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Happily Ever After


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About The Book

The third and final book in a new trilogy of twisted fairy tales from New York Times bestselling author James Riley, set in the world of his popular Half Upon a Time series, that’s perfect for fans of Fablehaven and Chris Colfer’s A Tale of Magic series!

Who doesn’t love a good Happily Ever After? The Cursed City is now the Blessed City, with its residents’ curses removed. Lena is now fully human, as are the rest of the giants, and together they live in peace with all the other humans in the city, all their differences now gone. And sure, Jin might have disappeared, but really, genie magic only caused trouble.

At least, that’s what the magic spell in Lena’s head is telling her. But somewhere inside, she knows that this new world isn’t right, that no real Happily Ever After would take her giant heritage from her…and that Jin is in danger.

When things are at their darkest, can a single Spark light the way?


In which Lena the former giant realizes there’s something wrong about her life under the fairy queens’ control, and discovers a secret message.

Once upon a time, a young farm boy and his mother had nothing to eat, as all of their crops had perished from disease. The boy’s mother sent him to the market to sell the last thing of value they owned, the family cow, and the boy, being a good boy, did just that.

On the way to the market, however, a man with an evil glint in his eye stopped the boy and offered him magical beans in exchange for the cow. “They’re made of shadow magic, boy,” the man said, grinning maliciously. “Trade me your cow, and they’ll bring you fame and fortune beyond your wildest dreams.”

The boy, being a good and worthy boy, did not even consider this horrible temptation. Instead he sang a magical song that summoned his local fairies, and told them of the man’s wickedness. The man tried to escape their judgment, but the host of fairies descended upon him and transported him to the fairy homelands for punishment. They also took the cow, but this was done as a favor to the boy, so that he could no longer be tempted to sell it for any unworthy objects in the future.

But the fairy queens would not leave such an honorable, worthy boy with nothing! To thank him for his quick thinking and upright character, humanity’s divine creators bestowed upon the boy magical beans of their own creation, beans that would feed the boy and his mother for the rest of their lives, once they’d fully grown for the next harvest.

Lena frowned, closing the Story Book she’d been reading for school. The moral of the story wasn’t exactly subtle, but the ending bothered her. After all, the boy hadn’t been able to sell the cow, and the fairy queens’ beans weren’t going to grow for another year. Wouldn’t that mean the boy and his mother were still starving—

“Lena!” shouted her mom from downstairs. “You’d better hurry or you’ll be late for school. And today of all days, you don’t want to do anything unworthy!”

Lena smiled, not needing the reminder. The fairy queens’ ball had been all anyone could talk about ever since the fairies had put up signs for it weeks earlier. The ball promised to be the greatest celebration that the Blessed City had ever seen, and given that it was being held in the fairy homelands, a place few fairies and even fewer humans ever saw, the ball couldn’t help but deliver.

But only the worthy would be allowed to attend, for the ball was more than just a dance. At the end of the event, the fairy queens would bestow a gift upon every human in attendance, to thank them for staying good and pure and not giving in to the shadow. What that gift would be, no one knew, but the fairies claimed it would let the residents live happily ever after, so it had to be amazing.

All of that meant Lena couldn’t be late to school, not when one little mistake might bar her from attending the ball.

“Coming!” she shouted down to her mother as she stuffed the Jack and the Dangerous Bean Talk Story Book into her bag, along with the others she’d been reading the night before, including Fairy Queens: Our Divine Mothers—one of her teacher’s favorites—and The History of the Human World: How Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened, the latter of which always seemed to bring up questions in her mind.

But that had to be her fault, considering what the fairy queens warned about in Our Divine Mothers:

Before time began, the Queens of Fairy created this world and humans to live upon it, blessing you with a gift you can never repay. Though we fairykin are your divine parents—or “godmothers,” as some of your kind call us out of great love and affection—like any other parent, we temper our love with laws that every creature must obey.

