We’re excited to share the cover and preview an excerpt for Emily J. Taylor’s debut novel, Hotel Magnifique! Pitched as The Night Circus meets Caraval, this YA fantasy is set against the backdrop of a magical Belle Époque-inspired hotel, and follows seventeen year old Jani as she uncovers the deeply disturbing secrets of the legendary hotel. Hotel Magnifique publishes April 5, 2022 with Razorbill.
All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.
The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.
With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.
Emily J. Taylor was born and raised in California and has since refused to stay put. She’s lived in four states and two continents, all of which have conveniently given her an endless amount of story fodder. She currently works as a creative director in Minneapolis, where she spends the long winters dreaming up glittering words to spin into dark tales.
The courier was given a single instruction: deliver the boy before the stroke of midnight. Simple—except, usually, she delivered packages during the day, not little boys in the dead of night.
The job paid handsomely, but that wasn’t the reason the courier agreed. She took the job because she was curious.
She wondered why a well-to-do couple came to her of all people. Why the boy’s father refused to write the address down and instead whispered it into her ear, why the boy’s mother wept. Most of all she wondered who might receive this boy, considering the delivery location was not a home, nor an address to any physical structure, but the space in between two—an empty alley on the other side of town.
The boy seemed ordinary enough, with unblemished copper skin a shade deeper than her own. However, he hung his head as they walked, as if the thick night air pressed upon his shoulders.
The courier thrust her lantern at the gloom, beating back shadows with a growing sense of unease. Her grandfather’s stories came to her: whispers of magic hiding in the corners of the world, and young children met with terrible fates.
She was too old to believe in stories, and yet she quickened her pace.
One block from their destination, the boy dragged his feet. Gripping his bony shoulder, she tugged him down the final street, and halted.
The alley was gone. A strange, slender building stood in its place, squeezed into the narrow space, fitting in seamlessly with the crumbling structures on either side.
A figure peeled away from a shadow near the entrance.
The courier drew the boy behind her. “Are you the person I’m supposed to meet?”
Whoever it was raised a slim object. A blood-red taper candle flared to life, illuminating a young man’s cool blue eyes and pale face.
The courier searched for a match to explain the flame; no one could light a candle from nothing. Unless—
Shimmering golden smoke billowed from the tip. It spilled onto the street, snaking around the courier. Tiny globes buzzed and flickered like fireflies or dust motes catching moonlight. Or something else. Scents gusted by: peppermint oil, then burnt sugar, as if caramel were bubbling too long on a stove, followed by a whiff of citrus left to rot.
The man strode through the golden smoke and took the boy’s hand, like a father would do. For a brief moment, the boy stumbled, unsure, but then he willingly walked with the man toward the narrow building.
The courier clutched her chest and felt her heart pound in an erratic rhythm—harder than it ever had before. This was all wrong. She lunged to stop the man, but golden smoke twined around her ankles, restraining her. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound escaped her lips, not even a whimper.
Her hands wrapped around her throat as the man halted at the doorway of the building. She watched in horror as he smiled, sharp-toothed, then brought his striking face level with the boy’s own. “Come along now,” he said. “I have the perfect job for you.”
The man opened the door and jerked the boy inside.
The moment the door shut, the smoke dissipated. The courier strained until she could move her feet. She hurled herself toward the building, skidding to a stop as the entire thing vanished before her eyes, leaving nothing but an alley covered with overgrown weeds and cast in shadows.
I often heard my sister before I saw her, and tonight was no exception. Zosa’s supple voice spilled through the open window of Bézier Residence, sounding so like our mother’s—at least until she began a raunchier ditty comparing a man’s more delicate anatomy to a certain fruit.
I crept inside, unnoticed in the crowd of boarders. Two of the younger girls pretended to dance with invisible partners, but every other eye was fixed on my sister, the most talented girl in the room.
A special kind of girl rented rooms at Bézier Residence. Almost all worked jobs fitting of their foul mouths: second shifts as house grunts, factory workers, grease cooks, or any number of ill-paying positions in the vieux quais—the old docks of Durc. I worked at Tannerie Fréllac, where women huddled over crusted alum pots and wells of dye. But Zosa was different.
“Happy birthday,” I shouted when her song ended.
“Jani!” She bounded over. Her huge brown eyes shone against a pale, olive-skinned face that was far too thin.
“Did you eat supper?” I’d left her something, but with all the other girls around, food had a tendency to disappear.
She groaned. “Yes. You don’t have to ask me every night.”
“Of course I do. I’m your big sister. It’s my life’s greatest duty.” Zosa scrunched her nose and I flicked it. Fishing in my sack, I pulled out the newspaper that had cost me half a day’s wage and pressed it into her palms. “Your present, madame.” Here, birthdays weren’t dusted with confectioners’ sugar; they were hard-won and more dear than gold.
“A jobs section.” I flipped open the paper with a sly grin.
Inside were advertisements for jobs in fancy dress shops, patisseries, and perfumeries, positions that would never belong to a thirteen-year-old who didn’t look a day over ten. Luckily they weren’t what I had in mind.
Skipping past them, I pointed to a listing that had appeared in papers across town an hour ago.
The ink was vibrant purple, like Aligney blood poppies or crushed amethyst velvet. It stood out, a strange beacon in a sea of black and white.
Hotel Magnifique is hiring.
Interested parties inquire tomorrow at noon.
Pack a bag for Elsewhere & prepare to depart by midnight.
The girls crowded around us, and everyone leaned in as purple ink winked with an iridescence that rivaled polished moonstones.
No address was given. The legendary hotel needed none. It appeared every decade or so in the same old alley downtown. The whole city was probably there now, already waiting like fools for a chance at a stay.
Years ago, when the hotel last made an appearance, the majority of the invitations were delivered beforehand to only the wealthiest citizens. Then, the day the hotel arrived, a few more precious invitations were gifted to random folk in the crowd. Our matron, Minette Bézier, was one of those lucky few.
That midnight, the guests stepped into the hotel and disappeared, along with the building. Two weeks later, they famously stepped back, appearing in the same alley from nothing but thin air.
My fingers twitched and I pictured cracking the seal on my own invitation. But even if we were fortunate enough to win one, we’d still have to pay for a room—and they weren’t exactly cheap.
Zosa’s brows drew together. “You want me to interview?”
“Not quite. I’m going to interview. I’m taking you to audition as a singer.”
It had been four years since I’d taken her to a singing audition—the first one hadn’t worked out in our favor, and I couldn’t stomach going through it again, so we didn’t try for more. But today was her birthday and this was the Hotel Magnifique. Everything about it felt different. Perfect, somehow. “Hotels hire singers all the time. What do you say?”
She answered with a smile that I felt in the tips of my toes.
One of the older girls shoved a lock of greasy blonde hair behind her pink ear. “That advertisement is a tease. It would be a miracle if any of us got a job.”
I straightened. “That’s not true.”
She shrugged as she turned away. “Do what you want. I wouldn’t waste my time.”
“Think she’s right?” Zosa asked, her delicate mouth turning down.
“Absolutely not,” I said, perhaps too quickly. When Zosa’s frown deepened, I cursed silently and dragged my thumb along our mother’s old necklace.
The worthless chain was Verdanniere gold, rigid as steel. Maman always joked my spine was made of the stuff. I often fumbled for it when I needed her guidance with Zosa. Not that she ever gave it; dead mothers weren’t any good for guidance.
“The hotel wouldn’t run an advertisement if no one had a chance. Tomorrow, we’ll show them what we’ve got. When they discover how brilliant we are, we can kiss this place goodbye for good.”
The thought felt like a bright coal smoldering in my chest.
My fingers trembled as I straightened one of Zosa’s dark curls like Maman would do. “Let’s show the advertisement to Bézier. She’ll know more about the hotel than anyone here.”
Zosa nodded, eyes gleaming. I plucked the jobs section from her fingers and took off. Girls raced behind me up two flights of stairs to my favorite room, the third-floor sitting room that used to house sailors before Bézier bought the building. It was stuffed with shelves of antiquated ocean charts and atlases for far-off places I’d often page through.
Bézier sat before her fire, stockinged feet propped on a window ledge. Outside, rain battered the port of Durc, turning the city I hated into a wet blur.
