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Majestica

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Jurassic Park meets Once There Was in this page-turning middle grade fantasy adventure set at a nature preserve for magical beasts, where two girls find themselves on a wilderness expedition gone disastrously wrong.

Hattie Swift is a maid-in-training at Majestica, a resort and nature preserve where visitors come face-to-face with rare magical flora and fauna. She’s thrilled to be invited along on the park’s famous wilderness train excursion for the first time, but there’s a catch: She has to accompany Evelyn Ridgewell, the hotel owner’s haughty niece, who wants nothing to do with her.

Soon after embarking, Evelyn overhears a man who aims to hunt the park’s creatures for sport, and Hattie meets Jacob Threadborne, an apprentice magician sent by a foreign government on a top-secret mission. Then the magical fences keeping guests safe stop working, and the train breaks down in the most treacherous part of the jungle. Faced with poachers, man-eating trees, and a dragon on the loose, Hattie, Evelyn, and Jacob must stick together to figure out what’s gone wrong at Majestica . . . that is, if they want to make it out alive.

Features a richly illustrated map of the expansive nature preserve, as well as a bestiary with all the magical—and dangerous—creatures at Majestica.


* This audiobook edition includes an illustrated map of the nature preserve and bestiary with all of the creatures at Majestica.
Welcome to Majestica

The dead dragon glared at Hattie from empty eye sockets.

As she gripped her dust rag, the ladder wobbled alarmingly under her feet. She reached into the bony mouth, between a sea of teeth, and wiped the spiderwebs away.

The skull hung over the lobby of the Hotel Majestica, following the guests with its eerie gaze. It was so large she could have climbed inside with room to spare. Hattie threw a hasty glance at its fangs. It’s been dead a hundred years. It can’t bite you. Still, she dusted a little faster than usual.

Snatching her arm from the dragon’s mouth, she announced, “Done!”

Mrs. Galliforma, the hotel’s head, squinted up at the skull. She was a stout woman with a brown complexion, and her hair was drawn into a no-nonsense bun. Hundreds of brass keys dangled from her waist. You always knew Mrs. G was on her way because of the jingling.

The housekeeper studied the dragon skull critically. “Very good.”

Hattie stepped down the ladder, hiding her smile. Mrs. G never complimented anybody. She must be in a good mood today. “I always feel like it’s going to come alive and grab me.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “I don’t see why we can’t just use magic to dust it.”

“Magic,” Mrs. G said sternly, “is no substitute for good old-fashioned elbow grease. And none of the other girls are small enough to fit in its mouth.”

Hattie was used to odd jobs. Feed the pixies! Polish the wineglasses! Run this down to the lobby, will you? There was always something to do at the hotel. But Mrs. G wouldn’t let her become a real maid until she was fifteen. Hattie dreamed of the day she would finally put on that black dress and ruffled apron. She wanted to giggle in the maids’ dormitory at night and line up for uniform inspection in the morning.

To be part of something.

But thirteen was all about being stuck in between.

Mrs. G noticed her sulky look. “Don’t pout, my dear.” She tucked a flyaway piece of hair behind Hattie’s ear. “We all must do our part. Our guests are here to see the rarest magical creatures in the world, not a dusty lobby.”

“But I do want to do my part!” Hattie said eagerly. “Look how good I am at dusting. Maybe I could help Maude on thethird floor?”

Sixteen-year-old Maude was the youngest chambermaid. They were both orphans, but unlike Hattie, Maude thought it was glamorous. “Haven’t the foggiest idea who my parents were,” she’d say, sweeping her feather duster dramatically. “I could be anyone, you know—even a princess!”

Hattie usually stayed silent. There was no point in pretending she was anyone special. Both her parents had worked at Majestica, but she didn’t mind. The hotel was the most magical place in the world. Who would want to be anywhere else?

Mrs. G touched her cheek. “Maybe next year, my dear.”

Hattie bit her lip to keep a sigh from escaping. Well, it had been worth a try.

