlight sparkled and danced. Deep down, underneath my sick tummy, a weird feeling vibrated, like I had swallowed a bee. I felt excited and curious. I stared at the moving light. It bounced all the way across the smooth metal and spun in a tiny circle around the down button on the control panel. It looked almost like it wanted me to follow it. I reached for the button, and the light grew even brighter. The sunlight never chased me so intently, or so often, before today. What was different? Was I just crazy? 

About the author

Cami has always enjoyed a good story, writing youth theater musicals in her teens, directing, and composing. Some stories are too big for the stage, so she has written multiple fantasy stories for young adult and teen readers. view profile

Published on June 27, 2019

Published by

90000 words

Genre: Young adult fantasy

Reviewed by

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