Set against the fascinating and moody backdrop of a mysterious boarding school, this intricately crafted novel is filled with magical realism, gothic settings, and the perfect hint of romance.
Seventeen-year-old Penny is a lead dancer at the Grande Teatro, a finishing school where she and eleven other young women are training to become the finest ballerinas in Italy. Tucked deep in the woods, the school is overseen by the mysterious and handsome young Master, who keeps the girls ensconced in the estate – and in the only life Penny has ever known.
But when flashes of memories – memories of a life very different from the one she thinks she’s been leading – start to appear, Penny begins to question the Grande Teatro and the motivations of Master. With a kind and attractive kitchen boy, Cricket, at her side, Penny vows to escape the confines of her school and the strict rules that dictate every step she takes. But at every turn, Master finds a way to stop her, and Penny must uncover the secrets of her past before it’s too late.
Debut author Nikki Katz delivers a unique and haunting twist on a classic fairy tale with The Midnight Dance, chosen by readers like you for Macmillan's young adult imprint Swoon Reads.
Praise for The Midnight Dance:
"Deliciously dark and twisty, taking you on a luscious ride." —Suzanne Lazear, author of the Aether Chronicles series
"Satisfyingly dark and frightening." —School Library Journal
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|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The boy clutched a marionette to his chest and shuffled into the barn.
His best friend — his only friend — Beppe glanced up from where he was whittling a narrow piece of pine. "Oh, Cirillo, what happened now?"
Cirillo blinked back angry tears and stepped toward him. Damp hay lay strewn over the floor, covering an errant knot of wood pushing up through the dirt. He tripped over it, the puppet tumbling from his hands as his arms whirled to gain balance. The toy landed face-first in the hay, the leg bent at an awkward angle.
Not unlike his own.
"She broke it. Again." Cirillo choked out the words. "I hate her."
He could still hear his sister's laughter, tight and high-pitched as she stood in front of him. "Poor Cirillo can't catch a ball with the other boys, so he's stuck playing make-believe." Sofia threw the toy high into the air, running off with her friends as it plummeted to the ground with a loud snap.
He'd eased from the chair and squatted down. He fought to keep his balance as his right leg wobbled. Scooping up the marionette, he made his way out of the expansive parlor room and through the portico. The sun soaked into his skin and eased some of the incessant pain, but his mind continued to spin hatred into a veil that clouded his thoughts.
The trek across the field and down to the barn was precarious and time- consuming, but Cirillo found Beppe in the same spot he'd left him hours before. Beppe slept in the stable loft and rarely left the outbuildings except for a hot meal or a tepid bath. Even then he preferred to swim in the lake unless it was covered in ice. An orphan, Beppe had wandered onto the estate several years before. His arrival happened to coincide with the departure of a stable hand who'd gone in search of greener pastures, so Cirillo's stepmother took Beppe in to help with the horses. What the self- centered woman didn't know was that the teen spent most hours in a hidden workshop he'd built inside the tack room. A padlock and chain kept prying eyes, and obnoxious girls, from peeking in.
Beppe put down his knife and the scrap of wood. On his table was an odd assortment of tools. A chisel, a mallet, a saw, and gouges for the wood carving, but also a liset, straight razor knives, clamps, and needles. "Come see. He's walking."
A wave of dizziness swept through Cirillo, and he clasped a hand to Beppe's shoulder for support. Was it possible?
Together they moved to the tack room, where Cirillo waited as Beppe unwound the chains and eased the door open on silent hinges.
Cirillo held a handkerchief to his nose, breathing dried lavender in the hopes of masking the scent of clotted blood that wafted from behind the door.
The room was dark, the air heavy and humid. Thin bands of sunlight cut through cracks in the outer wall, slashing additional bars across the crates and instruments lining the shelves. Beppe lit a single lantern and the space came further into view. Cirillo leaned over to peer inside the single cage resting on the table in the center of the room. A mouse sat in a flattened bed of straw, perfectly still as if it had been stuffed. Even the whiskers remained motionless.
Beppe pulled a scrap of cheese from his pocket and handed it to Cirillo. "Put it just inside the cage."
Cirillo lowered the handkerchief, his nose acclimating to the copper smell. He pushed the bit of cheese between the bars. It fell, and he yanked his finger back before the mouse could nip his skin.
A whisker twitched. Then another. The mouse shifted and stretched its paws. It pounced on the cheese. Cirillo's mouth dropped as he took in the tiny legs. Four of them, covered in fur. Which would've been perfectly normal and unworthy of his time, if the hind leg hadn't been a scrap of metal only forty-eight hours before.
Beppe grinned at him, his mop of pale curls sticking out in all directions like a halo. "Only think of your future. You'll be able to ride horses. Spin girls around the dance floor."
Cirillo's lips smiled, but his jaw stayed tight. Those things didn't matter. What girl would want to dance with him anyway? No. He had bigger plans. A grander scheme. He'd have the biggest stage imaginable, and his sister would never laugh again.
Penny hoped for a whisper of a compliment, at the very least.
