Review: Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆

About the Book:

Step up, step up! In 1860s England, circus mania is sweeping the nation. Crowds jostle for a glimpse of the lion-tamers, the dazzling trapeze artists and, most thrilling of all, the so-called “human wonders.”

When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders pitches its tent in a poor coastal town, the life of one young girl changes forever. Sold to the ringmaster as a “leopard girl” because of the birthmarks that cover her body, Nell is utterly devastated. But as she grows close to the other performers, she finds herself enchanted by the glittering freedom of the circus, and by her own role as the Queen of the Moon and Stars.

Before long, Nell’s fame spreads across the world—and with it, a chance for Jasper Jupiter to grow his own name and fortune. But what happens when her fame begins to eclipse his own, when even Jasper’s loyal brother Toby becomes captivated by Nell? No longer the quiet flower-picker, Nell knows her own place in the world, and she will fight for it.

A gorgeously wrought exploration of celebrity, power, and belonging, this is a historical novel unlike any other, with an unforgettable heroine at its heart. 



My Thoughts:

Circus of Wonders is a fantastic Historical Fiction from Elizabeth Macneal. It perfectly captures the feel of the Victorian Era, and Victorian Era style storytelling.  

The story features Nell, a girl covered in birthmarks and Toby and Jaspar who run a circus. Jaspar is the alpha; he is ringmaster for the circus.  Toby, who idolizes his brother Jaspar, is a bit dumpy and socially clumsy.  Due to circumstances in their past, Toby feels beholden to Jaspar, and Jaspar takes great advantage of his power over Toby.  Nell who a social outcast feels both resentful and thankful of the circus brothers.  Along with these three, Ms. McNeal provides a fantastic secondary cast of “circus freaks”.  This eccentric group forms a supportive family of sorts where Nell not only finds acceptance but flourishes with her growing fame. However, trouble starts with Nell’s star brightening and Jaspar’s fame and control waning.

There are beautifully crafted messages of family relationships, the evils of power and the effects of exploitation.  The quality of the storytelling captured me from the start and the plight of the characters grabbed hold of my heart and squeezed tight.

About the Author: Elizabeth Macneal was born in Edinburgh and now lives in East London. She is a writer and potter and works from a small studio at the bottom of her garden. She read English Literature at Oxford University, before working in the City for several years. In 2017, she completed the Creative Writing MA at UEA in 2017 where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury scholarship. 

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth’s debut novel, won the Caledonia Noel Award 2018. It will be published in twenty-eight languages and TV rights have sold to Buccaneer Media. 

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