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Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston

Part of Sir Callie

Author Esme Symes-Smith On Tour
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Paperback
$8.99 US
5.25"W x 7.75"H x 1.04"D  
On sale Aug 08, 2023 | 416 Pages | 978-0-593-48580-4
| Grades 6-8
Reading Level: Lexile 710L | Fountas & Pinnell X
In a magical medieval world filled with dragons, shape-shifters, and witches, a twelve-year-old nonbinary hopeful knight battles for the heart of their kingdom. This USA Today bestselling series explores identity and gender amid sword fights and magic, and proves anyone can be a hero.

“These heroes come in all shapes and skills—I cheered for them throughout their exciting journey.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce


When their ex-hero dad is summoned back to the royal capital of Helston to train a hopeless crown prince, Callie lunges at the opportunity to finally prove themself worthy to the kingdom’s "great and powerful."

Except the intolerant great and powerful look at nonbinary Callie and only see girl. But Callie has always known exactly what they want to be, and they’re not about to let anything stand in their way. 

Trapped in Helston’s rigid hierarchy where girls learn magic and boys train as knights, Callie discovers they aren’t alone—there’s Elowen, the chancellor’s brilliant daughter, whose unparalleled power is being stifled; Edwyn, Elowen’s twin brother desperate to win his father’s approval; and Willow, the crown prince who was never meant to be king.  

In this start to an epic series packed with action, humor, and heart, Callie and their new friends quickly find themselves embedded in an ancient war—and their only hope to defeat the threats outside the kingdom lies in first defeating the bigotry within.

"Everything you could possibly want from a middle grade fantasy." —The Nerd Daily
After cutting their teeth on a steady diet of fan fiction in the Southwest of England, Esme Symes-Smith wandered north to Wales for their degree in literature and creative writing, then promptly migrated to Missouri after meeting their wife on Tumblr.

Esme has been a ghostwriter, an editor, a frozen-yogurt seller, and a caffeine purveyor. They now wrangle preschoolers for a living and have a severe tea problem. View titles by Esme Symes-Smith

Chapter One

Eyrewood, Two Years Later

 “Hiyah!”

I lunge at the offending tree, swinging the too-­big sword with both hands. The tree hasn’t really done anything to deserve such abuse, but everyone else is asleep, so it’s the only dueling partner I’m gonna find at this hour of the morning. Neal’s sword is nearly as long as I am tall, and so heavy every blow makes me sweat, but it’s the best I can do for the foreseeable future.

It doesn’t count as stealing if I return it before Neal’s awake. Right?

I sink deep into my favorite dreams, imagining myself in Helston colors—­all clean scarlet and gold—­striking out at classmates dressed up the same instead of stuck in dirt colors, fencing a tree. Two years and miles away from Clystwell, it feels a little more possible. At least I’m with people who want to help me, who see my potential and let me chase my dreams.

Eyrewood life is about as different from Clystwell as it’s possible to be; we live in a clearing in the middle of the thick forest of hazel trees, a mismatched muddle of people who have somehow found each other and made a home. There’s Josh, a man the size of a mountain with dark skin and flowers in his long hair. He’s the self-­appointed cook, and quite frankly it’s lucky we’re not all dead. Faolan’s the youngest apart from me, with a copper complexion warm as the evening sun, and so weedy he looks like a breeze could knock him right over. He doesn’t have magic in his fingers, but he’s got a way with animals that calms even the most nervous rabbit. Rowena’s pale like me and Papa, and just as likely to burn in the sun, and once upon a time everyone thought she was a boy. Don’t know how anyone could’ve got that so wrong, looking at her now, but I guess it’s the same way people call me “girl.” Then there’s Pasco the pirate, who got sick of the sea but longs for real sunshine and decent food, and promises to take me to his homeland one day.

Most important of all is Neal. Sun-­blessed, even in the deepest winter, he’s the one who found me and Papa wandering homeless after fleeing Clystwell. He’s the one who welcomed us in and gave us a home, who can grow flowers in the palm of his hand and fight with a sword just as well as Papa, who tells me every day that I’m more than enough exactly as I am. Who loves me and Papa without condition.

“Family are the people who love you,” he told me once. “Exactly as you are, regardless of blood and bond.”

And home is the place where those people are, even if it’s a cluster of tents around a campfire. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

Well, maybe one thing.

