I love books about circuses. I love the sense of magic and fantasy, and the promise that absolutely anything can happen. Elizabeth Macneal’s second novel, ‘Circus of Wonders’ did not disappoint!
It is 1866, and we meet Nell picking flowers in a coastal village in southern England. She has been ostrasized by her community due to the birthmarks which cover her body, and she has little to defend her except for her brother. When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives, her father wastes no time in selling her to the circus as part of its freakshow of performers. Here, Nell finds an acceptance and sense of belonging that she has never known before.
Jasper Jupiter is a spectacle in himself – confident, ambitious, and desperate to build the best circus in the world, and one that can be presented to royalty. His brother, Toby, lives in this shadow, but finds a new purpose with Nell.
Macneal paints her characters with great sensitivity, and I found them to be very realistic. I really liked meeting Nell and getting a strong sense of her backstory before the circus lands. She’s a strong character and we build a real empathy with her through the opening chapters, which helps us to understand her motivation, and fear of losing her place in the limelight, later on. Jacob and Toby have a complex relationship, and we see glimpses of both the childhood, and experiences in the Crimean War, which have contributed to it.
The plot reminded me of ‘Water for Elephants’, which I enjoyed reading last year. However, I found this novel to be even more vivid in its colourful descriptions, and with less of a dark undertone. With episodes featuring Queen Victoria, London money-lenders, and even a little steampunk towards the end, there is something in this novel for everyone!
‘Circus of Wonders’ by Elizabeth Macneal is due to be published on 13th May 2021.
Thank you to Netgalley UK and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.