Nell has always felt like an outcast, but in her small village, at least people are accustomed to the birthmarks that cover her face and body. But when her father sells her to Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, Nell is thrust into the spotlight. Jasper and his brother Toby always dreamed of owning a circus together, but they are both haunted by their experiences in the Crimean War—Jasper as a soldier and Toby as a war photographer.
‘Circus of Wonders’ is not a relaxing reading experience. The exploitation and commodification of people and animals in circuses is an uncomfortable history and even the experience of reading about it can feel a little voyeuristic. Jasper’s ambitions and desire to prove himself lead him to invest heavily and at first it pays off and Nell’s star rises. But Jasper is not willing to be outshone by his ‘own creation’ so, as Nell is suspended high above the ground with manufactured wings like Icarus, Jasper gets in deeper with the moneylenders and a sense of impending doom pervades the narrative. It is a tense and evocative read, but thankfully has a satisfying conclusion.
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