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Circus of Wonders

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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 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? Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.


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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 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? Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

30 review for Circus of Wonders

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paromjit

    After her brilliantly memorable debut, The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal's showcases that her writing just goes from strength to strength, as she once again returns to the Victorian historical era, this time putting the spotlight on Victorian obsessions with 'freaks', curiosities, and the exotic. This book shimmers with magic, illusions, interwoven with horror, where in a southern coastal town, Nell is markedly different from others with her body covered with birthmarks, she is shunned by othe After her brilliantly memorable debut, The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal's showcases that her writing just goes from strength to strength, as she once again returns to the Victorian historical era, this time putting the spotlight on Victorian obsessions with 'freaks', curiosities, and the exotic. This book shimmers with magic, illusions, interwoven with horror, where in a southern coastal town, Nell is markedly different from others with her body covered with birthmarks, she is shunned by others, believed to be a curse, thought of as a bad omen by her father. She holds on to her beloved relationship with her brother, picking violets for a living. Nell, the 'Leopard Girl', is to be betrayed by her father, torn from her life when he sells her to Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders. Jasper is blindly ambitious, selfish, seeking fame and fortune at any price, he and his gentler brother, Toby, are haunted by the brutal battlefields of the Crimean War, where Jasper served as a soldier, and Toby as a war photographer, the two bound tightly together by secrets, as they realised their dream of running a circus. Nell is initially so unhappy, but she is soon to wonder if this is not the best thing that could have happened her, as she soars high above the entranced audiences as she becomes Jasper's star attraction, becoming widely celebrated, shifting large amounts of merchandise, the media labelling her the eighth wonder of the world. She becomes close to fellow acts, including a group of women, like the wise bearded women, Stella, along with Peggy and Brunette, forming strong friendships and family, developing resilience and a more defined sense of identity. She develops feelings for Toby, but she is owned by Jasper, and his insecurities, jealousy and drive to profiteer is to be source of his unravelling. In a atmospheric, multilayered, and emotionally charged narrative, we learn of the backgrounds and past of Nell, the despicably controlling Jasper, and Toby, touching on issues of power, ownership, celebrity, exploitation, differences, sibling relationships, secrets, love, loss and circus life, amidst the rich descriptions of life, the position of women, the social norms and attitudes of the day, the society and inequalities of Victorian England. In this well researched novel, Macneal weaves her powerful spellbinding storytelling, immersing the reader in the Victorian period, and her magnetic, mesmerising, memorable and flawed authentic characters, none more so than Nell. The development of her character is a joy to behold, despite the challenges and obstacles that come her way, facing being all too obviously seen by others, yet to all intents and purposes, fighting being invisible, wanting to be seen for who she is. The author takes the reader beyond the macabre horror of the circus of 'freaks' into the thrillingly imagined world of the weird and the wonderful, the people and their lives behind the acts. This is a uncomfortable and unsettling book at times, but it just lured me in with ease with its beautifully written prose and emotional sensitivity, a historical novel of survival, hope, empowerment and acceptance in a world that can be so desperately cruel. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Diversity Elizabeth Macneal has written a superb historical fiction novel that is full of drama and adventure. Set against the Victorian obsession with oddities, freaks, and wonders, many captivating story threads bring us mystery, intrigue, and the enthralling draw of circus life and performance. Nell is a young woman living in a southern English coastal town with her brother and father. She was born with birthmarks across her body which received her the nickname ‘Leopard Girl’ and ensured her l Diversity Elizabeth Macneal has written a superb historical fiction novel that is full of drama and adventure. Set against the Victorian obsession with oddities, freaks, and wonders, many captivating story threads bring us mystery, intrigue, and the enthralling draw of circus life and performance. Nell is a young woman living in a southern English coastal town with her brother and father. She was born with birthmarks across her body which received her the nickname ‘Leopard Girl’ and ensured her life was one of loneliness, ridicule and ostracization. Her only comfort comes from her brother while her father considers her to be a curse. “It begins with an advertisement, nailed to an oak tree. ‘Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders!’ someone shouts. ‘What is it?’ ‘The greatest show on earth!’ “ When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes calling on their village, Nell’s father takes the opportunity of selling her to the circus for twenty pounds. Jasper owns and runs the travelling circus and his brother plays a supporting role without feeling ownership or authority. The relationship between Jasper and his brother Toby is quite complex and while there is a bond of family duty there are destructive tones of jealousy, manipulation, dominance, threats of abandonment, ridicule and retribution. The acute feelings of jealousy that are exposed from their childhood through the Crimean War, where Jasper was a soldier and Toby a war photographer, to their involvement in the circus, is never too far away and always bubbling under the surface. During their time in the war, they met a charismatic friend, Dash, who enthralled Jasper with his plans for a circus, but he disliked Toby and described him as a ‘dullard’ - probably very accurate. These relationships were to end in tragedy and a secret that Jasper and Toby maintained, although a price is exacted for the silence and the truth of how Dash died. Initially distraught with her sale to the circus, Nell finds herself amongst other people considered freaks but develops a belonging and a place where she can learn to celebrate her uniqueness. Along with the bearded lady, the tall, the strong and the small, she joins her surrogate family. Jasper eventually makes her a star and the undertone of jealousy finds another outlet and the three-way relationship between Nell, Jasper and Toby becomes more complicated where desire and attraction are not equally or noticeable applied. The full cast of characters is wonderfully developed with their mix of flawed and admirable traits. The relationships they form and the motives, duties, and concern they have is fascinating as events unfold that regularly challenge their lives. Circus of Wonders is a beautifully written novel with incredible depth and an engrossing storyline. It provides an authentic atmosphere with many of the Victorian views on power, ownership, society and exploitation on display. I would highly recommend this book and I reckon Circus of Wonders is set to be an outstanding best-seller for 2021. I would also like to thank Picador, Pan Macmillan, and NetGalley to provide me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    ‘’Have a long look, why don’t you?’’ Nell is unique, graced with a special kind of beauty. But the others cannot understand, they think she is an abomination, a cursed creature, lower than the low. When a circus comes to town, her father sees an opportunity to rid himself of a burden and sells her to Jasper, the man who aspires to be the greatest showman in the country. For Nell, this heinous ct actually opens the door to a new world. She finds a new family and freedom. But more often than no ‘’Have a long look, why don’t you?’’ Nell is unique, graced with a special kind of beauty. But the others cannot understand, they think she is an abomination, a cursed creature, lower than the low. When a circus comes to town, her father sees an opportunity to rid himself of a burden and sells her to Jasper, the man who aspires to be the greatest showman in the country. For Nell, this heinous ct actually opens the door to a new world. She finds a new family and freedom. But more often than not, the one who claims to have set us free is our greatest captor. ‘’In this age of wonder, epiphanies are born in the ecstasies of dreams and fevers.’’ Following the beautiful The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal excels again, creating a brilliant story in which History is seamlessly married to the Strange and the Oneiric. A tale where Light and Shadow coexist, set in the era of frenzy over circuses, curiosities and spiritualism, the age of doubt and progress. London is brilliantly seen in all its glory and filth. Wealth and poverty. The nobility parading its fat purse and the children dying in the streets, sick and emaciated, the ‘’all-conquering’’ Victoria with her enormous petticoats and the young mothers and prostitutes wasting away, exploited and abused. As Nell soars in the sky, Toby becomes a wonder, Pearl stands witness to the loss of innocence, Jasper fights with himself and memories of the Crimean War resurface, brutal and unforgiving. The demons of the past start dancing, opening the wounds that cannot be healed. The scenes that will remain in your memory are many, the writing is mesmerizing, the characterization is excellent. From our wonderful, wonderful Nell to the shadow of Dash, and I was happy to see a writer that didn’t glorify Victoria and her cruel behaviour. Life is made entirely out of our own choices, no matter the circumstances or the odds that may be against us. We decide, we act. The rest are empty excuses. Nell chooses and the closure is superb. Elizabeth Macneal’s novel is a literary wonder, taking place in the Circus of Life. This IS Historical Fiction. ‘’We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.’’ William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Act 4, Scene 1) Many thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ceecee