Mrs. G’s voice turned brisk. “Now, go fetch the dirty tablecloths down to the laundry. Lickety-split!” With a wave of her hand, the ladder’s legs snapped together and it whooshed into a closet.

As Hattie scuttled out of the lobby, she couldn’t help looking back at the dragon skull. Dusting it always made her feel a strange whisper of regret. Once it had been the king of the skies. Now it was nothing but a gruesome curiosity for the hotel guests to take photographs with. Dragons were rare in the world these days. Even Majestica only had one.

She saluted it respectfully. “Till next time, sir.”

Hattie wheeled her laundry cart into the breakfast room. The sun filtered through the glass ceiling onto the tables and potted plants below. An orange dragomander crawled up the inside of the window with sticky feet. When it saw Hattie, its mane stood up. Breathing a tiny poof of fire, it zoomed out of her reach.

The breakfast room was empty except for one table, where four people sat drinking tea. Hattie immediately recognized the man with the distinguished gray sideburns and polka-dot bow tie. Mr. Ridgewell owned the Hotel Majestica. Next to him sat a young man with ink-stained fingers. His sandy hair flopped roguishly to one side, and his eyes twinkled at Hattie in a way that made her blush. On his other side was a woman in a plaid jacket and spectacles, a book primly propped in front of her.

But most interesting to Hattie was a girl her own age, silk ribbon perched on her perfect brown ringlets. She kept sneaking grouchy looks at everyone else.

Hattie bobbed a curtsy. “Morning, Mr. R.”

“Why, good morning, Hattie.” He lifted his teacup toward her. “How are you today?”

She gave him a smile. “Very well, thanks . . . sir,” she added hastily.

A green pixie jumped on the table, a tray balanced on his fingertips. He was ten inches tall and had a wizened, grumpy face that made him look like an old man. With a bow, he set down a plate of chocolate pancakes.

“Oh, how cute!” the girl exclaimed.

She wouldn’t think so if she knew how hard pixies could bite. But Hattie held her tongue, remembering what Mrs. Galways said—the guests must never see through the magic.

“It’s all so orderly.” The young man gazed up at the lush vines crawling across the skylight. “How do you keep these magical plants from taking over the place?”

“That’s all thanks to the Caretaker. My greatest invention, you know,” Mr. Ridgewell said. “Runs the entire park.”

At the next table, Hattie concentrated on the salt and pepper shakers. Maude had taught her a spell to move small objects. But the shakers only gave a feeble wiggle. Hattie wrinkled her nose. She could light candles with magic, but that was about it.

She moved the salt and pepper by hand and tugged off the sticky tablecloth. The breakfast room had eight tables across and six tables down. Hattie tossed the tablecloth in her cart. Only forty-seven more to go.

“I understand your magical machine is a Majestica secret.” The young man lowered his voice. “So you don’t let anyone see it—not even your staff?”

Mr. Ridgewell sipped his tea. “That’s right.”

“Haven’t you ever thought about showing it to the public? It would make a big splash. Front page, for sure!” He made a grand gesture. “Picture the headline: Ridgewell’s Magical Invention Revealed at Last. By yours truly, Jasper Foxfire. Give the readers something new.”

Mr. Ridgewell waved his hand. “If it’s new you want, our gardener has built a brilliant maze—the pathways change every five minutes! I myself was lost inside for three hours. I completely missed lunch.”

Before the reporter could reply, there was a crash.

A wide-eyed creature with a striped tail appeared, knocking over the teapot. When he saw the strangers, he let out a screech. Hopping over the puddle of tea, he scrambled onto Hattie’s shoulder. He chittered angrily to himself, shaking out his wet feet.

Hattie sprang into action to stop the spilled tea from spreading. “I’m so sorry, sir!” she babbled, piling napkins on the table. “He didn’t mean— He was just—”

Mr. Foxfire inspected the animal. “Well, I’ve never seen anything like this fellow before.”

