Read an Excerpt From Hotel Magnifique

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Emily J. Taylor’s YA fantasy debut Hotel Magnifique, available now from Razorbill. Read the prologue and chapter one here, and continue with chapter two below!

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.


 

 

The next morning, a wet southern wind covered the vieux quais in slippery algae. I gripped Zosa’s hand as we skidded along the docks, past fishermen unloading pallets and mothers kissing their sailor sons goodbye.

“Jani, look.” Zosa pointed at a ferry pulling into port. “Think it’s ours?”

“Hard to say.”

Four years ago, after our mother had passed, I spent an absurd sum of dublonnes to purchase passage on a similar ferry from Aligney, our small inland village up the coast.

The trip took five days. Zosa spent the time dreaming about all the frivolous things she’d buy in Durc, like fingerless lace gloves and the striped tins of crème de rose Maman would smear on her face. I couldn’t stop smiling, convinced that my life was about to begin.

Things felt different the moment we disembarked. The docks were crowded. Zosa was only nine so I made her stay close. It had hit me then: everyone I cared about was either dead or in Aligney. We were alone in a strange city, and it was all my doing.

It was a mistake to leave home. For the past few months, I’d been saving every coin to buy passage back to Aligney. But at the rate I was going, I didn’t want to think about how long it would take. The hotel would probably get us there years faster.

My breath stilled at the thought, and crisp, golden memories of home rushed to me. I could practically feel the uneven cobblestones I ran over as a child, my belly full from gorging on strawberries plucked from swollen summer bushes.

“Move,” barked a pale-skinned woman clutching an otter fur stole, snapping me from my thoughts. She walked around us, careful not to come too close.

Zosa fingered the holes in her good frock. “She must think we crawled out from under the docks. Everyone is so glamorous today.”

I took off my ruffled lilac hat. The style was terribly dated, but it was the nicest thing I owned. Bending, I fastened it on Zosa as if it were a crown.

“No one is as glamorous as us, madame,” I said, and my heart lifted at her grin. “Now let’s hurry. The maître d’hôtel himself is expecting us for tea.”

Together, we walked past the vieux quais and into town. Streams of purple bunting hung from eaves while pink and green carnations decorated every doorstep. The celebration was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and all for the hotel.

“There’s so many people.” Zosa giggled as we rounded a corner near the famed alley. “I can’t see my feet.”

I maneuvered her out of the way of a large group. “If you don’t watch it, someone will stomp on those pretty feet and I’ll never hear the end of it.”

She twirled. “I don’t care. It’s wonderful.”

“Only until we can’t find each other.” The thought of losing her in a crowd always put me on edge.

“Are you trying to have no fun?”

“I made it a rule to never have fun until after lunch,” I teased.

“Truly?”

“Come on, you,” I said, and steered her into a clearing occupied by street performers in satin brassieres, faces hidden behind mâché masks. Zosa jerked back when one performer popped forward, tears of painted blood dripping down her mask as she sang for coin.

“A suminaire called up la magie.

And turned his wife into a pyre.

He scorched her eyes and cracked her bones.

Her fate was rather dire!”

I’d heard the same words sung many times before. Here, suminaires were still the subjects of songs and stories, even when nobody had seen one in ages. In the last few decades, sightings became so rare that people stopped worrying about magic hurting anyone, instead growing curious about it, and Verdanniere laws grew lax. The hotel only added to the allure. People were so eager to experience magic that fears about it were forgotten the way one might forget the threat of a lightning bolt striking you dead in a field.

“Do you think we’ll see a suminaire today?” Zosa asked.

“Hopefully only inside. Where the maître makes it safe for everyone.”

“I bet the maître’s handsome.”

“He’s too old for you,” I growled, and pinched her nose. “Let’s keep moving.”

A moment later, we passed two men with brown skin and giddy smiles. They each clutched thick envelopes. Invitations.

“Six winners this time!” someone shouted.

“They already picked the winners?” My face fell. I supposed the contest was good—it gave everyone hope. Still, I felt a stab of jealousy that I couldn’t shake. Before I could take another step, Zosa tugged my sleeve so hard she nearly took my arm off. “Hey!”

“Would you turn your big head?” She pointed.

Then I saw it.

The hotel looked like it had spent its whole life sewn into the narrow alley between Apothicaire Richelieu and Maison du Thé. Clad in slatted wood, a single column of windows went up five floors. There couldn’t be more than ten cramped rooms, tops. Above the door hung a sign too ornate for the shabby building, where a pair of words swirled with inlaid pearl: Hotel Magnifique.

“How quaint,” I said with a twinge of disappointment. The hotel was unremarkable.

