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Book: “Hotel Magnifique” by Emily J. Taylor
Publishing Info: Razorbill, April 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: 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.
Review: Sometimes, it really doesn’t take much to lure readers in. And publishers know that! For example, look at the number of times something was compared to “Six of Crows” in YA fiction over the last few years? Unfortunately for book marketers, that particular tactic has backfired for me and now I tend to avoid books that are marketed with this tag like they’re the plague. But I still have a weak spot for my beloved “The Night Circus,” as do a lot of readers I think. So, well played marketers, well played. Luckily for me (and good for them!), this book actually deserves the comparison. It might not be on the same level of quality as “The Night Circus,” but it’s a solid comparison, especially for a YA audience.
Jani has been working hard to achieve one goal and one goal only: to return her sister and herself to their homeland which they left on impulse after their mother died. So when a magical hotel known for its exclusive and fantastical experiences appears in town and places a “help wanted” ad, Jani sees this as a welcome opportunity to not only secure employment but see the world at the same time. You see, this hotel skips from location to location every night, exposing its guests to sights barely imagined. But when Jani and her sister secure themselves a position, Jani begins to suspect there may be a darker side lingering beneath the feats of incredible magic. Now, with her sister trapped in a magical bargain, Jani teams up with the strange doorman to attempt to free them both from powerful forces that may have been at work in the world for much longer than she ever could have imagined.
So, I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! I’ve been starting to think recently that I may have outgrown YA fantasy, having more often than not found myself not enjoying these books as much as their adult counterparts. But along came this book to prove that, while there were still elements here that are representative of some of the problems I have with YA fantasy, I can still enjoy this subgenre pretty thoroughly!
I think it started out with Jani herself. And her sister, of course. I obviously have a weak spot for sisters stories, and while Zosa is off page for large chunks of this story, she’s never far from Jani’s mind. Indeed, it is reinforced throughout the book that it is Jani’s determined love for her sister that makes her willing to challenge dangers that others have not dared to face. That love is such a strong force that the villainous elements behind the hotel have worked against love itself for decades. It’s a lovely message, and Jani’s strength and determination, even in the face of almost impossible challenges, makes her a great main character.
I also really liked the idea of the Hotel Magnifique itself. There was an interesting twist here with regards to the typical “outlawed magic” trope that one sees so much of. Here, while magic is considered too dangerous to exist in society, the world has found this one outlet: a magical hotel that contains all of the wonder, and danger, within its walls, allowing people to experience magic without worrying about it in their day-to-day life. There was also a very interesting history built up around how the Hotel came to exist and the stories behind those who work within it.
I do think the writing began to fail the concept a bit with some of the descriptions of these fantastical wonders. I couldn’t quite picture how a number of these things looked or worked. Obviously, it’s magic, so I don’t need the physics to work or anything like that. But there were several instances where I actually couldn’t picture how these things looked or how the guests of the hotel were able to interact with them. It got so distracting that by a certain point in the book, I started skim reading some of these descriptive passages. They weren’t overly important and since I couldn’t really understand what I was supposed to be picturing, it was better to just focus on the plot portions.
The love story was also hit and miss. Objectively, there was actually a lot to like about this. It wasn’t instalove by any means, so huge props just on that fact alone. And then I liked how, even well into the book, Bel and Jani are very much their own characters with their own motivations and lines in the sand. Their burgeoning feelings for each other don’t magically overrun the years of previous lived experience they both have had. But for some reason, I also was never super invested in this romance. Looking back, I think I’m fine with that, though, especially considering how nice it was to see a romance that was not all-consuming of its participants.
I also really liked the magical mystery and threat. I was able to predict a number of aspects here, but the story definitely managed to shock and surprise me at times. There were a number of instances where the story was a lot more dark than was I expecting. Again, I think some of the descriptive failings watered down the final confrontation scene a bit. But I was still mostly pleased with how it played out.
I think this was a pretty solid entry in YA fantasy. Like I said, while it’s no “The Night Circus,” there are definitely similarities, and I think this will be a hit with a lot of YA fantasy fans.
Rating 8: A bit weak in its descriptive qualities, but an inspiring main character and compelling magical mystery make it well worth a read!