The Books of Umber


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P.W. Catanese at
Simon & Schuster, official publisher's site

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About the

The Books of Umber:

Happenstance Found
Dragon Games

The Thief and
the Beanstalk

The Brave

The Eye of 
the Warlock

The Mirror's Tale

The Riddle
of the Gnome

This and

P.W. Catanese 
Amazon Blog

Author's sketchpad

About the

and answers

Just for teachers


Contact the author at


Dive into the acclaimed fantasy adventure trilogy today! It begins with Happenstance Found, continues in Dragon Games, and reaches its epic conclusion with The End of Time.  Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook - plus an audiobook that features the wonderful performance of Richard Poe. Scroll down for details on the stories.

It all begins with Happenstance Found:
Happenstance, a boy with unusual green eyes, awakens with no memories and soon falls under the protection of the unpredictable adventurer Lord Umber. While Umber tries to unravel the mystery behind Hap's strange powers, Hap realizes that Umber is hiding a secret of his own, that he keeps locked away in his tower. Meanwhile, a vicious assassin is hunting for the boy with the strange green eyes, whose very existence violates some ancient law.

Acclaim for Happenstance Found:
Named to the BEST CHILDREN'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2010 list by the Bank Street Children's Book Committee.

A Horn Book recommended title for fantasy and science fiction.

Named to the Master List for the Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Named to the Master List for Florida's Sunshine State Young Reader's Award.

Nominated for the Pacific Northwest Library Association's Young Reader's Choice Award.

Nominated for Indiana's Young Hoosier Book Award.

Nominated for New Hampshire's Great Stone Face Book Award 2010, sponsored by the Children's Librarians of New Hampshire.

Nominated for Hawai'i's 2010 Nēnē Award, given by the children of Hawai'i for the best children’s fiction book.

“Catanese dazzles in the first of the planned Books of Umber series by wittily subverting genre tropes. Happenstance, a boy with strange green eyes, wakes up in a cave with no memories of who he is or anything about the fantastic world in which he lives. He soon encounters Lord Umber, an adventurer who seems familiar with our world as well as his own, and his two companions — a brute cursed to be forever truthful and a one-handed artist and archer... As the group attempts to learn about his origins, they're forced to confront a supernatural assassin and secrets from Umber's own mysterious past. Catanese packs a lot into the book: rich characterizations, well-choreographed action sequences and genuinely surprising twists at the end. An auspicious start to the series.”
- Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

“Readers, both young and old, will anxiously await future titles in the "Books of Umber" series.”  - Children's Literature

“Catanese’s forte is in defining the features of the colorful imaginary world he creates, which is part steampunk, part fairy tale, and has a surprising contemporary twist. Merpeople, leviathans, and sorceresses mingle with Mozart, mirrors, and elevators in this unusual culture…a cinematic quality that will be enjoyed by a wide range of fantasy readers.” - The Horn Book

Catanese departs from the fairy tale retellings... to create an intriguing intergenerational partnership set in a fantasy world that tantalizes with glimpses of modern-day engaging and deftly written fantasy. - Booklist

Hap's vulnerability and Umber's good-natured exuberance make them both extraordinarily appealing...the characters that surround the two are equally compelling...they emerge as almost archetypal in their symbolic resonance....Rife with grisly horrors and absorbing wonders, Umber's coastal kingdom exerts a fascination that lingers after the last page is turned, and readers will be reassured by indications that a return visit is forthcoming.
- The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Audiobook review:
"The first book (Aladdin, 2009) in a new fantasy series by P.W. Catanese features a compelling cast of characters. ..During their travels, Hap learns about the world around him and discovers that he has unique abilities. Lord Umber is also keeping secrets from those around him, and when the two make and share discoveries about themselves and each other, Hap begins to learn about his past and discern his purpose in life. Narrator Richard Poe does an excellent job voicing all the nuances of a caring, bewildered boy. Each character's voice is easily distinguished by tone and cadence. An excellent first title in the projected series
." - School Library Journal.

“You can’t pack much more intrigue into a first chapter than that of P. W. Catanese’s Happenstance Found, in which a boy wakes, “fully conscious and wholly formed” but with no memory of his past, and immediately discovers that he and his companions are in danger from a wormlike beast, that he’s in a tunnel under a mysterious lost city, and that he has in his possession a cryptic message . . . was that an earthquake? Things only get more exciting from here in this inventive fantasy, first in a projected series.”
- Notes from The Horn Book newsletter

Named to ALAN’s Picks, April 2009. 
ALAN is The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. ALAN’s Picks is a monthly book review column that “highlights the latest and greatest in YA Lit.”

Named to the Kid's Indie Next list, Spring 2009.

So far Lord Umber has been compared to Willie Wonka, Sherlock Holmes, the Wizard of Oz, Leonardo DaVinci and Indiana Jones... who will he remind you of?


Let the Dragon Games begin!
All is not well in Kurahaven. Happenstance is jolted by a surprising revelation about his origins, and the rivalry between the princes takes a violent turn. When Umber receives a pair of mysterious messages, he and Happenstance are hurled into a wild, epic adventure.  Before the final twist, Umber and company will encounter a ring of volcanic fire, a strange island filled with murderous creatures, a man from Umber's past living with a terrible curse, and a land ruled by a cruel tyrant who is eager for Umber to witness his Dragon Games.

Acclaim for Dragon Games:
“This is a true roller coaster of a book, starting with sea-giants and ending with soul crabs (surely one of the creepier inventions in recent literary history), with plenty of loops and drops and zero-g moments in between...Catanese has imagination to spare, with new wonders around every corner....Familiarity with the first book isn’t necessary, but readers will want to get their hands on it after reading this one." - School Library Journal

“Round two in the Books of Umber delivers more imaginative adventures and tantalizing hints about Hap’s past and Umber’s hopes for him... plenty of satisfying action and lots of narrow escapes.” - Booklist

“This sequel to Happenstance Found (2009) takes Hap (in the company of his manic-depressive patron, Lord Umber) all over the map of fantasyland... it's no surprise Hap ends up in constant danger: threatened by sleeping sea-giants, nearly burned to death in the lava-spewing inferno, almost eaten by ghost-ridden crabs and vicious, gnome-like bidmis, chased by megalomaniac princes and constantly endangered by political intrigue...the fast-paced and high-energy action of this video-game-like quest will please fantasy adventure fans.” - Kirkus Reviews



The grand finale of the trilogy. In hardcover, ebook and audio book.

Where to buy all P.W. Catanese books.

This is where it ends: The End of Time.
Hap is still unable to control the powers he must master to save Umber's old world from destruction. And now Umber is under siege from dangers near and far. Suddenly the fate of two worlds is at stake. For Hap to fulfill his destiny, he must survive a life-or-death battle with more than one mighty enemy. And he may be forced to abandon everything he holds most dear...

The memorable characters, fantastic creatures, and fast-paced action readers embraced in Happenstance Found and Dragon Games are all here in The End of Time, the heart-stopping conclusion to the acclaimed The Books of Umber trilogy.

Acclaim for The End of Time:
“(The) fantastic conclusion to P.W. Catanese’s riveting fantasy trilogy. The author again raises questions about morality and the depths of friendship, and does it with compelling characters and wonderful world-building.” - School Library Journal

The Books of Umber series is being translated into Spanish, Catalan, Turkish and German. Here are the thrilling covers for the German translations, by illustrator Helge Vogt: