Title: Circus of Wonders
Author: Elizabeth MacNeal
Release Date: 13/5/21
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 46
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free eARC copy from Picador ,via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.
But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.
In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?
Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.
This is just such a beautifully balanced book. We had excellent balance between the wonder and excitement of the Victorian Circus and the cruelty, prejudice and inequality of that time too. We as get balance between the circus when it is bright and flourishing and then flash backs to the Crimean war. All of these elements rounding out to form a story filled with light and dark, the rise to power and fame and the fall from it, the balance of love and fortune, of family and glory.
All three perspectives tell the story in such unique ways and they are such deep and rich characters. All of them are trying to make something of themselves in the world, in the Circus and they are fighting the same battles in such different ways. I found myself swept away with their stories. They are such complex characters all fighting for acceptance in there own way and the way the stories intertwine just makes this such a compelling read.
I am not a particularly huge fan of Historical Fiction, but there is a fantasy like style to MacNeal’s writing that kept me engrossed. The worldbuilding is so details but I like it doesn’t shy away from the darkness too. It exposes the lengths showmen of the age, like P.T. Barnum, went to to earn money and fame. There is a real richness to the writing and the plot, while a little slow at times is interesting and entertaining.
My only quibble is the ending felt a little too bittersweet a little more of a fizzle out that I felt just left me wanting more. We also had a tiny portion of middle sag and a felt that there were a couple of story threads that didn’t really get resolved. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this book, it is a really beautiful read.