One hand rested on a smooth wooden barre, supporting her upper body. She stood en pointe with her right leg stretched toward the ceiling. Every muscle strained in extension to hold the penché.
Not a single word of praise echoed through the drafty chamber. Madame Triolo only reprimanded with a sharp retort. "Penelope, your fingers."
Her leg sagged and disappointment wormed in to tighten her shoulders.
Madame stomped over with all the grace of an elephant. Only five years ago, she'd prevailed as the king's favorite dancer. Now she put every ounce of her petite frame into heavy steps, as if to prove her very existence.
"They go here" — Madame moved Penny's index finger a mere millimeter and twisted her thumb inward — "and here. Now do it again."
Bianca gave a delicate, but still condescending, snort from across the dance studio, where she practiced a series of pirouettes. She held the lead role opposite Penny in the spring equinox gala performance and relished every one of Penny's failures, of which there seemed to be many.
You did fine, Maria mouthed to Penny in the mirror. She knew how hard Penny practiced. But it was useless. Penny would never be good enough.
Not for Madame.
Madame turned away and shouted loud enough to break the thick glass windows lining the far wall. "Next week, girls. We're almost there, but not quite. I will not have a shoddy performance." The gala was Madame's chance to show off for Master. And his chance to put the girls on display for the public. The twelve girls made up the current student population of the Grande Teatro finishing school, and the midnight dance performance was the culmination of their extensive ballet training.
Most of the girls loved the event, the chance to be the center of attention as well as mingle with townspeople and royalty alike. It was rare they saw anyone who didn't work inside the estate boundaries.
Penny was in the minority, if not the sole minority. She disliked everything about the event. The parading and posturing. The forced small talk with strangers. It made her skin itch.
"Now for the reverence!" Madame Triolo ushered the girls to the center of the floor beneath the heavy crystal gasolier. At her turn, Penny stepped forward, hands dropping to her sides and a smile painted on her face. Sweeping one leg behind, she bowed low in a curtsy and waited for Bianca to join her. After Bianca repeated the same gesture, all the girls straightened in unison and grasped hands for the final bow. Penny caught their reflection in the sprawling gold-leaf-framed mirror, conscious not for the first time of how similar they all looked. Like twelve sisters.
Dark, thick hair all tied back in buns, bodies lean and sinewy. Pale muslin skirts draped from their waists to their knees. The same small symbol tattooed on their wrists to show acceptance into Master's programs. It looked like a six-pointed star, an X shape with a line running vertically through the center. And they were all so pale, like apparitions. The occasional hour of sunlight would do them good.
"Beautiful lines, Bianca," Madame purred. Bianca dug her nails into the back of Penny's hand, and she yanked her fingers away. "Dismissed! I will see you bright and early again tomorrow."
Maria led Penny into the hallway. Penny paused to lean a palm against the rough stone wall and untie her slippers. Her toes were shredded from pushing up on the toe box all afternoon. Maria stood at her side, carrying on about the book she'd finished that morning. "You really should read it. The romance" — she sighed — "do you think we'll ever have something like that?"
"A devoted, dashing, daring young man who will swoop in, brandish a sword, and defend our honor?" Penny lifted the slippers by their ribbons and strode down the hall.
"Yes." Maria failed to notice Penny's sarcasm.
Penny stopped short and Maria nearly bumped into her back. "Maria, where would we find someone like that? The only boy our age in the house is Cricket." The kitchen boy. While he was certainly cute — in a gangly, flour-dusted-hair kind of way — Penny couldn't picture him saving her from anything but a wayward fork.
Maria nudged her forward. "Cricket? I'm talking about someone like Master."
Penny chewed her lip. Master was only a few years older. He certainly played the part of the stoic, brooding benefactor, and he was dreamy in a tall, dark, and handsome cliché. But he had a way of unsettling her with his penetrating gaze, and he kept his guard up. Always.
Lacing her fingers through Maria's, Penny tugged her down the hall. "Perhaps you'll find a young man at the gala. Some overzealous toff who will charm his way into your heart."
Maria grinned. "You, too. I know you'll find someone."
I will. I will find someone, Penny thought. Only I won't meet him here.
Of course, that would mean actually traveling beyond the borders of the estate, and then even farther to the nearest town. The manor was plopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a stone island surrounded by an undulating sea of woodland and fields. Master proclaimed it was to keep the girls safe and allow them to focus on their studies. Penny often wondered if, instead, it was to keep them hidden away from the outside world.
The pair swept past the closed doors that led to their study rooms and burst through heavy double doors into the foyer of the main wing of the manor. Maria pushed Penny toward the library, which opened to their immediate right. The musty vanilla smell of books greeted them as they walked into the immense space. Shelves faced one another, stretching the length of the room and two stories high. A tight, circular stairway in the corner led to a narrow loft above. Small columns, topped with odd antiques and artifacts, lined the space. A marble bust. A glass-enclosed fountain pen. A windup toy.
Long mahogany tables sat at the opposite end of the room, chairs neatly tucked beneath, waiting for the girls to grace them with their study materials. Waning afternoon sunlight poured in at an angle through high windows, flooded the shelves, and glinted off the gilded lettering of the book spines. Maria pulled out a novel and began to flip through the pages.