I strike a chunk of bark off the tree and stumble back, sweating. I’ve got great stamina, but Neal’s sword takes it right out of me. There’s a reason why people learn with practice weapons and gradually grow up into full-­sized ones. I don’t have that luxury. If I hadn’t started with grown-­up weapons, I’d never have started at all.

I prop Neal’s sword against the abused tree and stand back, wiping sweat from my forehead with a satisfying flourish. It’s only early spring, and the air is chilled pretty much anytime before midday, so sweating means I’m doing something right.

I’m about to go at it again when I feel thunder in my feet.

Thunder means horses, and horses mean—­

New sun catches on gold the moment before the rider thunders through the trees and into the clearing where our camp’s set up.

Gold and scarlet, and a flash of tempered steel.

My pulse spikes in a heady clash of dread and desire.

Helston.

So Papa’s retired the same way I’m his squire—­in all ways except the ones that actually matter. Even though he hasn’t been to court in years and gave up his title of king’s champion after the king disappeared, Helston still has the right to call him to duty and take him away from me. It doesn’t matter how far we go or how well we hide, Helston can always find us.

By rights I should hate them. They’re the reason I was left alone with Mama so much, and they’re the gatekeepers locking me out of my dreams. But I want it so bad. I want to wear that uniform, and get all polished up and learn all the rules, and be part of something glorious. I want the same access to the same chances any boy gets if he wants it, no questions asked.

I want to be a knight.

The enormous black horse pulls up so close, his hot breath whuffling through my hair. He’s dressed up just like his master in the bright scarlet and gold of the palace, and he fixes me with the same disinterested eye.

I draw myself up tall and salute just the way Papa taught me, posture perfect. Maybe this is my moment. Maybe the Helston messenger will be so impressed, he’ll invite me to ride back with him because obviously my potential is wasted here, and he’ll personally make sure that my name gets added to the list of pages, and—­

The messenger’s lip curls. “I have an urgent message for Sir Nicholas. Please fetch someone who can deliver it directly to him.”

The beginning of a very specific and way-­too-­familiar feeling starts in the bottom of my gut.

I keep my chin up and my demeanor pleasant. “I can take it,” I tell the messenger confidently, reaching up for the letter.

It stays in the messenger’s hand.

The uncomfortable feeling winds its way up into my throat as his eyes sweep over me, taking me in, disregarding everything that makes me me. So much for this being my moment.

“Don’t mess with me, girl. This is royal correspondence of the highest consequence. To stand in the way of its delivery is nothing less than treason—­”

“I’m not a girl—­I’m Sir Nick’s squire,” I say, trying not to show how much I want to knock him off his stupid horse with Neal’s sword. I’m a rubbish liar, even just with my face. “I can take it to him.”

The horse shifts restlessly with a jingle of gold tack, reading his master’s mood. I’m not worried. That sword looks like it’s never seen a day’s use in its life.

“I won’t tell you again—­”

“Hey.” A hand falls onto my rigid shoulder and squeezes. “Everything all right here?” Neal grins easily down at me, but I can read his expression better than anyone’s, and he knows what’s going on. He salutes cheerily up at the messenger. “I’m Captain Neal—­how can I help?”

The messenger turns his contempt onto Neal. “Captain, is it? You’re as much a captain as that girl is a squire. I don’t know what kind of farce is being played out here, but I don’t have time for it.”

Neal tilts his head with a pleasant frown. “Girl? You’re talking about this one here? This is Sir Nick’s squire. You’ve misinterpreted. No worries, happens all the time. We’ll just take the letter and an apology for Callie and call it quits with no hard feelings, okay?”

Neal might as well have asked for the souls of the messenger’s entire extended family from the look we’re getting. It’s delicious. The uncomfortable knot untwists a little and I fold my arms, waiting for the apology I know I’m not going to get.

Finally, through gritted teeth, the messenger asks, “Where is Sir Nicholas?”

“Sleeping,” says Neal. “You were probably anxious, assuming that loud growl was one of the wolves that have a particular taste for horse, but don’t worry—just the king’s champion, hero of Helston. I can wake him if you want, but I’d rather take on a pack of wolves if I were you.”

I bite my lip against a laugh. Papa’s the least scary person in the whole world, despite sounding like a bear when he sleeps. Thankfully, the messenger doesn’t know that.

“See the response is delivered by your fastest bird.” He shoves the letter at Neal and pulls his horse roughly around, kicking it straight into a thundering gallop in the opposite direction.

