You want what he has.
It’s only fair, right? Things should be equal, and you both know it. Unilateralism, tit for tat, total fairness and no favoritism will all keep the green-eyed monster at bay. Jealousy is no fun, but you want what it’s got, and in Elizabeth Macneal’s new novel ‘Circus of Wonders’, you’ll get it – otherwise.
Jasper Brown has always had his deepest desires.
Whether it was a microscope when he was little, the war when he was a young man, a new name, women, monsters, a circus of wonders or the total loyalty of his brother , it was up to him to ask. And that included the woman Toby had seen in the dirty little coastal village. The woman who, with the appropriate costume and a name matching the celestial birthmarks on her body, would secure Jasper’s invitation to London and performance for the Queen.
The first time Toby saw her, she had dived off a cliff into the ocean and he thought she was dead. He had never seen a more captivating creature than the woman with spots all over her body and face; she confused him and he knew he wouldn’t tell Jasper about her. If Toby dared tell his brother about the girl, his magic would wear off.
She knew what the villagers thought of her. Even her own father said Nell was a freak, that it was her fault the seas had risen and ruined the flower crop a season or two ago. They all thought so, although she could consider some of the townspeople as friends and could lean on her beloved brother.
She wondered what he had said when he learned that their father had sold Nell to the showman named Jasper. And why didn’t he look for Nell, locked in a carriage that smelled of manure and sweat? Could she ever find her way back home?
Would she even want to, having learned to love performance art?
Don’t expect a lot of abracadabra inside the “Circus of Wonders”. It’s not there, not in the plot or the setting, and it’s missing in every tormented character. Instead, there’s an irresistible authenticity to this book, a bit of circus history, romance, constant humidity, and a dark, troubled soul. Come to this novel for that, and stay.
Author Elizabeth Macneal lets you guess: a lot of bad things can happen to her characters, but the fairy tale references give hope that goodness will prevail. Yet multiple obsessions let you know that happily ever after is highly unlikely; add a bearded bird-caller, a blind albino child, and a burgeoning ringmaster leaning into madness, mix it in with a steampunk vibe, and you’ve got a tale that tinkles and hisses and soars to an end. which is like a spear to your heart.
Fans of the Three Rings will enjoy this book, but readers who are captivated by shady Victoriana will be happiest with it. If this is you, then get “Circus of Wonders”. You want what he has.
“Circus of Wonders: A Novel” by Elizabeth Macneal. circa 2022, Emily Bestler Books, Atria $27.99 368 pages