Fans of reimagined fairy tales can look forward to Never After, a new middle grade series from bestselling author Melissa de La Cruz (Blue Bloods; Descendants) in which classic stories collide with real-life. The first title, The Thirteenth Fairy, goes on sale December 1 from Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press imprint, and we have an early look at the cover and concept.

The first installment, a spin on “Sleeping Beauty,” introduces Filomena, a girl in contemporary suburban California, as she encounters a hero from her favorite fantasy book series on the street who insists that she accompany him to the books’ magical world to help save the kingdom of Westphalia from an evil enchantress. De la Cruz told PW that Never After sprung from her love of fairy tales, and a long-percolating idea that began, like many do, with a “what if” scenario. “I was doing research and discovered the real story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is so much darker and more terrible than we know,” she said. “In the end, when the prince saves her from her eternal sleep, that’s just the beginning. There are ogres and bloodshed after. Also, in the ballet Swan Lake, which is based on ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ the evil fairy Carabosse has a sad past.”

She added that she had been “toying with this idea of a book fan discovering that the series is real—I’ve probably pitched it to a ton of my editors over the years in various iterations that were never quite right. Then everything clicked into place with Never After, where I was able to combine the question ‘what if your favorite book series is real and as a fan you have a part to play in the story?’ with my love for retelling fairy tales.”

Jennifer Besser, senior v-p and publishing director for Roaring Brook Press, FSG Books for Young Readers, and First Second Books, signed up the first two titles in the series, with the second volume, The Stolen Slipper, set to publish in late 2021. The goal is to continue with one book per year going forward.

Besser has worked with de la Cruz since the author’s Blue Bloods series, which was published by Disney-Hyperion when Besser was executive editor there. “What I’ve always loved about Mel’s storytelling is the way she gets the power and importance of wish fulfillment,” Besser said. “She understands how to make a kind of aspirational daydreaming and escape into another world not only satisfying but a tool for survival—especially for young readers navigating middle school! And in Never After she takes this to a whole new, exciting level. Like her heroine, readers fall into the most magical world, where they not only have fun but feel seen in a really powerful way.”

As for how she sees the scope of the Never After, de la Cruz noted that her last big series, Blue Bloods, “birthed 19 books, which encompass four spin-off series. So that’s a tough act to follow!” Though it’s difficult to predict the performance and lifespan of any book series, de la Cruz said, “I think six books would be nice. A nice even number for a series. There, I’ve said it to the universe!”

De la Cruz noted that readers already familiar with her work will find that the Never After series contains a blend of fantasy and humor “very much in tune with my other books.” She also teased that “if you’re looking for more fairy tales to discover and a great band of kids to root for, look no further!”

Besser believes the draw of the new series will be strong for readers on a couple of fronts. “How many of us have wished we could live in the world of our favorite book or spend even just a little time with our favorite literary heroes, whether it’s hanging out after school or slaying actual dragons?” she said.

The cover for The Thirteenth Fairy followed its own creative path to fruition. Besser and de la Cruz worked together “to get the perfect cover” and were big fans of the original concept by illustrator Jim Madsen, which was more whimsical, according to de la Cruz. Then the jacket concept evolved, and Madsen created the current image, which also features title lettering by artist David Coulson and design by senior designer Aurora Parlagreco. “I love it!” de la Cruz said of the finished product, which spotlights a golden magic lamp and a curling bright green vine emerging from a treasure chest.

“We got pretty far down the line on a completely different and really lovely cover we were all pulling for,” Besser explained. “But in the end, it didn’t quite match the energy and tone of Mel’s storytelling. It’s always hard to let go of a cover you’ve fallen for, but we couldn’t be happier with this final version, so bold and iconic—a truly ‘fairytale’ ending to our cover journey.”