Once he’s out of sight, Neal exhales a tight breath and squeezes my shoulder. “Well, that was a fun start to the day. You okay, kiddo?” Now that the messenger’s gone, the easy act drops away and Neal looks down at me all sorry and concerned. He knows what it’s like, to be seen as something you’re not, no matter how hard you try to appear otherwise. It’s not like I’m not used to it. And it’s not like that makes it easier.

  • SELECTION | 2024
    Rise: A Feminist Book Project Top Ten
ALA Rainbow Book Top 10 List

"Everything you could possibly want from a middle grade fantasy....Fierce, sharp-witted and unapologetically queer."
The Nerd Daily

★ "Tenacious, vulnerable, and gritty, Sir Callie is a hero that belongs on every library shelf. This is an important book that will capture every reader’s heart and imagination."
SLJ, starred review

★ "In this uplifting debut, Symes-Smith skillfully crafts an emotionally rich adventure starring an intersectionally inclusive cast of courageous characters."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "A can’t-miss, one-of-a-kind (for now!) page-turner, bursting with heart...Among the best of the year—and a debut, no less."
Booklist, starred review

Fierce, heartfelt and determined....Callie and their friends refuse to give up or stop questioning the discrimination within their society.” 
Kirkus Reviews

"Young readers will find a worthy hero in Callie."
Bookpage

"Symes-Smith has forged a razor-sharp story of bravery, emotional resilience, deep honor, and adventure!'
Ash Van Otterloo, author of CATTYWAMPUS
 
"This warm hug of a book is a love letter to classic fantasy novels and a joyous celebration of found families, finding your place, and making your way in the world on your terms (and with your chosen pronouns). It's thoughtful, inclusive, and an absolute joy."
— Jamie Pacton, author of THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY 

"A groundbreaking, magical story about fighting for who you are...Callie is a character every middle grade reader deserves to have on their shelves."
— Nicole Melleby, author of HURRICANE SEASON
 
"A groundbreaking story with engaging, unforgettable characters, whose personal journeys will mean the world to so many young readers."
— A. J. Sass, author of ANA ON THE EDGE

Sir Callie is the hero I needed while growing up, and I am so grateful this story exists for kids today.”
 —H.E Edgmon, Author of THE WITCH KING

About

In a magical medieval world filled with dragons, shape-shifters, and witches, a twelve-year-old nonbinary hopeful knight battles for the heart of their kingdom. This USA Today bestselling series explores identity and gender amid sword fights and magic, and proves anyone can be a hero.

“These heroes come in all shapes and skills—I cheered for them throughout their exciting journey.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce


When their ex-hero dad is summoned back to the royal capital of Helston to train a hopeless crown prince, Callie lunges at the opportunity to finally prove themself worthy to the kingdom’s "great and powerful."

Except the intolerant great and powerful look at nonbinary Callie and only see girl. But Callie has always known exactly what they want to be, and they’re not about to let anything stand in their way. 

Trapped in Helston’s rigid hierarchy where girls learn magic and boys train as knights, Callie discovers they aren’t alone—there’s Elowen, the chancellor’s brilliant daughter, whose unparalleled power is being stifled; Edwyn, Elowen’s twin brother desperate to win his father’s approval; and Willow, the crown prince who was never meant to be king.  

In this start to an epic series packed with action, humor, and heart, Callie and their new friends quickly find themselves embedded in an ancient war—and their only hope to defeat the threats outside the kingdom lies in first defeating the bigotry within.

"Everything you could possibly want from a middle grade fantasy." —The Nerd Daily

Author

After cutting their teeth on a steady diet of fan fiction in the Southwest of England, Esme Symes-Smith wandered north to Wales for their degree in literature and creative writing, then promptly migrated to Missouri after meeting their wife on Tumblr.

Esme has been a ghostwriter, an editor, a frozen-yogurt seller, and a caffeine purveyor. They now wrangle preschoolers for a living and have a severe tea problem. View titles by Esme Symes-Smith

Excerpt

Chapter One

Eyrewood, Two Years Later

 “Hiyah!”

I lunge at the offending tree, swinging the too-­big sword with both hands. The tree hasn’t really done anything to deserve such abuse, but everyone else is asleep, so it’s the only dueling partner I’m gonna find at this hour of the morning. Neal’s sword is nearly as long as I am tall, and so heavy every blow makes me sweat, but it’s the best I can do for the foreseeable future.

