Monday, 18 March 2013
R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
The first thing that should be said about this book is that it is, without a doubt, one of the strangest YA novels I've read in a very long time - if not, one of the strangest I've ever read. The concept behind the story is bizarre, but really intriguing, and it's certainly like nothing else I've ever encountered. This is less about the storyline itself, and more about the protagonists, who are a lot more than they first appear!
I am finding it ridiculously difficult to find things to say about them without giving too much away, because both of the characters hide a very strange secret indeed. Obviously I can say no more about this, but it's worth reading the book just to find out what this secret is!
Gene is a wonderful character, and I had a lot of fun getting to know her. She's uncomfortable in her own skin - not because she's necessarily uncomfortable about her body or anything, but because of the way the other people around her might perceive her if they knew the truth. Her secret is intriguing, and I really enjoyed learning more about it as the book went on, and I can't wait for more of the mysteries surrounding this to be revealed in the next book.
Aside from her enigmatic 'condition', I loved her just as a character in her own right; she's strong-minded, independent, feisty, and can be fiercely intelligent - and this is just at the beginning. She later proves herself to be brave beyond belief, as she's faced with much bigger challenges than she ever thought she would be. She's not happy with her life, and so she faces her problems head-on and decides to change her own fate, no matter how difficult this change might be.
Then we have Micah. He runs away, not intending to join the circus, but this is exactly where he ends up, training to be an aerialist, after a daring and dangerous stunt. Like Gene, he also harbours secrets (who doesn't in the circus?!), and this proves to cause him further difficulties as he attempts to become accepted in his new life.
Despite odds being stacked against him, and the other circus performers pulling every dirty prank in the book - and then some - on him, he carries on through it all, learning quickly and proving his worth.
Again, like Gene, he is an incredibly brave and strong-minded character (you'd have to be to put up with what he does and carry on going), but once he's settled into his new life, despite the secret he keeps, we find that he's also incredibly loyal to the new people in his life (particularly Aenea, a seemingly unlikely love interest). I fell for his character immediately, and after that, he just worked his way further and further under my skin. I have never come across a character quite like him before.
The story itself is set mostly in the circus, prominently following Micah's story. I have come to really love stories with a circus setting - they have a fantastic sense of magic about them, but at the same time can also show a very dark and twisted side. Pantomime definitely has this!
It had a very 'Water for Elephants' feel to it - it felt very real, with a sense of tradition and history (and of course, glamour and magic) - but it also adds its own unique spin to things. Not only does it feel historical, this gets mingled with something almost futuristic. There are species (magical creatures that we would never have encountered) that have supposedly become extinct - the Chimaera and the Alder - and a strange, unexplained technology called Vestige, which ranges from weapons to robotic-like creatures that perform tricks. It's almost got a Steampunk feel to it (except it's obviously not set in the Victorian era, or on Earth), and yet it is quite separate and unique at the same time.
There are so many fascinating layers to this book, each revealed subtly and in its own time. I was captivated by the rich fantasy world of Ellada for the entirety of the book, and I've no doubt that this will continue through the sequel too.
I shall mention the ending only briefly - I wouldn't want to ruin anything! - but it's something that's definitely worth bringing up. I'm not sure how I'd expected it to end - I don't think I really gave it too much thought - but I certainly hadn't expected what I got! It's very fast-paced, sudden, shocking, and fairly dark (considering the tone of the rest of the book). Having said that, I now can't think of a better way for it to have ended (apart from, perhaps, avoiding a particular tragedy). It was the perfect way to set us up for the sequel, which is bound to take a new and exciting turn!
I have seen Pantomime described as 'a peculiar dream', and I think that absolutely covers it. It's a book of mysteries, wonders and oddities, and one I would happily find myself lost in again and again!
An excellent debut from, no doubt, an author soon to become well-known in the YA scene!
Posted by Dani C at 00:00