Page Count 384
Publication date May 2021
-1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.
But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.
In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?
I have to say I found the plot slow going. I would have preferred heavier editing, there is a LOT of repetition when it comes to the characters thoughts.
While it was lovely to see the development of Nell and Toby as they battle to find their place in the world, I tired of reading their hopes for the future over and over again with such little progress to show for it. The same can be said of Jasper, his constant need for fame and adoration quickly became a drag.
There’s a secret tied into the Circus, a past event concerning the death of a friend- Dash. Macneal leans heavily into this throughout the book but reveals very little until the end and I started to wonder if I really cared about the reveal.
The innocence and sweetness of the Circus troupe kept me reading, I enjoyed the growth of Nell as her own person and the friendships she forged with the other female performers, I’d have preferred more of them than the brothers really. Macneal creates a magical atmosphere in the village and on the London pitch but with an undertow of impending disaster- I waited far too long for something to come of this.
Written from the perspective of Nell, Toby and Jasper we follow the brothers and their new acquisition. Born with Vitiligo; a condition that patterns Nell’s skin, she finds herself sold off by her unloving father as a ‘leopard girl’ though the act Jasper creates for her makes much less sense.
Circus Of Wonders explores acceptance, hope, jealousy and greed in a character driven plot set during the Victorian era. Perhaps perfect for fans of historical fiction, but too bland for me.