Hattie winced as his paws dug into her neck. “This is Jeffers, sir. He’s a leaping lemur.”

“A jumper, eh?” Mr. Foxfire tentatively touched her pet’s bushy tail.

Hattie shook her head. “Not a jumping lemur. A leaping lemur. Like this.”

She snapped her fingers, and with a pop Jeffers vanished. A second later, he reappeared on the ceiling chandelier.

“Marvelous!” Mr. Ridgewell clapped his hands. “Well done, Hattie. I see you’ve made some progress with him.”

Hattie’s cheeks warmed. Mr. Ridgewell didn’t always notice her. She would treasure his words of praise all week.

Nobody would have blamed him if he’d sent Hattie to an orphanage after her father died. But he had given her a home at the hotel. It was part of why she was so eager to do a good job. She wanted him to be proud of her.

Mr. Foxfire rummaged under the napkins for his notebook. “What a fascinating creature.” He began to write as he talked. “Is he rare? What’s his scientific name? Are there more of them here?”

Jeffers was Hattie’s pet by accident. Dowson, the gamekeeper, had purchased him two years ago for the park, but he’d soon found that magical fences were useless against a lemur who could pop in and out whenever he wanted. On one of his adventures, Jeffers had met Hattie and decided he liked her. And that was that.

“A bit of a troublemaker, that one,” Mr. Ridgewell said. “Supposed to be an attraction for the guests, but he was . . . hard to keep track of.”

“It’s true.” Hattie smiled. “Wherever you put him, he always gets loose. So now I take care of him. When he’s here, anyway.”

“Where do you suppose he goes,” Mr. Foxfire mused, “when he’s not here?”

Hattie had spent a lot of time thinking about this question and never came up with a good answer. Jeffers could teleport up to a hundred feet. He could leap through walls, but only if he knew what was on the other side. But where did he go? She still had no idea.

She shrugged. “In between, I guess.”

“Intriguing,” the reporter murmured. “In my days at the Orrery, I studied a bit of magical theory. I wonder what the professors would think of this little fellow.”

“Are you a magister?” Hattie asked. The Orrery was a famous magical university.

Mr. Foxfire flashed her a grin. “Oh, I dabble.”

He spun his fingers, and a sparkly green ball appeared. With a flick, he sent it floating up to the chandelier, where Jeffers began to bat it around. Hattie couldn’t help laughing.

“Uncle Clive,” the girl piped up, “I want a leaping lemur.”

Hattie’s heart leaped into her throat. Jeffers reappeared on her shoulder, his cool black nose snuffling her hand. She clutched his paw. He was her best friend. Mr. Ridgewell wouldn’t take him away from her, would he?

“Sorry, my dear,” Mr. Ridgewell told the girl. “I’m afraid this is the only one at Majestica. They’re very rare.”

“They can’t be that rare,” she complained, “if you’re giving them to servants. Oh, please, can I have one?”

The woman across the table lowered her book. “Evelyn, really.”

Evelyn narrowed her green eyes at Hattie, and the two of them sized each other up. What Hattie saw didn’t make her feel any better. The other girl’s dress was prettier. She didn’t have an apron or dust on her nose. In fact, her creamy skin looked as if it had never been touched by the sun, and her smooth hands looked like they’d never done a day of work.

Hattie swallowed. Now she understood how the creatures in the zoo felt when people stared at them. Jeffers curled his tail around her neck like a scarf. She would never let him go. Never.

“This is Hattie Swift,” Mr. Ridgewell explained. “Her father was the best gamekeeper I ever had, rest his soul. So you see, being good with animals runs in the family.”

Hattie’s father had been killed in a dragon accident when she was six. She didn’t even remember her mother, who had died when she was just a baby. Hattie had been raised by the hotel staff. Mrs. G had taught her to read. The maids had taught her how to play cards, though that was supposed to be a secret. And Morsewood, the gardener, had shown her the three most foolproof ways to escape a poisonous people-eater flower.

