A Desperate Teen Fights for Her Life In This Excerpt From House of Marionne

Books Features J. Elle
A Desperate Teen Fights for Her Life In This Excerpt From House of Marionne

As YA fantasies go, House of Marionne has a little bit of everything, in proportions that make you wonder just how delicious the final product might be. Mixing magic, forbidden love, and catty competition at an elite boarding school, with a dash of dark academia on top and a heroine who’s just looking for a place to belong, the story may occasionally tread familiar ground, but it certainly does it in style. 

This series opener from J. Elle—author of the Wings of Ebony duology—is rich and lush, the story of a girl who has lived her entire life running from the assassins tracking the dangerous dark magic in her veins. To protect herself and her mother, she reluctantly agrees to attend a magical finishing school and join a group of elite debutantes by completing a series of challenges that will, in theory at least, help her learn to master her powers.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story.

17-year-old Quell has lived her entire life on the run. She and her mother have fled from city to city, in order to hide the deadly magic that flows through Quell’s veins.

Until someone discovers her dark secret.

To hide from the assassin hunting her, and keep her mother out of harm’s way, Quell reluctantly inducts into a debutante society of magical social elites called the Order that she never knew existed. If she can pass their three rites of membership, mastering their proper form of magic, she’ll be able to secretly bury her forbidden magic forever.

If caught, she will be killed.

But becoming the perfect debutante is a lot harder than Quell imagined, especially when there’s more than tutoring happening with Jordan, her brooding mentor and— assassin in training.

When Quell uncovers the deadly lengths the Order will go to defend its wealth and power, she’s forced to choose: embrace the dark magic she’s been running from her entire life or risk losing everything, and everyone, she’s grown to love.

Still, she fears the most formidable monster she’ll have to face is the one inside.

House of Marionne won’t hit shelves until August 29, 2023, but we’re excited to bring you an excerpt from the book’s third chapter right now. 


The gates loom over me like an altar waiting for an offering. Wind howls, turning my arms to gooseflesh. Cold seeps into my fingers, then creeps up into my hands. I clench my fists, then reach for my rice pack. My fingers snag on the zipper, seizing up. The ache morphs into a frigid chill, my toushana stirring. I wish I knew what provoked it. What wakes it up some moments and keeps it lying silent others.

“Hello?” I set my bag on the ground. They must have cameras. “Anyone here?”


Something swoops overhead, and the world darkens. But above, I only glimpse shadow, like clouds that have moved on but left their shade behind. I blink. It’s gone. The dimness of the evening thickens. Wind grazes my skin, rustling the trees, and the slants of shade draw nearer, stretching across the pavement, reaching for me.

“Who’s there?” I force down the lump in my throat and feel for the flap of my bag, eyeing Mom’s dagger hilt with images of the Dragun after me still on the back of my eyelids.

Suddenly, darkness from above nosedives toward me, and panic flares in my chest. My fingers graze the hilt of my dagger just before a force pummels into my back, knocking me forward, ripping away my breath. My knees slam the ground, prickling with pain. I reach again for my bag. The zipper sticks, but I jiggle it open, and a thick fog as black as night surrounds me. I steady myself for the blow, trying to see which direction it’s coming from, but there is nothing, no one, only shadows.

The fog lifts, and my side throbs with the sting of a fresh wound. I hold the spot where it aches as the world tips sideways. The trees sway, watching in judgment, like the iron gates that wouldn’t let me in. I scan for some indication of where the shadow went, where it will come from next, but only see tricks of light. Splotches of black on the ground that blur and shift.

“Please, stop!” My ribs quake with pain, as if they’re being snapped out of place. I peer harder, grow colder, pins pushing behind my eyes trying to translate the darkness.

I blink, and the world glitches white. That’s when I see him.

An outline of his feet, shaped by only air. He lunges toward me, but I’m ready. I grab his ankle, hold as tight as I can, and tug. He trips, but somehow catches himself before falling. The shadow he was blows away like sand.

What’s left behind is a guy about my age dressed much like the gate guard with a glare that is a dagger of its own.

I gulp. Another one. A gleaming mask covers the top half of this Dragun’s face as well. But it’s much more ornate than the others I’ve seen, intricately carved along its edges where it fades into his skin. His dark coat and loose-fitted top are lined with red embroidery, much finer than any of the other Draguns wore. But the cinch at his neck where I expect to see a silver coin is only fabric.

“The gate guard already cleared—” But before I can finish, he’s on his feet, nostrils flaring, before disappearing into a cloud of black.

“I—” I start, but I’m engulfed in a dark fog as cold as death. A fog of . . . him. Sharp pain pricks me all over like slashes with a fine blade. I blink, but everything is black. And red. I wail in pain. My toushana roars in me, a blanket of ice wrapping around my bones so insistent it burns. I bite down, trying to focus, and force my eyes open, looking for an outline. Some sign of where the Dragun’s striking from. The fog shifts, rippling around his shape. I swing out my arm, as cold as a frozen log, slamming it into the back of his knees. He stumbles but recovers swiftly as the shadows lift, and he reappears.

His green eyes narrow.

I pull myself up and snatch the dagger, thrusting its tip straight at his face, Mom’s warnings about Grandmom and this world haunting me.

“Touch me again and I’ll slice you in half.” The world frays at the edges, red rivers running between my fingers, down my arms.

My threat doesn’t garner a response, but his gaze fixates on the blade. Warmth soaks my side and whatever he did to me makes it feel like something is ripping apart my insides. But I hold my dagger arm higher, firm. He won’t touch me again. Tiny cuts stripe my arms, hands. Blood, there’s so much blood. The mask on his face vanishes.

“Where’d you steal that?”

“It’s mine.”

He shakes his head with disbelief. “Who are you?”

I blow out a shaky breath. Words I’ve been forbidden to say my entire life rise like bile in my throat. “Marionne. Quell Janae Marionne.”

House of Marionne will be released on August 29, 2023, but you can preorder it now. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin