For years, Daniel José Older has been writing novels for middle grade, YA, and adult readers set in multi-tiered worlds in which the ordinary is infused with magic, mystery, and mayhem. Disney Publishing Worldwide imprint Rick Riordan Presents is dedicated to publishing novels that are retellings of myths from around the world. The two are now joining forces as Older, author of the bestselling Shadowshaper Cypher YA series, has negotiated a two-book deal with the imprint.

The two books in Older’s new urban fantasy series, Outlaw Saints, about a teen who discovers that he has the capability to save New York City from being destroyed by an ancient evil force, are the first YA titles acquired by Rick Riordan Presents. The duology will be edited by publisher and author Riordan, along with editorial director Stephanie Owens Lurie, who is Riordan’s editor. The first novel, Ballad & Dagger, will be published in May 2022 and the second in May 2023.

Ballad & Dagger introduces readers to Mateo Matisse, born in San Madrigal, an island in the Caribbean that for centuries provided a refuge for pirates, Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition, and Cuban Santeros. After the island is destroyed by a freak hurricane, a vibrant diaspora emerges in Brooklyn. Fifteen years later, Mateo, now a teen and a piano prodigy, lives with his two aunts—one alive, the other a spirit. While he is playing the piano at the San Madrigal Grande Fete, a raucous annual party, gods and magical creatures appear, resulting in street battles breaking out between the three neighborhood factions. During the melee, Mateo discovers that he has healing abilities. One person seems to know what’s going on: Chela Hidalgo, the rabbi’s daughter, who, like Mateo, possesses newly discovered secret powers. Mateo and Chela set aside their differences to unravel the mystery behind their sunken homeland and to stop a dangerous political operative who’s trying to harness their powers to unleash a whole new terror on the world.

“For me, these books are very personal,” Older noted of the inspiration for the novels, which he describes as infused with a mix of spirit, art, and healing. “I was raised in a Cuban Jewish household, I’ve been an initiated Santeria priest for 10 years, and I worked as a New York City paramedic for a decade. In fact, I started out my EMS career as a street medic at protests against the Iraq War back in 2002. That whole time, I was playing music on the side.”

Riordan told PW he is excited about his latest acquisition, stating, “I’ve been dying to work with Daniel ever since I read Shadowshaper. I’m thrilled to have the chance to help Daniel bring to the world as our first YA titles a series based on his own rich and varied heritage.”

For his part, Older said that he has been a huge fan of Riordan’s “storytelling and presence in the publishing industry” for years, calling this “a dream come true project. As an “unrepentant mythology nerd since childhood,” Older added, “I love how Mr. Riordan has brought mythology to life for so many readers, and I love how he’s expertly used his platform to uplift other voices. He is truly a hero and an inspiration to me on so many levels."

Rick Riordan Presents debuted in March 2018 with the release of Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, a retelling of Hindu mythology. The imprint has published 14 middle-grade novels to date, and another six books are in the production pipeline.