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Fairytales and Scholars: Revealing Ava Reid’s A Study in Drowning


Fairytales and Scholars: Revealing Ava Reid’s A Study in Drowning

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Fairytales and Scholars: Revealing Ava Reid’s A Study in Drowning


Published on February 7, 2023

Photo courtesy of Ava Reid
Photo courtesy of Ava Reid

Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice…

We’re thrilled to share the cover and preview an excerpt from A Study in Drowning, the young adult debut from Juniper & Thorn author Ava Reid—publishing September 19, 2023 with HarperTeen.

Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice. Since childhood, she’s been haunted by visions of the Fairy King. She’s found solace only in the pages of Angharad—author Tmrys Myrddin’s beloved epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, and then destroys him.

Effy’s tattered, dog-eared copy is all that’s keeping her afloat through her stifling first term at Llyr’s prestigious architecture college. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to redesign the late author’s house, Effy feels certain this is her destiny.

But Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task: a musty, decrepit estate on the brink of crumbling into a hungry sea. And when Effy arrives, she finds she isn’t the only one who’s made a temporary home there. Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar, is studying Myrddin’s papers and is determined to prove her favorite author is a fraud.

As the two rival students investigate the reclusive author’s legacy, piecing together clues through his letters, books, and diaries, they discover that the house’s foundation isn’t the only thing that can’t be trusted. There are dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspiring against them—and the truth may bring them both to ruin.

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A Study in Drowning
A Study in Drowning

A Study in Drowning

Ava Reid is the author of critically acclaimed adult fantasies Juniper & Thorn and The Wolf and the Woodsman, as well as the forthcoming A Study in Drowning, her young adult debut. After obtaining her degree in political science from Barnard College, she moved to Palo Alto, where she continues to haunt university libraries.



It began as all things did: a girl on the shore, terrified and desirous.

–From Angharad by Emrys Myrddin, 191 AD


The poster was as frayed and tattered as a page torn from someone’s favorite book. Surely, Effy thought, that was intentional. It was printed on a thick yellow parchment, not unlike her drafting linens. The edges were curling in on themselves—either shyly or protectively, as if the parchment had a secret to hide.

Effy used both hands to smooth the paper flat, then squinted at the curling script. Handwritten, it was smeared in several places. It was further obscured by a water stain of no discernible shape, like a birthmark or a growth of mold.

To the esteemed students of the Architectural College,

The estate of Llyr’s national author EMRYS MYRDDIN is soliciting designs for a manor home outside the late author’s hometown of Saltney, Bay of Nine Bells.

We ask that the proposed structure—HIRAETH MANOR—be large enough to house the surviving Myrddin family, as well as the extensive collection of books, manuscripts, and letters that Myrddin leaves behind.

We ask that the designs reflect the character of Myrddin and the spirit of his enormous and influential body of work.

We ask that the designs be mailed to the below address no later than midautumn. The winner will be contacted by the first day of winter.

Three conditions, just like in one of Myrddin’s fairy tales. Effy’s heart began beating very fast. Almost unconsciously, she reached up to grasp at her knot of golden hair, tied back with its customary black ribbon. She smoothed down the loose strands that floated around her face in the drowsy, sunlit air of the college lobby.

“Excuse me,” someone said.

Effy’s gaze darted over her shoulder. Another architecture student in a brown tweed jacket stood behind her, rocking back and forth on his heels with an air of obvious irritation.

“Just a minute,” she said. “I haven’t finished looking.”

She hated the way her voice shook. The other student huffed in reply. Effy turned back to the poster, pulse ticking even faster now. But there was no more left to read, only the address at the bottom, no signature, no cheery best of luck! sign-off.

The other student began tapping his foot. Effy reached into her bag and pawed through it until she found a pen, uncapped and clearly unceremoniously abandoned, the nib thick with dust. She pressed it against the tip of her finger, but no inkblot appeared.