Mr. Ridgewell went on. “I’m sure the lemur is quite happy where he is.”

Relief trickled through Hattie. She found her voice. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

When in doubt, curtsy and leave. That was what Mrs. G always said. Heart thumping, she wheeled her cart to the next table before that awful Evelyn could say anything else.

The reporter seized his opportunity.

“Look here, you have to give me one little tidbit about the Caretaker,” he pleaded. “My boss said you promised us something new for the paper.”

“The maze is new!” Mr. Ridgewell said in a grouchy voice. “The petting zoo is new!”

“Yes, but—”

Mr. Ridgewell cut him off. “The Caretaker is out of the question, I’m afraid.”

Mr. Foxfire was awfully persistent. “If I’d built a machine that could control the lights, the trains—all of this? I wouldn’t keep it a secret. I’d want everyone to know that I was the greatest inventor in Ruava!”

“Maybe so,” Mr. Ridgewell said, “but then everyone would want a Caretaker. And we can’t have that, can we?”

“Why not?” Mr. Foxfire pressed him. “Just imagine— a whole factory churning out magical machines! You could modernize the world and become a wealthy man.”

Hattie didn’t like the greedy tone of his voice. If everyone had a Caretaker, then Majestica wouldn’t be special anymore. It would be just like everywhere else.

“He’s already a wealthy man,” Evelyn muttered around her pancakes.

Mr. Ridgewell smiled. “My niece is right.”

The reporter looked deflated, like a popped balloon. He tapped his pen in annoyance. He was getting nowhere.

Mr. Ridgewell pulled a gold watch from his pocket. “Look at the time! You’ll excuse me if I end the interview. The wilderness tour embarks soon, and I still have arrangements to make.”

“Do you mean to say you’re going on the tour, sir?” Mr. Foxfire had an eager glint in his eye. “Someone told me you never go out into the park anymore. Not since—” He gulped and went silent.

Hattie cringed, guessing what he’d been about to say. Everyone knew the hotel owner had lost his leg in a dragon attack years ago—the last time he went into the wilderness. Hattie gripped a tablecloth to her chest. Oh yes, she knew that dark story . . .

Her father had died saving Mr. Ridgewell’s life.
Praise for Majestica:

* “Rich worldbuilding will draw readers into an immersive adventure . . . Tolcser combines themes of conservation and the repatriation of cultural artifacts with unexpected friendships to create a fast-paced fantasy. Caparo’s exquisite art adds to the magic . . . Charming characters abound in this tale that’s thoughtfully grounded in ethics." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Riveting . . . The marvelous magical menagerie and Victorian details feel terrifically fresh. There is danger, daring, and mounting mystery aplenty, but quiet moments of introspection give the suspenseful story room to breathe . . . An epic adventure sure to enthrall and inspire.” —Booklist

“A pulse-pounding adventure that examines themes of conservation, exploitation, and responsibility.” —Publishers Weekly

“When I open a novel and find a map inside, I know I’m about to have fun. Majestica, a sort of middle grade Jurassic Park with magical creatures instead of dinosaurs, begins with this kind of map and makes good on its promise of excitement and adventure.” —Lit Hub

“An edge-of-your-seat fantastical tale filled with danger, secrets, and the most amazing creatures. Enjoy the ride . . . if you dare.” —Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling author of The Unwanteds and The Forgotten Five series

“Adventure, mystery, and friendships blossoming under pressure—Majestica has all of it. The pages feel as packed with life as the park itself.” —Cassie Beasley, New York Times bestselling author of Circus Mirandus
Sarah Tolcser is the author of the middle grade novel Majestica and two fantasy novels for teens, Song of the Current and Whisper of the Tide. She lives and writes in a 100-year-old house in New Orleans, and enjoys video games, NBA basketball, and books about girls who blow stuff up. Visit her at SarahTolcser.com. View titles by Sarah Tolcser

About

Jurassic Park meets Once There Was in this page-turning middle grade fantasy adventure set at a nature preserve for magical beasts, where two girls find themselves on a wilderness expedition gone disastrously wrong.

