Read an Excerpt From Audrey Burges’s A House Like an Accordion


We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from A House Like an Accordion, a new fantasy novel by Audrey Burges, publishing with Ace on May 21st.

Keryth Miller is disappearing.

Between the growing distance from her husband, the demands of two teenage daughters, and an all-encompassing burnout, she sometimes feels herself fading away. Actual translucence, though—that’s new. When Keryth wakes up one morning with her hand completely gone, she is frantic. But she quickly realizes two things: If she is disappearing, it’s because her father, an artist with the otherworldly ability to literally capture life in his art, is drawing her. And if he’s drawing her, that means he’s still alive.

But where has he been for the past twenty-five years, and why is he doing the one thing he always warned her not to? Never draw from life, Keryth. Every line exacts a cost. As Keryth continues to slowly fade away, she retraces what she believes to be her father’s last steps through the many homes of her past, determined to find him before it’s too late and she disappears entirely.

The first time Papa got me a sketchbook of my own, I carried it around for days, its pages blank, its cover as pristine as I could manage to keep it. It wasn’t pink or sparkly. Its black matte cover showed me it was real—a real sketchbook, for a real artist. It meant Papa believed in me, and shining under the light of his faith, any lines I sketched could only possibly be a disappointment. I clutched my blank sketchbook while I flipped through Papa’s, filled with cupolas and arched windows and low adobe structures, incomplete fragments of stone and wood occasionally interspersed with whole buildings. Some were recognizable, and some we had yet to find. All of them came from the real world, and anything Papa drew from reality bore real consequences. But I didn’t understand that then.

I was afraid to draw in my own book, but the images inside Papa’s looked stark and lonely, and I longed to give them company. He found me crouched over a page with a red pen, my imagined cardinal already half-sketched atop the graphite needles of a spruce tree he’d drawn, and he bellowed at me with a thundering voice I’d never heard him use before. I dropped the red pen as if it were made of lava. I’ve never used a red pen since.

He knew I was frightened, and he dropped to his knees beside me, gathering me into his arms. “Keryth. I’m so sorry I scared you. But you didn’t know what you were doing.”

I sniffed—louder than I meant to—and ordered my tears to stay where they were, burning behind my lashes. “I know I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t draw. Not like you. I’m sorry I ruined your picture, Papa.”

“Is that what you think?” He smoothed my mousy-brown curls back from my face and looked into my eyes. “Keryth, is that why you haven’t used your book?”

“I’m going to ruin it. I’ll only draw something stupid.”

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A House Like an Accordion

A House Like an Accordion

Audrey Burges

“You’re not going to ruin it. And nothing is stupid when you’re creating something new. That’s how we learn. I got the book for you because you said you wanted to draw together. I was going to show you some things.”

“But I drew in your book, and now you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry.” Papa sat cross-legged on the floor and pulled me into his lap. “It’s just that the lines in that book have a price, or at least they do when I draw them. I don’t know yet if it’ll be the same for you. That’s why I wanted to try it together first.”

I looked at my scribbled cardinal, interrupted mid-beak. “Your tree was empty. Everything in your book is empty.”

“As empty as I can make it, yes. And I still mess up sometimes. Have you ever seen a cardinal in person?”

I shook my head. “Only in Gran’s Audubon book.”

“Good. That’s good.”

“Why is that good?”

Papa stood up and reached for my hands, pulling me to my feet. “Follow me, and I’ll show you.”

We walked through the creaking screen door of our small cabin, and the hiss of the hinge slammed it shut behind us. I followed Papa to the blackberry bushes that ringed the house. The fruit was so ripe that the canes drooped under the weight, surrounded by frustrated bumblebees. No animals foraged the berries, and birds would only swoop down close to investigate and then soar upward again, as if encountering invisible netting that blocked their beaks.

The berries were only for us.

Papa pointed out a determined Steller’s jay, the tufted crest on his head cocked to one side as he puffed out his chest on a ponderosa branch high above the blackberry canes. “He’s planning his next route of attack,” Papa said.

“Why can’t he get the berries?” I watched the jay make another V-shaped dive, another perplexed perch on the branch. “Why can’t any of the animals?”

“Because we’re the only animals I made them for. Now watch.” Papa flipped open my blank sketchbook and grasped the pencil he always kept at the ready behind his ear. I watched the line grow behind his hand, curving into a sketched approximation of the jay more rapidly than I could follow, right down to the tilt of his head. I looked up to the ponderosa branch to compare the likeness, but the jay was gone.

I took back my sketchbook and peered at the shaded feathers, the intricate detail capturing even the minute fronds around the jay’s eye. And then I looked at the eye, and my heart stopped.

“Papa.” I felt my breath quicken, and I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the jay’s. “Papa. He’s trapped.”

“Yes, he is.” Papa’s voice carried a wistful finality as he tucked the pencil back behind his ear.

I kept gazing at the bird on the page. His wings, his tufted head, his curled feet around the branch were all silent and still, but the curve of the page looked like a caught breath, and I could feel his silenced heart trapped in his hollow bones beneath his feathers, all captured in a two-dimensional cage.

“Let him go, Papa! Please let him go!” The tears I’d held back earlier spilled over my eyelashes and burned my cheeks. “He’s scared! Let him go!”

Papa knelt again and grasped my shoulders. “I don’t know how. I never have.”

I was eight, and I was confounded by any reality where my father was unable to do something. Anything. I was named for a princess—an imaginary one, an old family story about a royal girl’s adventures in a kingdom full of saints and angels. But a princess nonetheless. And to my mind, that made my father a king. He was Papa, and his powers had no limits.

“He’s all alone,” I whispered, looking at the bird.

“Never draw from life if you can help it, Keryth. Every line has a cost.”

I touched the shaded feathers around the jay’s still eye, and his expression changed. I didn’t know birds had facial expressions, but there was a relaxing in the tension of the lines—more of a sense of breathing and movement than had been there before. Something like trust. I looked at Papa with confusion. “If you knew he’d be trapped, why did you do it? And why in my book?”

“So you would always remember the most important thing I ever taught you.”

“You could have just told me not to draw living things. I would have listened.”

“You wouldn’t have believed it, and the rule is bigger than that: It’s not just living things. You can’t draw anything from the real world. Or I can’t, at least, not without capturing it com- pletely, just like this bird. But that isn’t the lesson.”

“What is?”

Papa took the book from me and clapped its covers closed, snapping the bird inside, before he handed it back. “Don’t grow up to be like me.”

Excerpted from A House Like an Accordion by Audrey Burges, published by Ace, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright ©2024 by Audrey Burges.

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