Hotel Ruby: “Hotel California” for the YA set

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHotel Ruby by Suzanne Young horror book reviewsHotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Stories of supernaturally-afflicted hotels are easy to find, but can be hard to get right. Characters first must be brought to the hotel, enticed to stay, and then convinced to linger even when presented with evidence that they should run for the hills. Suzanne Young takes a stab at the “haunted hotel” novel with Hotel Ruby, a mostly successful YA romance-horror mash-up with really enjoyable elements of surprise.

After their mother’s sudden and unexpected death, Audrey Casella and her older brother Daniel are being relocated from Arizona to Nevada, where their father will leave them in the care of their strict, aloof grandmother. Their father claims it’s just for a summer, so he can get himself back into a parenting frame of mind, but the teenagers know better. On the drive up, they decide to stop for a night at the Hotel Ruby, so Dad can get some much-needed rest. The concierge, Kenneth, is more than happy to describe the hotel’s opulent amenities and drop hints about guests who don’t seem to ever check out or leave. And indeed, the Casella family extends their stay, since everyone could use some pampering and relaxation. There are wealthy and attractive guests like Elias or Catherine to spend time with, it never (ever) rains, and every night there’s a splendid party. What could go wrong?

Sequel

The Hotel Ruby itself is described in lush, ornate detail, which I very much appreciated. It’s necessary to have strong mental pictures of the ballroom, dining area, lounge, service and staff areas, and the distinctions between varying floors of the hotel, in order to recognize when things have gone slightly or severely awry. Young plays with the reader, too, giving Audrey an unenviable experience — her food always tastes weird, her cell phone doesn’t work, there are no clocks anywhere in the hotel, and her father and brother abandon her for long stretches of time — while her family members gush over how much fun they’re having at events that she isn’t allowed to attend. It’s not immediately clear whether Audrey’s being deliberately obstinate or there’s something else going on, and that mystery keeps the plot moving.

Most of the character interactions were well-written: Daniel and Audrey bicker and reconcile like real siblings would, Audrey’s friendship with staff member Lourdes develops along believable lines, and Audrey’s relationships with her father and (now-deceased) mother are portrayed realistically. Kenneth lurks forbiddingly in the background of nearly every scene, to delightfully creepy effect. At the same time, Catherine could have used a little more depth beyond “sadistic rival for Elias’ affection,” and I didn’t like how quickly Audrey’s relationship with Elias turned obsessive. I also thought that Young’s use of the cliché of two young people destined to be together was a shortcut around any weight to their relationship, which was a shame. Hotel Ruby only takes place over a few days, which isn’t enough time for teenage infatuation to mature into anything deeper, so why not present that instantaneous and heady rush of emotion on its face? If the character in question had said something along the lines of “I’ve been waiting for someone like you” rather than specifically waiting for that other person, it would have read as a more natural conversation to me.

There were times when Hotel Ruby read more as a romance novel with some supernatural elements than a horror novel with a romance subplot, but those moments didn’t overwhelm my general enjoyment. Young uses familiar “spooky hotel” tropes to her advantage, including a posh anniversary party for the hotel’s opening and creepy music which only Audrey can hear, to create an oppressive air of dread and entrapment. At no point did I feel completely certain that things were going to work out well for Audrey or her family, and I enjoyed the way Young built suspense around that uncertainty. There was a Big Reveal which I guessed earlier than I think I was supposed to, and the ending didn’t have the sharply ironic twist that I was really hoping for, but these may be totally unique to my reading experience. I’m sure that other readers will be much happier with the conclusion.

If you’re looking for some mild chills and disturbing imagery, along with plucky heroines who face off against fiendish foes, Hotel Ruby may be right for you. I’d recommend this for older YA readers, due to some graphic scenes of violence and scenes of physical contact between some handsy teenagers.

Published November 3, 2015. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Program comes a brand-new haunting, romantic, and suspenseful story about one girl’s search for healing in a grand and mysterious hotel full of secrets. Stay tonight. Stay forever. When Audrey Casella arrives for an unplanned stay at the grand Hotel Ruby, she’s grateful for the detour. Just months after their mother’s death, Audrey and her brother, Daniel, are on their way to live with their grandmother, dumped on the doorstep of a DNA-matched stranger because their father is drowning in his grief. Audrey and her family only plan to stay the night, but life in the Ruby can be intoxicating, extending their stay as it provides endless distractions—including handsome guest Elias Lange, who sends Audrey’s pulse racing. However, the hotel proves to be as strange as it is beautiful. Nightly fancy affairs in the ballroom are invitation only, and Audrey seems to be the one guest who doesn’t have an invite. Instead, she joins the hotel staff on the rooftop, catching whispers about the hotel’s dark past. The more Audrey learns about the new people she’s met, the more her curiosity grows. She’s torn in different directions—the pull of her past with its overwhelming loss, the promise of a future that holds little joy, and an in-between in a place that is so much more than it seems… And the 13th chapter will only add to the mystery behind the 13th floor of Hotel Ruby…and ultimately, what it means for Audrey. Welcome to the Ruby.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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2 comments

  1. The idea that others are off having a good time at an event you’re not invited to must be a primal human — and teenager — fear. The descriptions of the hotel sounds wonderful! Thanks for letting me know about this book.

    • I think you’re right, particularly when it’s obvious that the person who’s left out would have a fantastic time if only they were allowed to attend. :)

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