A single round window, twice as large as the others, sat up top and shelved several succulents. Lucky plants. Except I didn’t understand how they got from place to place. Or the building itself, for that matter.

The hotel was rumored to visit every corner of the world. I knew my geography—Verdanne was the largest country on the continent, bordered by the jagged mountains of Skaadi to the north and windswept Preet to the east. Beyond were more enormous countries, then oceans filled with endless places to see. The world was vast and unimaginable, and yet this single building traversed it all.

We both straightened at a woman’s cry. “It’s the maître!”

A young man stood at the entrance.

“Saw him giving away invitations,” the woman went on. “Pressed duchesse roses to the first winner’s palm as she entered.”

“I knew it. He’s magnificent,” Zosa gushed.

I had to squint. With the sun shining directly on him, the maître gleamed like a newly minted silver dublonne. He wore a black livery that contrasted with his light skin.

Bézier was right. The greatest suminaire in all the world wasn’t much older than me. Nineteen. Twenty, at most. Outrageously young. Or he looked it, anyway.

This man somehow enchanted the whole building, made it safe for the suminaires he employed to practice magic, safe for guests to witness it.

“Welcome.” The maître plucked a tulip from the air and handed it to an older woman with brown skin and wide smile as she hobbled into the hotel clutching an invitation. “Pleasure, pleasure,” he said to a light-skinned young woman holding another invitation, then, “Outstanding hat, mademoiselle,” to her little daughter as they filtered through the door, followed by the pair of giddy men.

The maître cleared his throat. “Thank you all for stopping by. Please come again next time Hotel Magnifique arrives.”

He bent in a flourished bow. When he came up, a handful of lilies dripped between his long fingers. He tossed them up. The flowers folded into tiny birds that dissolved into shimmering purple smoke with each wing beat. When I looked down, the maître was gone.

Incredible. Except for in his place was a rope barring the front door with a sign that read, only guests and staff beyond this point.

“Do you think interviews are inside?” Zosa asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” I eyed the sign. Surely I could take a peek. “Wait for me here.”

Elbowing past the crowd, I climbed the steps and slipped under the rope. Three words no wider than a thumb were carved into the front door’s black lacquer: le monde entier.

The whole world.

The words tugged at something inside me, beckoning. I pulled the door open, but it was impossible to see a thing. I took a step forward. But instead of walking inside, I crashed nose-first into a wall.

Stumbling back, I trailed my fingertips over what appeared to be a sheet of glass filling the doorframe. At least I assumed it was glass, until a hand reached through and grabbed my wrist. With a shriek, I discovered the hand was attached to a young doorman.

I blinked, trying to make sense of the open doorway that was also a wall and this boy who simply walked through it.

No, not a boy. Much too tall, with lean muscles evident under his livery. The maître was blindingly pale, but this young man was the opposite. His warm copper skin accentuated the vivid brown eyes that stared down at me.

“Can I help you?” he asked in Verdanniere with an accent I’d never heard before.

I glanced up at the building and pictured all the atlases lining Bézier’s sitting room, the blobs of land I would trace with my fingertips. It didn’t seem plausible that such an old structure could travel far.

“Where were you yesterday?” I asked.

“A minute’s journey from here,” he said curtly. When I tried to inspect the wall, he shut the door. “Only guests and staff are allowed inside.”

Right. That damned sign. “Where are the interviews?”

“You want to interview with the hotel?”

He seemed surprised, which made me bristle. I skewered him with a glare. “Obviously.”

We both jumped when the hotel’s door burst open. A group wandered out. A lapis necklace glittered against a petite guest’s deep brown skin. She was followed by another guest with skin so close to white that it would char in a minute under Durc’s summer sun.

They laughed and a wafting sultry scent made my toes curl. “What’s that smell?”

“Desert jasmine. It’s rather ordinary.”

Ordinary wasn’t the word I would use. I could gobble that scent for dessert. “It’s exquisite. Where is it from?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m in a hurry. I really don’t have time right now for silly girls.”

“Excuse me?”

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” he said with a smirk, then tried to duck past me.

I couldn’t enter the building by myself and although he was infuriating, he was the only employee I’d seen besides the maître. I grabbed his arm. “Where are the interviews?”

“Don’t you understand I’m busy?”

“Then hurry it up and answer my question.”

He gave me a long look then scanned down the street. I tried to pinpoint what it was he searched for, but all I could see was a mass of people. My breath halted when he brushed a curl from the side of my neck.

“If I were you, I would go straight home. Pretend the hotel never came,” he said in a low voice. Then he dipped past me, disappearing into the crowd.

 

Excerpted from Hotel Magnifique, copyright © 2022 by Emily J. Taylor.

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