Get a First Look at Kobe Bryant's Upcoming Young Adult Novel Legacy and The Queen
Kobe Bryant is a basketball superstar, but in a new novel the athlete is bringing a young tennis player to life.
Bryant’s Granity Studios — a multimedia original content company focused on telling stories around sports — is set to release two new young adult books in the coming year.
Legacy and The Queen, out September 3, is centered around an “underdog female tennis prodigy” who has to use her talents to help save the magical kingdom of Nova.
Created by Bryant, 40, and written by former professional squash-player-turned-novelist Annie Matthew, the book is “a powerful coming-of-age tale and enchanting sports fantasy about finding your inner magic,” according to a release.
A second book, Epoca: The Tree of Ecrof, will be released on November 12 and is “a tale of two children from opposite sides of the tracks” who form an “unexpected bond” to battle evil.
For a first-look from Legacy and The Queen (shared exclusively with PEOPLE and provided courtesy of Granity Studios, LLC), keep reading below:
Legacy’s heart began to miss beats. Just outside the city wall, she could see the white peaks of the tent where Van had told her the tri- als would be held. They looked as pristine and untouchable as the meringue on a fancy cake in picture books. That, Legacy thought, was where she’d have to win all her matches. She’d have to beat every kid from the provinces if she wanted to earn that academy spot.
Otherwise, she would have to return to her father in defeat. She would have to admit she’d been wrong. She’d have to watch Van go to work in a factory, and apologize to the littles for leaving them to pursue a fantasy about tennis.
Legacy tried to take a deep breath. For distraction, she looked back at the woven book and reread the chant for avoiding scorched eyebrows:
It was a silly little rhyme, Legacy thought. But somehow it soothed her. She closed the book, repeated the words a few more times to stay calm, then gathered her pack and leaped off the cart.
Now the white tent rose before her. Beneath it, crowds of children and parents milled around frenetically. People from the city had come to watch, and they sat on raised benches encircling a long row of grass courts.
Swallowing her nerves, Legacy pushed past a group of parents to make her way to the registration desk. There, a harried woman with a snakelike braid coiled at the nape of her neck, gem-encrusted spectacles at the tip of her nose, and a giant blue ring on her finger explained that Legacy was to report to court fifty.
At court fifty, the woman explained, Legacy should wait in line until it was her turn to play the current occupant. Then, after four minutes, a horn would blow. If Legacy was ahead in the match, she’d move up to court forty-nine.
“You grind your way up,” the woman said. “One court at a time.”
Legacy listened while the woman went on, trying to make sure she didn’t miss any important points. If she’d made it to the top court by two o’clock, the woman said, she’d play a final match. A final four minutes. The winner of that final match would be named provincial champion, and that’s when she should make her pledge.
“Pledge?” Legacy said.
The woman glared. “Of loyalty,” she said. “To whichever senator you’d like, though of course people usually make their pledges to Silla. But if you lose—on the top court or any other court on the way—you have to move down.”
Legacy nodded, trying not to look frightened.
If Legacy lost on the bottom court, the woman explained, she was out. Then she should immediately return to whichever province she’d come from.
“No crying,” the woman said, pursing her lips in disapproval, as if Legacy had already started displaying such unruly emotions. “And no complaining. We’ve had quite enough of that emotional provi behavior already.”
Stung, Legacy moved away from the desk. On her way to court fifty, Legacy did pass a few kids sitting alone, tears streaking their faces. Some of them were wearing braided ponytails in imitation of Gia. Others were wearing paint they’d applied in imitation of other top academy players: elaborate lines covering their faces like Sondra Domenicu, or blue paint on their eyebrows like Villy Sal.
Legacy didn’t have any paint. Nor was she wearing the imitation academy sneakers that some of the other kids had laced on. She only had her burlap shift and her warped wooden racket. Now she anxiously clutched it while she waited in line to step onto court fifty.
At the next sound of the horn, the loser—a flushed little boy with round cheeks and black lines on his cheekbones—ran off court in tears.
Legacy watched while his mother angrily followed behind him.
“This was the one chance that we had!” his mother was saying, grabbing his elbow. “And did I tell you to waste it?”
Ahead of her in the line for court fifty, a father was standing beside his young daughter, a skinny girl whose shoulders appeared to be trem- bling under her thin burlap shift.
“You play to his weakness,” the father was saying. “You hear me? You bury him in the back of the court.”
At the next sound of the horn, another little girl headed off court. Her face was already crumbling by the time her father knelt before her. Legacy winced in advance, but this father kissed the little girl’s forehead.
His face was dirty with metium dust, and he wore a pair of refinery coveralls. “It’s okay, Grazie,” he said, tousling his daughter’s loose curls. “You tried your best.”