It doesn’t count as stealing if I return it before Neal’s awake. Right?

I sink deep into my favorite dreams, imagining myself in Helston colors—­all clean scarlet and gold—­striking out at classmates dressed up the same instead of stuck in dirt colors, fencing a tree. Two years and miles away from Clystwell, it feels a little more possible. At least I’m with people who want to help me, who see my potential and let me chase my dreams.

Eyrewood life is about as different from Clystwell as it’s possible to be; we live in a clearing in the middle of the thick forest of hazel trees, a mismatched muddle of people who have somehow found each other and made a home. There’s Josh, a man the size of a mountain with dark skin and flowers in his long hair. He’s the self-­appointed cook, and quite frankly it’s lucky we’re not all dead. Faolan’s the youngest apart from me, with a copper complexion warm as the evening sun, and so weedy he looks like a breeze could knock him right over. He doesn’t have magic in his fingers, but he’s got a way with animals that calms even the most nervous rabbit. Rowena’s pale like me and Papa, and just as likely to burn in the sun, and once upon a time everyone thought she was a boy. Don’t know how anyone could’ve got that so wrong, looking at her now, but I guess it’s the same way people call me “girl.” Then there’s Pasco the pirate, who got sick of the sea but longs for real sunshine and decent food, and promises to take me to his homeland one day.

Most important of all is Neal. Sun-­blessed, even in the deepest winter, he’s the one who found me and Papa wandering homeless after fleeing Clystwell. He’s the one who welcomed us in and gave us a home, who can grow flowers in the palm of his hand and fight with a sword just as well as Papa, who tells me every day that I’m more than enough exactly as I am. Who loves me and Papa without condition.

“Family are the people who love you,” he told me once. “Exactly as you are, regardless of blood and bond.”

And home is the place where those people are, even if it’s a cluster of tents around a campfire. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

Well, maybe one thing.

I strike a chunk of bark off the tree and stumble back, sweating. I’ve got great stamina, but Neal’s sword takes it right out of me. There’s a reason why people learn with practice weapons and gradually grow up into full-­sized ones. I don’t have that luxury. If I hadn’t started with grown-­up weapons, I’d never have started at all.

I prop Neal’s sword against the abused tree and stand back, wiping sweat from my forehead with a satisfying flourish. It’s only early spring, and the air is chilled pretty much anytime before midday, so sweating means I’m doing something right.

I’m about to go at it again when I feel thunder in my feet.

Thunder means horses, and horses mean—­

New sun catches on gold the moment before the rider thunders through the trees and into the clearing where our camp’s set up.

Gold and scarlet, and a flash of tempered steel.

My pulse spikes in a heady clash of dread and desire.

Helston.

So Papa’s retired the same way I’m his squire—­in all ways except the ones that actually matter. Even though he hasn’t been to court in years and gave up his title of king’s champion after the king disappeared, Helston still has the right to call him to duty and take him away from me. It doesn’t matter how far we go or how well we hide, Helston can always find us.

By rights I should hate them. They’re the reason I was left alone with Mama so much, and they’re the gatekeepers locking me out of my dreams. But I want it so bad. I want to wear that uniform, and get all polished up and learn all the rules, and be part of something glorious. I want the same access to the same chances any boy gets if he wants it, no questions asked.

I want to be a knight.

The enormous black horse pulls up so close, his hot breath whuffling through my hair. He’s dressed up just like his master in the bright scarlet and gold of the palace, and he fixes me with the same disinterested eye.

I draw myself up tall and salute just the way Papa taught me, posture perfect. Maybe this is my moment. Maybe the Helston messenger will be so impressed, he’ll invite me to ride back with him because obviously my potential is wasted here, and he’ll personally make sure that my name gets added to the list of pages, and—­

The messenger’s lip curls. “I have an urgent message for Sir Nicholas. Please fetch someone who can deliver it directly to him.”

The beginning of a very specific and way-­too-­familiar feeling starts in the bottom of my gut.

I keep my chin up and my demeanor pleasant. “I can take it,” I tell the messenger confidently, reaching up for the letter.

It stays in the messenger’s hand.

The uncomfortable feeling winds its way up into my throat as his eyes sweep over me, taking me in, disregarding everything that makes me me. So much for this being my moment.