Hattie Swift is a maid-in-training at Majestica, a resort and nature preserve where visitors come face-to-face with rare magical flora and fauna. She’s thrilled to be invited along on the park’s famous wilderness train excursion for the first time, but there’s a catch: She has to accompany Evelyn Ridgewell, the hotel owner’s haughty niece, who wants nothing to do with her.

Soon after embarking, Evelyn overhears a man who aims to hunt the park’s creatures for sport, and Hattie meets Jacob Threadborne, an apprentice magician sent by a foreign government on a top-secret mission. Then the magical fences keeping guests safe stop working, and the train breaks down in the most treacherous part of the jungle. Faced with poachers, man-eating trees, and a dragon on the loose, Hattie, Evelyn, and Jacob must stick together to figure out what’s gone wrong at Majestica . . . that is, if they want to make it out alive.

Features a richly illustrated map of the expansive nature preserve, as well as a bestiary with all the magical—and dangerous—creatures at Majestica.


* This audiobook edition includes an illustrated map of the nature preserve and bestiary with all of the creatures at Majestica.

Excerpt

Welcome to Majestica

The dead dragon glared at Hattie from empty eye sockets.

As she gripped her dust rag, the ladder wobbled alarmingly under her feet. She reached into the bony mouth, between a sea of teeth, and wiped the spiderwebs away.

The skull hung over the lobby of the Hotel Majestica, following the guests with its eerie gaze. It was so large she could have climbed inside with room to spare. Hattie threw a hasty glance at its fangs. It’s been dead a hundred years. It can’t bite you. Still, she dusted a little faster than usual.

Snatching her arm from the dragon’s mouth, she announced, “Done!”

Mrs. Galliforma, the hotel’s head, squinted up at the skull. She was a stout woman with a brown complexion, and her hair was drawn into a no-nonsense bun. Hundreds of brass keys dangled from her waist. You always knew Mrs. G was on her way because of the jingling.

The housekeeper studied the dragon skull critically. “Very good.”

Hattie stepped down the ladder, hiding her smile. Mrs. G never complimented anybody. She must be in a good mood today. “I always feel like it’s going to come alive and grab me.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “I don’t see why we can’t just use magic to dust it.”

“Magic,” Mrs. G said sternly, “is no substitute for good old-fashioned elbow grease. And none of the other girls are small enough to fit in its mouth.”

Hattie was used to odd jobs. Feed the pixies! Polish the wineglasses! Run this down to the lobby, will you? There was always something to do at the hotel. But Mrs. G wouldn’t let her become a real maid until she was fifteen. Hattie dreamed of the day she would finally put on that black dress and ruffled apron. She wanted to giggle in the maids’ dormitory at night and line up for uniform inspection in the morning.

To be part of something.

But thirteen was all about being stuck in between.

Mrs. G noticed her sulky look. “Don’t pout, my dear.” She tucked a flyaway piece of hair behind Hattie’s ear. “We all must do our part. Our guests are here to see the rarest magical creatures in the world, not a dusty lobby.”

“But I do want to do my part!” Hattie said eagerly. “Look how good I am at dusting. Maybe I could help Maude on thethird floor?”

Sixteen-year-old Maude was the youngest chambermaid. They were both orphans, but unlike Hattie, Maude thought it was glamorous. “Haven’t the foggiest idea who my parents were,” she’d say, sweeping her feather duster dramatically. “I could be anyone, you know—even a princess!”

Hattie usually stayed silent. There was no point in pretending she was anyone special. Both her parents had worked at Majestica, but she didn’t mind. The hotel was the most magical place in the world. Who would want to be anywhere else?

Mrs. G touched her cheek. “Maybe next year, my dear.”

Hattie bit her lip to keep a sigh from escaping. Well, it had been worth a try.