Her stomach twisted. She pressed again. The boy behind her shifted his weight, the old wood under him groaning, and Effy put the pen in her mouth and sucked until she tasted the metallic bite of ink.

“For Saints’ sakes,” the boy snapped.

Hurriedly she scrawled the address on the back of her hand and dropped the pen into her bag. She tore away from the wall, and the poster, and the boy, before he could do or say anything more. As she walked briskly down the hallway, Effy caught the end of his muttered curse.

Heat rose to her cheeks. She reached her studio classroom and sat down in her customary seat, avoiding the gazes of the other students as they shuffled to their places. She stared down, instead, at the bleeding ink on the back of her hand. The words were starting to blur, as if the address were a spell, one with a tauntingly short life span.

Cruel magic was the currency of the Fair Folk as they appeared in Myrddin’s books. She had read them all so many times that the logic of his world was layered over hers, like glossy tracing paper on top of the original.

Effy focused on the words, committing them to memory before the ink could run beyond legibility. If she squinted until her eyes watered, she could almost forget the boy’s whispered slur. But her mind slipped away from her, running through all the reasons he might have scoffed and sneered at her.

One: She was the only female student at the architecture college. Even if the boy had never so much as glimpsed her in the halls before, certainly he had seen her name on the exam results, and then, later, on the college roster in the lobby. Three days ago, some anonymous vigilante had taken a pen and turned her last name, Sayre, into something lewd, preserving the last two letters.

Two: She was the only female student at the architecture college, and she had placed higher than him in the entrance exam. She had scored high enough for the literature college, but they didn’t accept women, so she had settled for architecture: less prestigious, less interesting, and, as far as she was concerned, monumentally more difficult. Her mind didn’t work in straight lines and right angles.

Three: He knew about Master Corbenic. When Effy thought of him now, it was only in small pieces. The gold wristwatch nestled in the dark, thick hair of his arms. The adultness of it had shocked her, like a blow to the belly. Few of the boys at her college—and that’s what they were, boys—had such thick arm hair, and even fewer had expensive wristwatches to nestle in it.

Effy squeezed her eyes shut, willing the image to vanish. When she opened them again, the chalkboard in front of her looked glassy, like a window at night. She could picture a thousand blurry, half-seen things behind it.

Her studio professor, Master Parri, was running through his usual introduction, only in Argantian. It was a new policy at the university, instituted only at the start of her first term, six weeks ago. Officially, it was out of respect for the university’s few Argantian students, but unofficially, it was out of a sort of preemptive fear. If Argant won the war, would they impress their language upon all of Llyr? Would children grow up shaping its vowel sounds and verbs instead of memorizing Llyrian poetry?

It might be a good idea for everyone at the university to have a head start.

But even when Master Parri lapsed back into Llyrian, Effy’s mind was still turning, like a dog unable to settle itself down to sleep. Master Parri wanted two cross sections finished by the end of class. She had chosen to do a redesign of the Sleeper Museum. It was the city of Caer-Isel’s most beloved tourist attraction, as well as the alleged seat of Llyrian magic. There, the seven Storytellers slept in their glass coffins, silently warding Llyr against threats and, according to some, waiting for the country’s bleakest moment to rise again and protect their homeland. It was either provincial superstition or gospel truth, depending on who you asked.

Ever since Myrddin had been laid to rest, just before the start of her term, tickets had been sold out and lines for the museum wrapped around the block. Effy had tried three times to visit, waiting for hours only to be turned away at the ticket booth. So she had simply had to imagine how the Storytellers would look, penciling in the features of their slumbering faces. She had taken extra care with Myrddin’s. Even in death, he appeared wise and gentle, the way she thought a father would.

But now, while Parri’s voice rolled ceaselessly over her like low tide against the shoreline, Effy opened her sketchbook to a new page and penciled in the words HIRAETH MANOR.


Excerpted from A Study in Drowning, copyright © 2023 by Ava Reid

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