If strange ideas try to enter your mind, ideas that strike you as “different” or “unusual,” this means your weak human mind is in danger from the shadow, a force that seeks to corrupt you. Our law is simple: reject the shadow and its teachings with all your heart, because all good comes from the Queens of Fairy alone, and humans must follow their godmothers’ examples. Those who break this law will require purification, or if caught with any form of shadow magic, eternal punishment—

“Lena!” her mother yelled up again, this time waking Rufus up. He yawned widely from his pillow next to Lena’s bed, and she bent down to grab him with another smile. After a quick kiss on the top of his head, which made him meow indignantly, she lowered him into her bag as well, where he settled comfortably onto the pile of books.

She slung the bag over her shoulder, wincing at its weight—all those treats Mrs. Hubbard gave to Rufus were adding up—and then took the stairs down to the kitchen as quickly as she could.

A knock came at the door as Lena hit the bottom step, not surprising, since he knocked at the same time every day.

“Happy fairy queen ball morning!” Shefin shouted as Lena’s mother opened the door. The boy swept in past Lena’s mom and grabbed a muffin from the plate on the table, making Lena’s father glare up at him. Before Shefin took a bite, though, his gaze shifted to Lena at the foot of the stairs, and he smiled. “And behold. Lena, future princess of the fairy queen ball, has descended from on high to welcome her prince!”

Lena struggled not to wince at that. Part of the ball she’d been ignoring was an election to name a prince and princess, the most worthy humans in the city, who would be honored above all others. Unlike the other candidates, who’d been nominated by friends and family, Shefin had begun campaigning for himself immediately, dragging Lena along with him.

“I’d wait for the results to be announced if I were you,” she said. “Humphrey is pretty beloved by everyone.”

“Humphrey is so fragile, he could trip and break apart,” Shefin said, patting her father’s shoulder. Lena’s father gripped the table so hard, his knuckles turned white. “Don’t worry, Lena. We’re destined to win, I can feel it. I always thought I was meant to be royalty, somehow, and while this isn’t how I imagined it, I’ll still take it!” He glanced at Lena’s parents. “You both voted already, right?”

Her mom and dad shared a look. “We did, yes,” her mother said.

“And Lena definitely got our vote,” her father added.

“Perfect!” Shefin said, beaming now. “See? It’s a foregone conclusion. This is my—I mean, our—moment, a moment we’ll look back on proudly forever.” His smile faded as he continued. “After all, we’ll probably be married in a few years, and then settle down to farm the land.” He started to look sick. “Can’t wait to, you know, plant seeds in dirt, that kind of thing. Just everything I ever dreamt of in life.”

“I’ve had dreams about your wedding too,” Lena’s father said, holding out the plate of muffins to Lena, who grabbed one. “Though I tend to call them nightmares.”

“Good one, Dad!” Shefin said, reaching for another muffin in spite of Lena’s father trying to pull them away. “Can I call you ‘Dad,’ Dad? Or should that wait for the wedding?”

“Oh, I think it can wait for longer than that,” her dad said, clapping Shefin on the shoulder so hard, he almost knocked the boy over.

“Be careful, Roral!” Lena’s mother said, grabbing the plate from her husband as the muffins teetered precariously, and then offering it to Shefin again, who grabbed the rest of the muffins and tossed them into his bag. “Sometimes I think you don’t know your own strength. You could have hurt him!”

“Well, you know my motto,” Lena’s father said, glaring at Shefin. “Humans show their might through moral judgment and reverence for the fairy queens, not strength of arms.”

“Pure poetry, Dad,” Shefin said, and Lena quickly grabbed his arm and yanked him toward the door before her father exploded.

“Can’t be late, got to go, love you, see you in the city square at noon for transportation to the ball, bye!” she shouted as she pushed Shefin out the front door.

“Don’t forget to tell all your friends to vote for us!” Shefin added.

“Stay worthy, you two!” her mother shouted after her. “We can’t have you missing the ball altogether!”