Mrs. G’s voice turned brisk. “Now, go fetch the dirty tablecloths down to the laundry. Lickety-split!” With a wave of her hand, the ladder’s legs snapped together and it whooshed into a closet.

As Hattie scuttled out of the lobby, she couldn’t help looking back at the dragon skull. Dusting it always made her feel a strange whisper of regret. Once it had been the king of the skies. Now it was nothing but a gruesome curiosity for the hotel guests to take photographs with. Dragons were rare in the world these days. Even Majestica only had one.

She saluted it respectfully. “Till next time, sir.”

Hattie wheeled her laundry cart into the breakfast room. The sun filtered through the glass ceiling onto the tables and potted plants below. An orange dragomander crawled up the inside of the window with sticky feet. When it saw Hattie, its mane stood up. Breathing a tiny poof of fire, it zoomed out of her reach.

The breakfast room was empty except for one table, where four people sat drinking tea. Hattie immediately recognized the man with the distinguished gray sideburns and polka-dot bow tie. Mr. Ridgewell owned the Hotel Majestica. Next to him sat a young man with ink-stained fingers. His sandy hair flopped roguishly to one side, and his eyes twinkled at Hattie in a way that made her blush. On his other side was a woman in a plaid jacket and spectacles, a book primly propped in front of her.

But most interesting to Hattie was a girl her own age, silk ribbon perched on her perfect brown ringlets. She kept sneaking grouchy looks at everyone else.

Hattie bobbed a curtsy. “Morning, Mr. R.”

“Why, good morning, Hattie.” He lifted his teacup toward her. “How are you today?”

She gave him a smile. “Very well, thanks . . . sir,” she added hastily.

A green pixie jumped on the table, a tray balanced on his fingertips. He was ten inches tall and had a wizened, grumpy face that made him look like an old man. With a bow, he set down a plate of chocolate pancakes.

“Oh, how cute!” the girl exclaimed.

She wouldn’t think so if she knew how hard pixies could bite. But Hattie held her tongue, remembering what Mrs. Galways said—the guests must never see through the magic.

“It’s all so orderly.” The young man gazed up at the lush vines crawling across the skylight. “How do you keep these magical plants from taking over the place?”

“That’s all thanks to the Caretaker. My greatest invention, you know,” Mr. Ridgewell said. “Runs the entire park.”

At the next table, Hattie concentrated on the salt and pepper shakers. Maude had taught her a spell to move small objects. But the shakers only gave a feeble wiggle. Hattie wrinkled her nose. She could light candles with magic, but that was about it.

She moved the salt and pepper by hand and tugged off the sticky tablecloth. The breakfast room had eight tables across and six tables down. Hattie tossed the tablecloth in her cart. Only forty-seven more to go.

“I understand your magical machine is a Majestica secret.” The young man lowered his voice. “So you don’t let anyone see it—not even your staff?”

Mr. Ridgewell sipped his tea. “That’s right.”

“Haven’t you ever thought about showing it to the public? It would make a big splash. Front page, for sure!” He made a grand gesture. “Picture the headline: Ridgewell’s Magical Invention Revealed at Last. By yours truly, Jasper Foxfire. Give the readers something new.”

Mr. Ridgewell waved his hand. “If it’s new you want, our gardener has built a brilliant maze—the pathways change every five minutes! I myself was lost inside for three hours. I completely missed lunch.”

Before the reporter could reply, there was a crash.

A wide-eyed creature with a striped tail appeared, knocking over the teapot. When he saw the strangers, he let out a screech. Hopping over the puddle of tea, he scrambled onto Hattie’s shoulder. He chittered angrily to himself, shaking out his wet feet.

Hattie sprang into action to stop the spilled tea from spreading. “I’m so sorry, sir!” she babbled, piling napkins on the table. “He didn’t mean— He was just—”

Mr. Foxfire inspected the animal. “Well, I’ve never seen anything like this fellow before.”