“Don’t mess with me, girl. This is royal correspondence of the highest consequence. To stand in the way of its delivery is nothing less than treason—­”

“I’m not a girl—­I’m Sir Nick’s squire,” I say, trying not to show how much I want to knock him off his stupid horse with Neal’s sword. I’m a rubbish liar, even just with my face. “I can take it to him.”

The horse shifts restlessly with a jingle of gold tack, reading his master’s mood. I’m not worried. That sword looks like it’s never seen a day’s use in its life.

“I won’t tell you again—­”

“Hey.” A hand falls onto my rigid shoulder and squeezes. “Everything all right here?” Neal grins easily down at me, but I can read his expression better than anyone’s, and he knows what’s going on. He salutes cheerily up at the messenger. “I’m Captain Neal—­how can I help?”

The messenger turns his contempt onto Neal. “Captain, is it? You’re as much a captain as that girl is a squire. I don’t know what kind of farce is being played out here, but I don’t have time for it.”

Neal tilts his head with a pleasant frown. “Girl? You’re talking about this one here? This is Sir Nick’s squire. You’ve misinterpreted. No worries, happens all the time. We’ll just take the letter and an apology for Callie and call it quits with no hard feelings, okay?”

Neal might as well have asked for the souls of the messenger’s entire extended family from the look we’re getting. It’s delicious. The uncomfortable knot untwists a little and I fold my arms, waiting for the apology I know I’m not going to get.

Finally, through gritted teeth, the messenger asks, “Where is Sir Nicholas?”

“Sleeping,” says Neal. “You were probably anxious, assuming that loud growl was one of the wolves that have a particular taste for horse, but don’t worry—just the king’s champion, hero of Helston. I can wake him if you want, but I’d rather take on a pack of wolves if I were you.”

I bite my lip against a laugh. Papa’s the least scary person in the whole world, despite sounding like a bear when he sleeps. Thankfully, the messenger doesn’t know that.

“See the response is delivered by your fastest bird.” He shoves the letter at Neal and pulls his horse roughly around, kicking it straight into a thundering gallop in the opposite direction.

Once he’s out of sight, Neal exhales a tight breath and squeezes my shoulder. “Well, that was a fun start to the day. You okay, kiddo?” Now that the messenger’s gone, the easy act drops away and Neal looks down at me all sorry and concerned. He knows what it’s like, to be seen as something you’re not, no matter how hard you try to appear otherwise. It’s not like I’m not used to it. And it’s not like that makes it easier.

Awards

  • SELECTION | 2024
    Rise: A Feminist Book Project Top Ten

Praise

ALA Rainbow Book Top 10 List

"Everything you could possibly want from a middle grade fantasy....Fierce, sharp-witted and unapologetically queer."
The Nerd Daily

★ "Tenacious, vulnerable, and gritty, Sir Callie is a hero that belongs on every library shelf. This is an important book that will capture every reader’s heart and imagination."
SLJ, starred review

★ "In this uplifting debut, Symes-Smith skillfully crafts an emotionally rich adventure starring an intersectionally inclusive cast of courageous characters."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "A can’t-miss, one-of-a-kind (for now!) page-turner, bursting with heart...Among the best of the year—and a debut, no less."
Booklist, starred review

Fierce, heartfelt and determined....Callie and their friends refuse to give up or stop questioning the discrimination within their society.” 
Kirkus Reviews

"Young readers will find a worthy hero in Callie."
Bookpage

"Symes-Smith has forged a razor-sharp story of bravery, emotional resilience, deep honor, and adventure!'
Ash Van Otterloo, author of CATTYWAMPUS
 
"This warm hug of a book is a love letter to classic fantasy novels and a joyous celebration of found families, finding your place, and making your way in the world on your terms (and with your chosen pronouns). It's thoughtful, inclusive, and an absolute joy."
— Jamie Pacton, author of THE LIFE AND (MEDIEVAL) TIMES OF KIT SWEETLY 

"A groundbreaking, magical story about fighting for who you are...Callie is a character every middle grade reader deserves to have on their shelves."
— Nicole Melleby, author of HURRICANE SEASON
 
"A groundbreaking story with engaging, unforgettable characters, whose personal journeys will mean the world to so many young readers."
— A. J. Sass, author of ANA ON THE EDGE

Sir Callie is the hero I needed while growing up, and I am so grateful this story exists for kids today.”
 —H.E Edgmon, Author of THE WITCH KING

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