The wall closest to the doors held a popping hearth, topped by an enormous oil portrait of Master. His piercing green eyes seemed to follow her movements as Penny collapsed into a plush armchair near the fire. One that faced away from the painting. Something soft tickled her bare foot. She reached over and picked up Leon, the kitten who roamed the manor in spite of all Master's attempts to get rid of him. He circled three times and curled into her chest, only to hiss a second later when Ana came running into the room. She scrambled into the matching chair across from Penny and settled her sewing basket in her lap.
"What are you up to?" Maria looked over and raised an eyebrow in her direction.
"Nothing." Ana's cheeks reddened from more than the warmth of the fire.
Suddenly, Cricket appeared in the doorway, tall and broad-shouldered, with his dark blond hair mussed. "There you are." His lips lifted in a little half smile. "I didn't realize we were playing nascondino." Penny fought back an unladylike groan. How very much like Ana to initiate a game of hide-and-seek in order to get Cricket to chase her. Her infatuation was obvious. It was really too bad he didn't seem to notice.
He paced over, his arms supporting a silver tray heaped with pastries and cups of coffee. "I've found you, and brought the snack you requested." He spotted Penny and his smile grew larger, a dimple sinking deep in his right cheek. "Good afternoon, mia farfallina." His pale eyes caught hers, and she felt an odd sense of peace, strange and familiar at the same time, like she'd found something she hadn't known she was looking for.
"Good afternoon." Penny snatched a cookie before Cricket could even set the tray down.
"We can't eat those." Maria closed the book on her index finger.
Ana eyed the treats. "Why not?" As one of the newest students, she still seemed to question everything.
"You know why," Maria muttered. "Our weight."
Penny rolled her eyes and took a huge bite. Stupid rules. The girls were all skinny as rods. No snacks between meals. No breakfast. It was a bunch of nonsense that left Penny in a perpetual state of hunger. She chewed slowly, enjoying the rich taste of almonds and cinnamon as the flaky treat dissolved. Cricket's smile returned and he winked at her before he excused himself and backed out of the room.
Ana stared after him for a long moment and then turned to Penny. "Why does he always call you his little butterfly?"
Penny shrugged. "That's the first time I've heard him say it."
"You must be deaf, then," Maria said. "He says it nearly every time he sees you."
Penny frowned. They must be hearing things. She lifted her coffee and took a sip, watching as Ana threaded a needle with dark blue thread and began to hem a length of yellow-colored silk. A dozen stitches in and Ana gnawed on her lip in frustration.
"Here." Penny put down the mug and held out a hand. "Let me." Once Ana relinquished the fabric, Penny ripped out the loose stitches and redid them, tight and evenly spaced. "It's all in how you hold the needle."
Ana sighed and shook her head. "I'll never get it right. Mamma was so good at sewing. I guess her skill skipped a generation." She cupped her own steaming drink between bothhands. "I wish she could've taught me before she passed away. I miss her."
"Me, too." Maria glanced up. "I mean, I miss my mother. Not yours."
Penny looked back and forth between the girls, her chest tightening. She'd never realized they both had deceased mothers. Penny's own mother had died from pneumonia several years ago. How odd that they were all motherless.
"She was so beautiful," Maria continued. "Long dark hair that she always kept coiled in a braid at the back of her neck."
"My mamma used to wear hers in the same style," Ana chimed in.
As did mine, Penny thought.
"She loved to cook," Maria continued, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. "Ravioli, parmigiano risotto, and the most amazing ribollita. We'd purposely let the bread go stale just so she would make it."
"So did we!" Ana interrupted. "I always picked out the cabbage."
Penny jerked her gaze back down to the sash. She yanked out the last few stitches, which had gone absurdly awry. Her mother had made ribollita as well, a recipe handed down by Penny's grandmother. How was it possible their mothers were all so similar, their memories nearly identical?
Ana leaned in, seemingly unconcerned about the eerie coincidence. "Did your mamma ever sing you 'Ninna Nanna'?" She began to hum the melody.
Penny practically threw the sewing back at Ana. "I'm not feeling well. Sorry. I can help you again tomorrow."
She nearly tripped in her haste to flee the room before she could hear Maria's response, to hear that all three mothers had sung the very same lullaby to their daughters.
It had to be a coincidence.
That was what she kept telling herself as she fled the library and the warmth of the hearth. The lullaby played a recurring tune through her mind as she raced down the dimly lit dormitory hall and into her barren room. Penny closed the door and threw herself into bed, willing away the nausea frothing in her abdomen.
It had to be a coincidence.
The next morning, Penny burst from her room and slid into her spot near the front of the queue of girls exactly as the second bell gonged and they began to glide forward down the hall. Bianca led the way, brushing one slipper along the frigid floor, and then the other.
"How are you feeling?" Penny nearly jumped as Maria leaned in, her lips close to Penny's ear. "Cricket said you were excused from supper with a stomachache. You did look pretty pale when you fled the library."
Excerpted from "The Midnight Dance"
Copyright © 2017 Nikki Katz.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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