Legacy looked away. Standing by herself, without a parent to com- fort or scold her, she felt lonely and grateful at once. There was no one to kiss her forehead, but there was also no one to make her feel nervous. She was as alone on the sideline as she’d been in the darkness of those early mornings, playing against the orphanage wall.
Or at least that’s what she tried to remember when she finally stepped onto court fifty. If she focused on the feel of the grip in her hands, or the spot on the other side of the court where she wanted her shots to land, she could almost imagine that she wasn’t playing a tournament match. Instead, once again, she was aiming for a divot in a stone on the wall, playing without fear, listening for the sound of the ball striking her strings.
Then the crowds under the tent disappeared, and she played as she always had: For the simple pleasure of playing. For the pleasure of counting her footsteps. For the love of the wind in her hair. For the joy of the plonk the ball made when it bounced on the soft earth.
By the early afternoon, Legacy had managed to make her way from court fifty all the way to the top five courts. She had a little trouble with a long-legged boy on the third court, whose limbs seemed to stretch from the baseline to the net, and on the second court she played a freckled girl, whose serve was so powerful that Legacy whiffed the first one completely. But she managed to beat them both nevertheless, and when the horn blew, signaling five minutes to two, she realized—to her amazement—that she had only one more player to beat.
She looked over the net. Her opponent had narrow eyes and wide shoulders. Her skin was dark as the burnt trees in the Forest of Cora, but her cropped hair was dyed silver. Waiting for Legacy’s serve, she crouched low, narrowed her eyes even further, and shifted from one foot to the other.
Legacy paused. Suddenly the taste of metal filled her mouth, as if she’d bitten her cheek and drawn blood.
This was it: her one chance to go to the academy. The other courts had emptied out, and the remaining players had gathered around her court to watch. So had the tournament officials and the crowds of sight- seers who had apparently come out from the city. Their hair was braided in ornate patterns, and they wore lavish silks. They moved through the tent trailed by what must have been servants.
On a platform above the court, two announcers had taken their seats: it was Paula and Angelo, the same announcers Legacy had read about in the Nova Times. They announced all the major tournaments and were almost as famous as the players themselves. Paula was as elegant as Angelo was disheveled. She wore silks in bright colors that complemented her burnished bronze skin, and her braids were gathered into a complicated three-cornered knot on top of her head. Angelo, on the other hand, looked perpetually rumpled. There was the shadow of a beard on his leathery face, and his graying hair was as mussed as if he’d only just rolled out of bed, grabbing his infamous flask on the way.
Above the announcers’ platform perched a glass box where a group of people wearing even more elaborate silks—with extra drapes of fabric over their shoulders or jeweled belts on their tunics or narrow, shimmering pleats in their trousers—were sitting and watching. With a shock, Legacy realized they were senators. Then she saw the woman sitting at their center: High Consul Silla herself.
Legacy stared, gripping the tennis ball she’d been tossed. Silla! The woman who, single-handedly, had managed to get the old senators under control. She had once been the greatest tennis champion in the republic. They’d called her the Queen. And after her fame helped earn her a spot on the senate, she had put out the Great Fire by using her grana to summon a storm so powerful that it doused the whole forest for weeks, causing mudslides that slicked down into the prosite mines, but finally ending the fire that had devastated the country for months.
Sitting in the glass box, Silla looked younger than Legacy had imag- ined. She was wearing rust-red silk trousers and a matching silk tunic. Her jet-black hair was braided in hundreds of very thin braids, each decorated with gold beads, just as it always was in the pictures. Her skin was golden brown, but her eyes were dark and made even darker by the lines of black paint on her eyelids. They seemed to be staring straight back at Legacy, so that—for a moment—Legacy blushed.
Overhead, a voice blared through a loudspeaker. Paula was announcing Legacy’s name. “Here,” Paula was saying, “we have Legacy Petrin, representing Foressa, the forestry province.” For a moment, Paula paused to make a face, as though she’d smelled something dis- gusting. The crowd broke out into hoots of laughter, and Legacy felt her cheeks growing hot with embarrassment.
“She’s playing,” Paula continued, “against Jenni Bruno, representing Minori, the mining province.” Then she made another face, and more laughter broke out from the crowds, and Legacy had to force herself to focus on her opponent.
Her shoulders were so wide, it seemed as if she’d have problems moving through doorways. Her face was bony and sharp, and her nar- row, dark eyes sat close together.
With her silver hair, she looked less like a girl than a dragon. She also looked older than any of the other kids Legacy had played. Legacy wondered whether there was any way Jenni was young enough to have properly qualified for the tournament, until she noticed shimmery gray prosite dust under her nails.
So she worked in the mines, Legacy thought. And her hair wasn’t dyed. It was silver because of the prosite.
