I like this author – see my review of Pride which also has something to say about the modern world within her escapist fantasy story. So when I saw the third book in this series featured on Netgalley, I requested it and when I was approved and realised that this wasn’t one I could crash into – I got hold of the previous two books in the series.
When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus big-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town. But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.
And there you have it. Creatures which are not fully human are rounded up, stripped of any rights, caged and put on display for the public. Other than the direct, uncomfortable example of what we often do to the animals we share this planet with – what I kept thinking about was those who are trafficked and sold into slavery. The justification for this treatment is an event called the Reaping, where thousands of children were slaughtered by their parents under some mysterious compulsion that has never been fully explained – except that it is believed to be by a creature with non-human powers.
This dystopian, alternative history is well established and I thoroughly believed in Delilah, an apparently ordinary twenty-five-year-old bank teller who reluctantly goes along to one of these carnivals with her friends and fiancé. The ensuing incident sees her stripped of any of her human rights and put in a cage right along the other specimens on display. I really enjoyed following her journey – it was engrossing and horrifying. Though it did jar with me when we were occasionally yanked out of her first-person viewpoint, finding ourselves in the point of view of one of the supporting characters. It didn’t happen sufficiently often with the same characters for it feel anything other than a bit random.
Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Delilah makes a convincing protagonist and I enjoyed how many of the imprisoned exhibits looked after each other. The pace is well judged, as you’d expect from a writer of her experience and I gobbled this one up in two sittings. Recommended for fans of character-led, darker fantasy and no romance.