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Pantomime review

Secrets, magic, the circus and a unique and enthralling world come together in this captivating debut…

Pantomime by Laura Lam

February 2013, Strange Chemistry

Book jacket blurb:

 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.


If any book could make you want to run away and join the circus, this one would be it. Right from page one I was transported to another world by Laura Lam’s vivid and detailed descriptions – I could almost smell the greasepaint, see the colours of the glass globes and hear the crowd cheer as the aerialists swung and soared high above. Waiting in the wings is a line-up of equally colourful characters – the intimidating ringmaster, trickster clowns, exotic Kymri tumblers, performing otters, contortionists and the freaks (there’s even a bearded lady!). They all co-exist within a complex social structure which Micah, as an outsider, must try to decipher. The runaway impresses with his agility, but to gain full acceptance to their exclusive ranks he must undergo the unpleasant process of ‘hazing’ – just one of the harsh aspects of circus life that the author describes so well.

The circus is a place of illusion and magic, where nothing is quite as it seems. It’s the perfect setting for the central themes of secrets and identity that play out in this book, and also the perfect arena for our protagonist’s journey of discovery, but I can’t tell you very much about that because it would ruin a very skilfully set up surprise that the author has in store for you. You will just have to wait until the book’s official release in February 2013 and read for yourselves. But I can tell you that it is a story with real substance, in which characters strive to come to terms with their true natures and lies often prove more painful and dangerous than the truth.  

In sharp contrast to the circus is the high society of the cities of Ellada, in which girls like Gene wear elaborate dresses and attend afternoon tea parties, croquet matches and debutante balls, where they are paraded in front of potential suitors. It all has a very quaint, Victorian, almost steampunk vibe to it. Lurking in the background are the mysterious Penglass domes and Vestige, both relics of a long-lost and possibly magical civilisation – and those elements gave the story more of a fantasy feel. In fact, it seems fitting that the book flirts with different genres but doesn’t fit properly into any! One thing I really loved were the poems and extracts at the start of each chapter, each giving a snippet of Ellada’s beguiling culture and history.

It is a truly enchanting world that I was sad to leave behind when I turned the last page. But more engrossing than that world were the characters – the trials and decisions they must face are so challenging that you can’t help but be on their side, willing them to succeed. In Micah, the author has created a protagonist like none other I have come across in YA fiction. It really is the perfect escapism. And I have a feeling that there will be yet more secrets to uncover in the sequel, and that there is much more to the land of Ellada that its people themselves don’t yet know.

Thank you to Strange Chemistry for sending me an ARC and giving me a privileged preview of this stunning book.

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