    It’s May 1866 and Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, full of living curiosities, comes to the coastal resort where Nell lives. Nell grows miniature flowers to sell in London and is regarded by locals as a ‘freak’ because of her prominent birthmarks. Nell’s father sells her to Jasper for £20 betraying her, giving her no choice and exerting his power and control over her. What follows is a captivating tale, full of atmospheric magic and mystery. The story is told by Nell. Jasper and Toby, Jasper’ It’s May 1866 and Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, full of living curiosities, comes to the coastal resort where Nell lives. Nell grows miniature flowers to sell in London and is regarded by locals as a ‘freak’ because of her prominent birthmarks. Nell’s father sells her to Jasper for £20 betraying her, giving her no choice and exerting his power and control over her. What follows is a captivating tale, full of atmospheric magic and mystery. The story is told by Nell. Jasper and Toby, Jasper’s brother. This is a mesmerising read that immerses you in the circus world of the late nineteenth century and interweaves the narrative effortlessly with the Crimean War where Jasper serves as a soldier and Toby photographs. The sections in the war, especially at Sevastopol show the horrors of this war and are very dark with Toby in particular deeply affected by it and riddled with guilt. The colourful circus storytelling provides a stark contrast to the war although there are some similarities of the emotions felt. The quality of the writing is exceptional, you feel the characters emotions, see the sights, sounds and smells of both circus and war which comes to life before your eyes. It feels like a fantasy in places which is reinforced via references to fairytales. The characterisation is excellent, Jasper is powerful, in control, his temper can be terrible, he has a voracious appetite for success and as a consequence overreaches. Toby lives in his shadow but shows on occasions demonstrates that he has far more potential than he has self belief. Nell transforms through the circus, she’s fulfilled, she realises she has potential, the life is exhilarating and exciting and she finds strong friendship from Stella, the bearded lady, as well as Toby. There are occasions where it becomes very tense as you wonder where Jaspers ambition will go next and the story builds and builds to a crescendo where it will go one of two ways. There is so much you could comment on in this book as it contains so much from love to jealousy and hate, guilt and sadness and strong fraternal bonds. The end feels right, it touches your heart and fits the narrative. Overall, this is a wonderful book. I love the colour of the circus, the complexity of the characters and the beauty of the writing which at times feels lyrical. It’s a fantastical tale which captivates and dazzles like the circus itself. With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Pan McMillan, Picador for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pat (not getting friend updates currently)

