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February 9, 2022

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal ~ a Review

by MK French

Circuses are popular in 1860's England, and Nell is sold to Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders as a "leopard girl" due to the birthmarks all over her body. There's a family of sorts to be found in the circus, and soon Nell's fame eclipses Jupiter's. Torn between him and his loyal brother Toby, Nell soon sees the shadows of their past even as she tries to secure her future.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Circus of Wonders
February 2022; Atria; 9781982106799
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); historical fiction

The story feels like it's more about the brothers than about Nell. She's a fairly simple girl, ostracized because of the birthmarks across half her body, the villagers superstitious of what I'll omens they would bring. Jasper and Toby, however, circle each other throughout the story. Jasper wants to be seen and loved by everyone, wants to be more successful than other circus ringleaders, but can't get out of his own way. Toby felt more attached to Jasper and invisible otherwise; even in the Crimean War he was a photographer and not a soldier, on the outside of other friend groups and jealous of them. He feels invisible and unworthy, a contrast to Jasper. Nell is the star of the Circus of Wonders because of her novelty, but there's very little presence of her as a person even in the midst of that popularity. 

The life behind the scenes of a circus, with the politicking and scrounging for money shows how hard it is to be popular and famous. The two brothers keep orbiting around each other, as Jasper has the charisma and Toby has the quiet brawn. I definitely don't like Jasper, and I feel sorry for Toby. The other circus performers are caught; the difference in appearance sets them apart in a society that is cruel to outsiders, but Jasper sees them as property to be bought and sold. The casual references to how other Oddities were treated shows the casual cruelty and objectification of these people. Perhaps that's why Nell often fades into the background, even though the summary revolves around her. In their own way, each brother treats her as an object of desire to win, not as a woman in her own right.

Buy Circus of Wonders at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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  1. could it be good day to go to the circus? thanks for sharing
    sherry @ fundinmental