“Yes, Lena, we don’t want you to miss the ball!” her father yelled as well. A loud smack followed by a yelp of pain told Lena her mom hadn’t been amused by that.

Outside, the sight of the beautiful Blessed City did help Lena’s mood slightly. The buildings and streets all practically glowed with the blessings of the fairies, and even though she’d been told the city had been around since the fairy queens had created this world, it still looked brand-new, almost as if it’d just been built in the last few weeks.

The fairies looked to have been busy the night before, though, as all the signs announcing the fairy queen ball had been replaced with new signs, these explaining that all worthy residents should appear in the city’s central square at noon for transportation to the fairy homelands.

“Don’t worry, we’ll win for sure,” Shefin said to her as they passed by Mr. Ralph’s bakery and Humphrey’s farm-fresh-eggs stand, both closed in anticipation of the ball. Even the streets were empty, as anyone who could get away with it was staying home to keep from doing anything unworthy by accident. “I can’t tell you how I know, but believe me, it’s ours.”

His words sent a chill down her spine. “Shefin, what did you do? If you cheated somehow, we’ll both not only be banned from the ball but we’ll probably be purified, or worse!”

Shefin rolled his eyes. “How dare you. I would never do anything unworthy. Shouldn’t you have more faith in me, as my true love?”

She almost choked over his words, and Shefin didn’t look much more comfortable himself. But the fairy queens had declared that Lena and Shefin were destined to love each other for all of time, and just because Lena couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way about the boy didn’t mean she was going to argue with the godmothers.

“Then I guess I should… believe you?” she said, wincing slightly.

“Yes, you should,” he said, hugging her slightly with one arm. A low, dangerous growl came from her bag, and Shefin immediately yanked his arm back. “So should your cat. I don’t get why he hates me so much! Maybe when we get married, we can leave the cute little monster with your parents?”

Lena’s eyes widened, and she pulled the bag around to her front protectively, hugging Rufus to her chest. “Oh, I’d never leave him behind. If that’s a problem for you, maybe you should find another true love.” She hoped she’d made it sound enough like a joke that he wouldn’t question it.

“Ha, if only!” Shefin said, only to realize what he’d said, and he froze in place, blushing furiously. “I meant, um, if only anyone else could compare to you, which they obviously can’t.”

Rufus growled again, and Lena sighed. Just when there’d been an opening to actually talk about it all! “Maybe you should go on ahead, so I can calm him down,” she said to Shefin. “I’ll be just a minute.”

The reprieve for his words seemed to perk the boy up, and he nodded. “Only if you’re sure!” he yelled, already a couple of yards in front of her. “I did want to get to school early and make sure everyone voted like I paid… I mean, like they promised they would.”

“You should definitely go, then!” Lena said, hugging Rufus closer to her inside the bag as she pretended not to have heard about the bribery. While Shefin continued on, she started petting Rufus on his head, and he immediately began to purr, much calmer now that the boy wasn’t anywhere close. “It’s okay, little man,” she said to him. “I don’t care what he says, I’d never have a happily ever after without you.”

As his purrs increased, something thumped onto the street just beside Lena, making her jump in surprise. She glanced around her bag to find a book lying on the cobblestones, as if someone had dropped it randomly. Only, no one was around.

Could one of her books have fallen from her bag? Mistreating any of the fairy queens’ books was definitely an unworthy act, so she quickly bent down to grab it.

But just before her fingers touched the cover, she caught sight of the title, and froze in place. Happily Ever After? That wasn’t one of hers, or even a book she’d heard of before. What could—

“Whoa!” Shefin shouted, making her almost jump out of her skin. She looked up to find him standing a few yards away still, staring down at the ground in front of her. “Those aren’t ballots, are they? Were they there a minute ago?”

“No, they’re… I mean, they must… It’s a book, and it had to have been here,” Lena said quickly, trying to convince herself as much as convince Shefin. “We were just distracted and so didn’t see it. It’s probably another student’s, and it’d be unworthy to not take it to them in class.”

