Author: Laura Lam
First Sentences: “’Well, boy,’ the ringmaster said, ‘What can you do?’
Publisher: February 5th, 2013 by Strange Chemistry, 392 Pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 Magic Vestige Artifacts
Recommended if you like: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, realistic fantasy, Victorian era stories, Steampunk, magic, and if you ever wanted to run away and join the circus
Mini Review: BRB JOINING THE CIRCUS TO HANG OUT WITH MICAH!
*Warning, minor spoiler but it gets revealed about 100 pages in and it’s impossible to talk about this book without talking about this thing*
Gene was raised as a proper young lady in a wealthy family. With her brother/best friend by her side she climbed trees and scaffolding and behaved more like a boy than a girl.
Which makes sense, in a way, because Gene is both a boy and a girl- physically and emotionally. When Gene realizes his parents have plans for him that she wants no part of, she runs away and joins the circus. He LITERALLY RUNS AWAY AND JOINS THE CIRCUS. He takes on the name Micah Grey and begins to live as a boy, hiding the female parts of himself, both physically and metaphorically.
As the story unspools we learn more about Micah’s life as Gene, and what led him to her decision, as well as the mystical world Lam has flawlessly created. Micah trains to be a trapeze artist with beautiful Aenea and the aging Arik, and becomes tentative friends with the clown Drystan. Micah’s family is looking for him and it seems that other people may be looking for her too. Meanwhile strange events begin to persuade Micah that he is part of some bigger and mysterious chain of events which are, like everything else it seems, out of his control.
The Good, the Great and the Completely Awesome
I literally have nothing bad to say about this book, so everything goes in this one section.
Let’s start with the writing of an intersex character. An intersex character as protagonist. AN INTERSEX CHARACTER AS NARRATOR!
All the yes!!
Micah is wonderful. Flawed but brave. Utterly authentic. His identity — physical, mental, emotional and sexual- is an integral part of him and so is key to the story, but not used in any kind of “token” kind of way. He is so REAL. This is hard enough to do for any author, but to take something so misunderstood and make it feel completely normal once we start to see through Micah’s eyes is amazing.
It also leads to wonderful confusion as Micah is attracted to a boy, and later begins to fall in love with a woman. It gives him a secret to guard, though it isn’t his only one, and makes him special. But it’s also just who he is, as much as his love of heights and the stubbornness that serves him well. We learn that while Micah has been sheltered, homosexuality is not so uncommon in this world. Drystan and Arik both prefer men and the two female strippers of the circus , prefer each other.
The description of life in the circus is detailed but not boring, and makes me want to go join them in spite of the hardships described. To soar through the air! To know the magic behind the tricks! I mean, seriously, who didn’t at some point want to run off with the circus?
Pantomime also, a bit sneakily, shines a light on privilege and social inequality. Micah comes from a wealthy home where, as Gene, she wanted for nothing and then joins a group where most of the members have been poor their whole lives. As Micah becomes aware of politics, inequality and the reality of life for the poor it reminds us that our world is equally as unequal. As we get to know Drystan we see how his decisions have also been influenced by money and power.
The secondary characters are as intriguing as the main one. Drystan is shrouded in secrets. Aenea is sweet and wonderful but with her own share of mystery. I kept waiting for Micah’s brother, Cyril, to betray Micah because that is the “plot twist” used so often in books, but Cyril remains unwaveringly loyal– the kind of brother anyone would be lucky to have. Even Gene’s parent’s remain a bit sympathetic even though we are still mad at them for the plans they almost carried out against Gene’s will. Bil, the ringmaster of the circus, is terrifying and pitiful and the cruelly ambitious boss so many of us have had at least once in our lives.
And the magical world is one we just barely begin to understand. Micah encounters an artifact, one of many small pieces of technology called Vestige that were left by the Alders– an ancient and advanced race that, legend says, just picked up and left one day. The piece Micah finds is a hologram of a Human/Damselfly called a Chimaera. This hologram speaks to Micah, and no one else hears her words. More and more mystical things happen to and around Micah. Things he doesn’t understand and things that we don’t understand. It is clear that Lam is slowly cooking mysteries to be revealed later in the series.
The events that end the book are tragic and completely change the course Micah must take, and had me frantically downloading the sequel– unable to wait to find out what happens next.
In short put everything else away and read this book yesterday.