After a heated five-house auction, Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, has acquired House of Marionne, a new YA trilogy by J. Elle, author of the bestselling YA fantasy Wings of Ebony. Billed by the publisher as a “modern-day, magic-filled Bridgerton with clashing class dynamics and dark academia flair,” the first book in the trilogy is slated for fall 2023. Jodi Reamer at Writers House sold world English rights to Ruta Rimas, executive editor at Razorbill.
House of Marionne, the first book in the trilogy, follows 17-year-old Quell, who is reluctantly inducted into a magical debutante society of social elites. In this group, she must bind with her forbidden magic while evading the assassin who has been tasked with hunting her kind. But is the most formidable monster she’ll have to face the one inside her?
Rimas calls House of Marionne one of the most exciting YA fantasies she’s ever read. “Wings of Ebony is a book I admired from afar and would have loved to have published at Razorbill,” she said. “So when House of Marionne dropped into my inbox and I saw who wrote it, I declared a Drop Everything and Read [DEAR] moment. The pitch was fantastic—a contemporary fantasy with a heroine full of heart and poisonous magic, and a magical secret society that will do anything to protect itself. Then the manuscript delivered on so many levels—it’s propulsive in pacing, the cast is authentically teen and inclusive, there’s a sizzling romance, and it’s a fun and electric book that calls out antiquated power structures, unmerited privilege, and toxic class dynamics.”
The author told PW that she drew from a range of influences, from Game of Thrones to Succession to her favorite poet Maya Angelou. The series includes Regency debut season balls and “morally gray” characters reminiscent of Peaky Blinders. “It’s been exhilarating creating a story set in the modern day and brimming with opulence,” she said. “I love the contrast of beauty and darkness and wanted to explore their nuance in the real world, particularly in relation to the concept of freedom. House of Marionne is a mash-up of all of my favorite things in a globally diverse world inspired by Black debutante culture. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to put something so bold and different in the world!”
Wings of Ebony was released as the first book in a duology in 2021 by Denene Millner Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. The follow-up, Ashes of Gold, was released this past January. The story follows Rue, whose life is transformed after a tragedy and she discovers that on the magical island of Ghizon, she has powers beyond her belief, which she must later use in her own world in order to save her sister. Elle is also the author of the middle grade fantasy series Park Row Magic Academy; the first book in that series is due out next month from Bloomsbury. Elle is a former educator and mentor who recently won the 2022 NAACP Image Award Nominee for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth and Teens.
Rimas said the new series offers a “rare combination of elements” that she looks for in a book. “Complex magic system? Check. Intergenerational trauma? Yup. Corrupt, powerful institutions? You bet! Compulsive read that keeps you up deep into the night, despite the fact your toddler wakes you up at 5:30 on the regular? 100%.” But, she added, she’s not the only one hooked by the story.
“Welcoming J. Elle to Penguin has been a full-house embrace,” she said. “From acquisition, when the whole team DEAR’ed and gushed about the read right along with me to when my publisher and the president were advising me via text deep into the night when I was negotiating the final terms of the deal, to now, how we at Penguin want to shout from the rooftops how much we love House of Marionne and how honored we are to publish J. Elle’s dashing, daring, and delightful books.”