Hattie winced as his paws dug into her neck. “This is Jeffers, sir. He’s a leaping lemur.”

“A jumper, eh?” Mr. Foxfire tentatively touched her pet’s bushy tail.

Hattie shook her head. “Not a jumping lemur. A leaping lemur. Like this.”

She snapped her fingers, and with a pop Jeffers vanished. A second later, he reappeared on the ceiling chandelier.

“Marvelous!” Mr. Ridgewell clapped his hands. “Well done, Hattie. I see you’ve made some progress with him.”

Hattie’s cheeks warmed. Mr. Ridgewell didn’t always notice her. She would treasure his words of praise all week.

Nobody would have blamed him if he’d sent Hattie to an orphanage after her father died. But he had given her a home at the hotel. It was part of why she was so eager to do a good job. She wanted him to be proud of her.

Mr. Foxfire rummaged under the napkins for his notebook. “What a fascinating creature.” He began to write as he talked. “Is he rare? What’s his scientific name? Are there more of them here?”

Jeffers was Hattie’s pet by accident. Dowson, the gamekeeper, had purchased him two years ago for the park, but he’d soon found that magical fences were useless against a lemur who could pop in and out whenever he wanted. On one of his adventures, Jeffers had met Hattie and decided he liked her. And that was that.

“A bit of a troublemaker, that one,” Mr. Ridgewell said. “Supposed to be an attraction for the guests, but he was . . . hard to keep track of.”

“It’s true.” Hattie smiled. “Wherever you put him, he always gets loose. So now I take care of him. When he’s here, anyway.”

“Where do you suppose he goes,” Mr. Foxfire mused, “when he’s not here?”

Hattie had spent a lot of time thinking about this question and never came up with a good answer. Jeffers could teleport up to a hundred feet. He could leap through walls, but only if he knew what was on the other side. But where did he go? She still had no idea.

She shrugged. “In between, I guess.”

“Intriguing,” the reporter murmured. “In my days at the Orrery, I studied a bit of magical theory. I wonder what the professors would think of this little fellow.”

“Are you a magister?” Hattie asked. The Orrery was a famous magical university.

Mr. Foxfire flashed her a grin. “Oh, I dabble.”

He spun his fingers, and a sparkly green ball appeared. With a flick, he sent it floating up to the chandelier, where Jeffers began to bat it around. Hattie couldn’t help laughing.

“Uncle Clive,” the girl piped up, “I want a leaping lemur.”

Hattie’s heart leaped into her throat. Jeffers reappeared on her shoulder, his cool black nose snuffling her hand. She clutched his paw. He was her best friend. Mr. Ridgewell wouldn’t take him away from her, would he?

“Sorry, my dear,” Mr. Ridgewell told the girl. “I’m afraid this is the only one at Majestica. They’re very rare.”

“They can’t be that rare,” she complained, “if you’re giving them to servants. Oh, please, can I have one?”

The woman across the table lowered her book. “Evelyn, really.”

Evelyn narrowed her green eyes at Hattie, and the two of them sized each other up. What Hattie saw didn’t make her feel any better. The other girl’s dress was prettier. She didn’t have an apron or dust on her nose. In fact, her creamy skin looked as if it had never been touched by the sun, and her smooth hands looked like they’d never done a day of work.

Hattie swallowed. Now she understood how the creatures in the zoo felt when people stared at them. Jeffers curled his tail around her neck like a scarf. She would never let him go. Never.

“This is Hattie Swift,” Mr. Ridgewell explained. “Her father was the best gamekeeper I ever had, rest his soul. So you see, being good with animals runs in the family.”

Hattie’s father had been killed in a dragon accident when she was six. She didn’t even remember her mother, who had died when she was just a baby. Hattie had been raised by the hotel staff. Mrs. G had taught her to read. The maids had taught her how to play cards, though that was supposed to be a secret. And Morsewood, the gardener, had shown her the three most foolproof ways to escape a poisonous people-eater flower.