No wonder her shoulders were so muscular. No wonder her face looked weary and lined.
She’d come out of the mines to play in the trials. And if she lost, she’d go back to the mines. She’d go back to those shacks and the slicks of silver mud dripping down into the darkness of those craters Legacy had passed on the way. She’d go back to the rare chance to ever come up to see sunlight.
For a moment, waiting for the horn to sound, Legacy pitied her. Then the horn blew. Legacy served, and Jenni launched her first return.
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It was a blistering shot, faster and more brutal than any other return Legacy had faced in the trials. Legacy realized she was facing a formidable opponent.
Still, her pity for the girl had made her legs wooden. Her racket felt as heavy as metium ore. It was as if the air had gotten thicker. Taking a backswing was like hauling her racket through honey.
By the time she looked up at the scoreboard, she’d lost the first game. There were only two minutes left on the clock. And even so, Leg- acy wasn’t sure she really cared. How, she wondered, could she justify stealing this girl’s one and only chance to escape?
At least Legacy had a good place to go home to. She had a few more years, probably, before she had to go to work. Wouldn’t the unselfish thing to do be to throw the match and let Jenni take the scholarship?
Distracted, Legacy glanced out at the crowd. The city dwellers were wearing silks woven with fine metal threads, shimmering gray and gold when they moved in the sunlight. Their jewels, and the complex braids they wore in their hair, made them look somehow hardened: as though they were statues come to life.
Why, Legacy thought, should she and Jenni Bruno—two kids from the provinces—be competing against one another to please all these living statues? Why should they beat each other into the ground to entertain these city dwellers, with their servants and the precious metal threads in their silks?
Legacy looked out at the crowd. They were pointing and clap- ping. They seemed perfectly delighted by the fine sunny day and the excellent match they were watching. But how, Legacy thought, could they be so cheerful? Did they not understand that if this girl with silver hair lost, she’d go back to a life underground?
And did they not understand that if Legacy lost, Van would lose the life that he’d dreamed of, and the littles wouldn’t have enough milk in their bottles?
Legacy felt her former embarrassment turning to anger. The heat in her cheeks had migrated to her stomach and seemed to be spreading through her body from there. On the grip of her racket, Legacy’s right hand began to feel hot. It was almost hard to hold on. She shifted her racket to her left hand. Then she blew on her right fingertips. She needed to get her anger under control.
But the better Legacy played, the more the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the hotter Legacy’s anger burned. At the same time, her racket had grown a little lighter. The air had gotten thinner. Now, instead of hanging back on the baseline, she was moving forward, taking the ball at the top of its bounce, volleying whenever she could.
Somehow she won that next game, breaking Jenni’s powerful serve. Even with her fingertips burning, she won the next one as well. And when the horn went off, Legacy looked up at the scoreboard and realized she’d won the match.
The crowd was roaring. The loudspeaker was blaring. Jenni was moving toward the net to shake Legacy’s hand. And only then did she start to feel nervous. As Jenni approached her, Legacy could see the lines in her face, the tough skin on her hands, the silver nails cracked down to the quick.
What could she say, Legacy thought, to express to her that she was sorry? That she understood Jenni’s plight? That she was only playing to save her best friend from the same fate, that she had an orphanage full of little children to care for?
By the time Legacy reached the net, her whole body was trembling.
And when she put her hand out, Jenni clutched it so hard that Legacy felt the bones in her fingers crowding together.
“I’m sorry,” Legacy stammered. “I—”
Jenni leaned close to Legacy’s face. “Sorry?” Jenni said. “Sorry? The only thing you should be sorry about is if you don’t win the nationals.”
Legacy looked up at her in surprise.
Jenni glared back. “If I’m going back to the mines because of you,” she said, “you better win. And when you lift up that trophy, you do it for me. You do it for the rest of us provis.”
Then Jenni was moving away, and flashbulbs were popping. Someone grabbed Legacy’s arm and asked her to whom she pledged her loyalty. The crowds were roaring so loudly she had trouble hearing her own thoughts, but she took one knee as she’d seen players in the papers doing, looked up at Silla, and thanked her for the opportunity she’d provided.
Then Paula and Angelo posed her with a trophy. Flashes went off on all sides. Paula prodded Legacy’s ribs with her elbow and murmured that she should turn her head. “Show the better side of your face,” Paula said. “And smooth out your hair.”
Surprised, Legacy tried to pass her hand over her hair. It was loose, as it always was: when she ran, Legacy liked to feel the wind running through it. Now she realized how unkempt it must seem to all the city dwellers with their ornate braids. Suddenly embarrassed again, she felt heat beginning to creep into her face, but Angelo had already grabbed her other arm, and then they were leading her away from the tent, moving toward the towering walls of the city.