Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Date: February 2013
Source: ARC from publisher
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 Chimaera 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.
When the cover was first revealed, my first impression was that it was gorgeous and intriguing. It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I realised how appropriate the cover is. With a finger on the lips, like a modern day Mona Lisa, the cover has a secret. And when you discover the secret within the beautifully crafted Pantomime, boy, is it a good one.
The unfortunately named Iphegenia Laurus is the daughter of a noble family in Ellada. As a lady, she is required to learn to sew and dance and find herself a suitor, but she’s more comfortable playing with her brother and his friends outdoors. Then we have Micah Grey, a runaway with no direction who finds himself watching the aerialists at R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic and decides to join the circus. Their stories were charming and heart-breaking as they both struggled to find where they fit in.
In fact, this book had me both mesmerised and perplexed to start and I would definitely wish that same feeling on anyone reading this book, so I won’t go into any more detail on the story. You don’t have to wait until the end to discover the secret, but it’s equally a treat watching the characters in the book unravel it for themselves.
The fantasy world of Ellada is described by Lam as ‘gaslight‘. It has a society and class structures reminiscent of the Victorian era, and also has unexplained advancements in the form of Vestige, which are rare mechanical relics that run on magic. The world is also filled with mysterious blue Penglass domes that surround the cities–beautiful and bulletproof, they protect but no one knows what they contain. I loved the little tastes into the fascinating world of Ellada and I look forward to learning more about its history and mythology in the subsequent books.
Equally as fascinating is the vivid cast of characters the author has created. Every one of them was unique and memorable, from Gene’s strict and proper mother, to the circus oddities who were wildly entertaining. A definite standout for me was Drystan, a fellow runaway and charming circus clown, who has a few secrets of his own (and is, dare I say, subtly sexy). I also really enjoyed Gene’s brother, who was the only person to love her wholeheartedly. I wanted to give both of them a big hug for having a great sibling relationship.
I wanted to end on the note that for all the lovely world-building and fantastic characters, Pantomime at its heart is all about acceptance and making your own place in the world. My heart ached through the issues explored in this book, which Lam handled with finesse and respect. It really is a beautiful book to read and has set the bar very high for 2013 debuts indeed.