Mr. Ridgewell went on. “I’m sure the lemur is quite happy where he is.”

Relief trickled through Hattie. She found her voice. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

When in doubt, curtsy and leave. That was what Mrs. G always said. Heart thumping, she wheeled her cart to the next table before that awful Evelyn could say anything else.

The reporter seized his opportunity.

“Look here, you have to give me one little tidbit about the Caretaker,” he pleaded. “My boss said you promised us something new for the paper.”

“The maze is new!” Mr. Ridgewell said in a grouchy voice. “The petting zoo is new!”

“Yes, but—”

Mr. Ridgewell cut him off. “The Caretaker is out of the question, I’m afraid.”

Mr. Foxfire was awfully persistent. “If I’d built a machine that could control the lights, the trains—all of this? I wouldn’t keep it a secret. I’d want everyone to know that I was the greatest inventor in Ruava!”

“Maybe so,” Mr. Ridgewell said, “but then everyone would want a Caretaker. And we can’t have that, can we?”

“Why not?” Mr. Foxfire pressed him. “Just imagine— a whole factory churning out magical machines! You could modernize the world and become a wealthy man.”

Hattie didn’t like the greedy tone of his voice. If everyone had a Caretaker, then Majestica wouldn’t be special anymore. It would be just like everywhere else.

“He’s already a wealthy man,” Evelyn muttered around her pancakes.

Mr. Ridgewell smiled. “My niece is right.”

The reporter looked deflated, like a popped balloon. He tapped his pen in annoyance. He was getting nowhere.

Mr. Ridgewell pulled a gold watch from his pocket. “Look at the time! You’ll excuse me if I end the interview. The wilderness tour embarks soon, and I still have arrangements to make.”

“Do you mean to say you’re going on the tour, sir?” Mr. Foxfire had an eager glint in his eye. “Someone told me you never go out into the park anymore. Not since—” He gulped and went silent.

Hattie cringed, guessing what he’d been about to say. Everyone knew the hotel owner had lost his leg in a dragon attack years ago—the last time he went into the wilderness. Hattie gripped a tablecloth to her chest. Oh yes, she knew that dark story . . .

Her father had died saving Mr. Ridgewell’s life.

Reviews

Praise for Majestica:

* “Rich worldbuilding will draw readers into an immersive adventure . . . Tolcser combines themes of conservation and the repatriation of cultural artifacts with unexpected friendships to create a fast-paced fantasy. Caparo’s exquisite art adds to the magic . . . Charming characters abound in this tale that’s thoughtfully grounded in ethics." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Riveting . . . The marvelous magical menagerie and Victorian details feel terrifically fresh. There is danger, daring, and mounting mystery aplenty, but quiet moments of introspection give the suspenseful story room to breathe . . . An epic adventure sure to enthrall and inspire.” —Booklist

“A pulse-pounding adventure that examines themes of conservation, exploitation, and responsibility.” —Publishers Weekly

“When I open a novel and find a map inside, I know I’m about to have fun. Majestica, a sort of middle grade Jurassic Park with magical creatures instead of dinosaurs, begins with this kind of map and makes good on its promise of excitement and adventure.” —Lit Hub

“An edge-of-your-seat fantastical tale filled with danger, secrets, and the most amazing creatures. Enjoy the ride . . . if you dare.” —Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling author of The Unwanteds and The Forgotten Five series

“Adventure, mystery, and friendships blossoming under pressure—Majestica has all of it. The pages feel as packed with life as the park itself.” —Cassie Beasley, New York Times bestselling author of Circus Mirandus

Author

Sarah Tolcser is the author of the middle grade novel Majestica and two fantasy novels for teens, Song of the Current and Whisper of the Tide. She lives and writes in a 100-year-old house in New Orleans, and enjoys video games, NBA basketball, and books about girls who blow stuff up. Visit her at SarahTolcser.com. View titles by Sarah Tolcser