Her mouth pinched when we all streamed in. “What is it now?”
I handed her the page of newsprint. Purple ink caught the firelight and Bézier’s pale face slackened.
“Is something wrong?” asked a girl behind me.
Bézier glanced above the hearth to the decade-old sheet of parchment sheathed behind glass: her invitation. In the low light, the purple ink shone with the same iridescence as the advertisement. “Hotel Magnifique is returning, I see.”
Another door opened and a few stragglers squeezed in, jostling for a look.
“I’ve heard the guests sip on liquid gold from champagne flutes for breakfast,” said a girl in back. More girls chimed in with their own rumors.
“They say the pillows don’t have feathers, they’re all stuffed with spun clouds—”
“Heard each night, you cross the world thrice over—”
“And all their fancy doormen are princes from some far-off land—”
“Bet they give fancy kisses, too.” A girl with beige skin and ruddy cheeks made a vulgar gesture with her tongue. Thankfully Zosa didn’t notice. Instead, a grin split her face.
Shame there was no way to know if the rumors were true; guests signed away all memory of their stay upon checkout. Besides luggage, the only thing guests returned with was a feeling of devastating happiness. Bézier once admitted to icing her jaw from all the smiling.
Curious, I glanced at Bézier. Her eyes had grown misty, as if the hotel returning somehow sparked a memory. I opened my mouth to ask about it until Zosa slipped in front of me. “Did you ever see the maître?”
The maître d’hôtel was the proprietor and as famous as the hotel itself.
Bézier nodded, smug. “The hotel came once when I was a young, pretty thing. The maître had the brightest smile I’d ever seen. Positively gleamed greeting the crowds. He plucked a flower from the air and tossed it to me.” She pretended to catch a tiny bloom. “The thing smelled like blueberry pie then dissolved to nothing in my fingers. Over a decade went by before the hotel came again, and when it did, the maître looked exactly the same.”
“Wearing the same clothes?” someone asked.
“No, you ninny. He looked the same. Same face. Same charm. Hadn’t aged, not a day. Makes sense, I guess. He is the greatest suminaire in all the world.”
Girls gasped at the mention of a suminaire: the old Verdanniere word for magician.
Outside of the hotel, a suminaire was the most dangerous thing in the world. Magic was said to build in their blood during adolescence until it flared out in an uncontrollable power, with the potential to hurt—or kill—anyone who happened to be near them at the time.
Some said it poured from a child’s nose into a dark cloud. Others said it looked like pitch-black fingers clawing up a child’s throat. And there was no way to tell a normal child from a suminaire before their magic flared.
There were rumors of what to look out for, of course. Outlandish things like craving blood or tongues turning black. There were even children said to come back to life after a fatal wound only to discover they had magic in their blood. But no one could prove it.
Whatever the case, magic was so dangerous that for centuries in Verdanne children suspected to be suminaires were either drowned or burned to death.
But inside the hotel, magic was safe. It was well known the maître somehow enchanted the building himself, allowing the suminaires he employed to perform astonishing feats without harming a soul. Nobody knew how he’d done it, but everybody wanted a chance to see it firsthand.
Before anyone could ask another question, Bézier clapped her hands. “It’s late. Everyone to your rooms.”
“Wait,” I said. “Do you remember anything now that the hotel is back? Is it as magical as the rumors?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt silly for asking.
Bézier, however, didn’t laugh or think it odd. Instead, she glanced at her old invitation wistfully.
“I’m certain it’s more,” she said with a bitter note. I’d be bitter too if I couldn’t remember the most exciting time of my life. She tossed the advertisement in the fire, then stumbled back. “My god.”
The paper caught, burning pink, then green, then crimson, turning the hearth into a dazzling display of rainbow flames. The flames shot higher, raging into the chimney, creating a more arresting sight than the storefronts of boulevard Marigny.
“It’s magic,” Zosa whispered.
My neck prickled. There was a reason Hotel Magnifique caused gasps and goggling. Normally, magic was rare, dangerous, and to be avoided at all costs. But somehow, inside that hotel, it was the opposite, and tomorrow we might finally have a chance to experience it ourselves.
Excerpted from Hotel Magnifique, copyright © 2021 by Emily J. Taylor