But if the book didn’t belong to a student and was instead, say, an object of pure evil, then her touching it could lead the fairies to skip right over purification and go straight for eternal punishment, assuming they caught her.

“A book?” Shefin said, taking a few steps toward her almost warily. “Don’t touch it, Lena, not today. We can’t do anything that might get us banned from the ball, not when we’re going to be elected prince and princess. Call the fairies and leave it to them.”

He had a point. It was always best to alert the fairies when anything unusual happened, just in case it was shadow magic. There were whole rules about it in Our Divine Mothers, even.

Except it was a book, of all things. How could any book be evil, especially one with a title like Happily Ever After?

“The fairies have enough to do today, getting ready for the ball,” she said, then grabbed the book before she could change her mind. Shefin gasped, his mouth dropping open as she stood back up, and she silently hoped she wasn’t making a huge mistake. “Besides, if it is another student’s book, we’d be unworthy if we left it behind, and that might hurt our chances too, right?”

“I don’t know, but this is not going to be good for our poll numbers,” Shefin said, his voice cracking a bit. “Also, what if it is shadow magic, and it infects you, Lena? I can’t be elected prince without my princess!”

“Your love for me warms my heart,” she said, staring down at the book. “Anyway, I’m just going to see if someone wrote their name inside.” She reached out with a trembling hand and slowly opened the cover.

She didn’t find a name, but there was a handwritten message inside:

The fairy queens’ ball isn’t what you think it is. You’re living a lie. Come to Mrs. Hubbard’s store if you want to learn the truth.

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Once Upon Another Time, Book 3:

Happily Ever After

By James Riley

About the Book

Happily Ever After continues the adventures of memorable characters like Lena, Shefin, the fairy queens, Gwentell, Jin, Jack, May, the Golden King, and the Last Knight as they seek to find their true selves and live fulfilling lives. A mix of storybook-inspired characters like Jack and Jillian, Humphrey, and Pinocchio add even more interest to the story as everyone deals with finding a true identity, a peaceful existence, and love—all with a good dose of story magic.

Discussion Questions

1. What is Lena’s life like under the fairy queens’ control? What stories does she read for school? How would you describe Lena’s relationship with Shefin? What do her parents think about him? How do you know?

2. What happens when Lena reads a message inside the book Happily Ever After? What does the message say? At first, why does Lena decide not to step into the Cauldron of Truth? What changed her mind? How did the story of Mrs. Hubbard’s background change her thinking? How does stepping into the Cauldron change Lena? Are these changes good? Why?

3. How did the fairy queens’ plans to stop Gwentell from changing The Tales of All Things involve Shefin? What do they want him to do? Why? Was it a good idea for Shefin to become part of the fairy queens’ plans? Why? How does Shefin behave after the fairy queens send him off on his “heroic” quest with three magical gifts? Is Shefin like other heroes you have heard or read about?

4. Why does Gwentell want to change The Tales of All Things? What are her plans? What do the fairy queens think about this? Do you agree with Lena that the fairy queens are evil? Why? What happens when they purify people? Describe the process.

5. While Shefin is working for the fairy queens, Lena is trying to help Gwentell. What happens when Lena, Jack, May, and Gwentell leave the Blessed City to find King Denir and get the Spark? Was Lena right to try to save Denir after the way he treated her in the past? Why? What is the new plan to stop the fairy queens’ magic? Does it work?

6. What does Lena learn about the sun giant from the vision she has about him and how he moves the sun each day from east to west?

7. Lena and Shefin meet again in the Cave of Marvels. What happens once they find the harp and convince her (the harp) to sing for them? Do you think it is right for them to do everything they can to convince her to take them to the fairy homelands?

8. As the story moves to the fairy queens’ homeland, several characters find out more about their pasts. What does Gwentell learn about her past as a human? What does Shefin learn about the true purpose of the fairy queens’ ball? What do readers learn about the skills that Merriweather taught the twelve princesses?

9. How do Shefin and Lena gain possession of the lamp? What happens when the lamp breaks open? What changes does the djinn Marid make when he emerges from the lamp? Are these good changes?

10. What happened to Jin after the lamp was shattered? What does Jin tell Lena about his plans?

11. In the final chapters of the book, do the characters live happily ever after? Discuss what happens to the following characters:

- Lena

- Shefin

- Swiff

- The fairy queens

- Marid

- Jin

12. Examine the clues the author gives you about Swiff’s true identity. When Lena is first introduced to Swiff, why does she say, “‘You!’”? Swiff tells Lena, “‘I feel like I was along on all your adventures too, especially the first two.’” (Chapter thirty-nine) Later, in the acknowledgments, author James Riley writes, “I like this Swiff guy, he seems fun and new and definitely not anyone we already know!” What do you think the author means? What do you think is Swiff’s true identity? How do you know?

13. Throughout the story, there are many references to the power of story magic. For example, Shefin’s Helmet of Wisdom tells him, “Story magic could do so much for you! You could learn about people and discover what it’s like to live a different life, be someone new. Or how about opening the magic to those around you so they could know you better . . .” (Chapter twenty-six) Is this good advice for Shefin? Is it good advice for everyone? What have you learned from reading or listening to stories?

14. How have Lena and Shefin changed over the course of the story? In what ways have they become more mature and more concerned with the well-being and happiness of others? Share some examples.

Extension Activities

1. Previews and Questions. Several chapters in the book begin with a one-sentence preview written in bold of what is to come. These previews generate curiosity about what is going to happen next. They raise questions in our minds that make us eager to read on and find out. Examine the previews at the beginning of the first three chapters and then discuss (1) what is going to happen in the chapter and (2) what questions you would like to have answered about these events. Do you think this is a useful idea for authors?

2. Story Ideas from James Riley: What if …? Watch a video of James Riley discussing three story ideas and suggesting What if? stories:

A. “Creating Story Ideas with Author James Riley”:

B. Here are the author’s ideas:

- What if your future self comes back in time and gives you a time machine? You could go anywhere and to any time period. When and what would you do?

- What if kids like you were in charge of the world? What would you change? What would you make better?

- Write your own What if? question and answer it.

- Using one of these ideas, write your own story.

3. Put Characters in the HOT SEAT. Select one or more characters from the story to interview. One student should pretend to be that character, while the rest of the group should prepare questions to ask. As you hold your interview, the character should tell the truth about what he or she knows and did. Interviewers can ask about people, places, goals, surprising events, and more.

4. Open Mind Portraits. Draw two outlines of the head of a character from the book, leaving the inside of each head blank. On the inside of one head, draw and write about the thoughts the character has at the beginning of the book. On the other head, draw and write about the thoughts the character has at the end of the book. Then, with a partner, discuss how the character has changed over the course of the novel.

5. One-Page Play. Select an interesting conversation or event involving two or more characters (one that has lots of dialogue) and turn it into a play. Here are some sample topics:

A. The conversation between Shefin and the fairy queens when they give him a “heroic” task

B. The conversation between Lena and King Denir when he decides to give Lena the Spark and arrange for her to have help

C. The final meeting of Lena, Shefin, and Swiff.

You can find many other conversations or events to write about.

Write your play as a dialogue between characters. Then practice reading it before sharing it with a larger group.

Guide written by Myra Zarnowski, a professor in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at Queens College, CUNY.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit or simonandschuster. net/thebookpantry

About The Author

Author Photo by Maarten de Boer

James Riley lives in Virginia. He is the New York Times bestselling author of the Half Upon a Time, Story Thieves, Revenge of Magic, and Once Upon Another Time series.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (February 27, 2024)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665904933
  • Ages: 8 - 12

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