From the #1 internationally bestselling author of the “lush, evocative Gothic” (The New York Times Book Review) The Doll Factory comes an atmospheric and spectacular novel about a woman transformed by the arrival of a Victorian circus of wonders—“as moving as it is deeply entertaining” (Daniel Mason, New York Times bestselling author).
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.
Circus of Wonders is a beautiful story about the “complex dance between exploitation and empowerment, and the question of what it really means to have control over your own life” (Naomi Ishiguro, author of Escape Routes).
Macneal (The Doll Factory) returns with a colorful historical brimming with action and psychological conflict. Nell, 19, is ridiculed and feared in her village in 1860s England due to the birthmarks covering half her face and dappling her body. When Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders pitches its tent in their tiny settlement, Nell's father drunkenly sells Nell to the megalomaniacal showman for £20. Jasper's sensitive and bearlike brother Toby, haunted by guilt over an incident in the Crimean War that keeps him under Jasper's thumb, becomes Nell's champion and eventually her lover. Jasper, meanwhile, bills Nell as "The Queen of the Moon and Stars," who, fitted with mechanical wings, flies on ropes above the heads of awestruck spectators. With performances in London, including one for Queen Victoria, Nell's fame starts to surpass Jasper's, leading to explosive confrontations between the two. Macneal successfully balances thrilling action sequences with poignant passages, particularly the tender descriptions of Toby and Nell's relationship. The author brings her fully developed characters to life, highlighting the exploitation of people with visible differences during Victorian times. This makes for a worthy spectacle of its own.