    Well, that was certainly a departure for me! Set in Victorian England it is a haunting tale of yearning, empowerment, loss and redemption. These days some people go out of their way to appear different, to stand out from the crowd. In this story Nell, who’s skin is stippled with birthmarks, tries to be as invisible as she can, to deflect the stares of everyone she meets. Nell lives with her father and brother scrabbling to make a living selling miniature flowers and candied flowers. It’s a strug Well, that was certainly a departure for me! Set in Victorian England it is a haunting tale of yearning, empowerment, loss and redemption. These days some people go out of their way to appear different, to stand out from the crowd. In this story Nell, who’s skin is stippled with birthmarks, tries to be as invisible as she can, to deflect the stares of everyone she meets. Nell lives with her father and brother scrabbling to make a living selling miniature flowers and candied flowers. It’s a struggle. And one day Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes to her village. Jasper sees Nell and becomes obsessed with her, with the idea of her. He buys her from her father for £20 and promises her a ‘bigger’ life than she could imagine. This is, after all, Victorian England where freaks of all types are all the rage. After coming to terms with her fate, Nell is entranced with the idea of having agency over her own future, over people wanting to see her, to admire her, of no longer needing to feel ashamed of how she looks. The circus is filled with similar ‘freaks’ - the bearded lady, the giantess and so on. Jasper has a brother, Toby. Toby is quieter but taller and wider - a gentle giant, a lumbering oaf, and he too, has seen Nell and is entranced by her. Yet for all his larger size, Toby seems to live in Jasper’s shadow. It has always been thus, even when the both brothers went to the Crimean war. Jasper went to fight the ‘Ruskies’ with his new friend Dash and Toby trailed behind as a photographer, a job he still undertakes for the circus. Jasper designs a set for her where she appears to fly over the crowd and he calls her Nellie the Queen of the Moon and the Stars in reference to the markings in her skin. But Jasper has bigger dreams, he wants to own the greatest show on earth and entice the mourning queen to visit his circus. He borrows money and invests heavily in new acts, new equipment and a bigger ring. The queen eventually does come and then she invites Nellie to visit her. Not Jasper, only Nellie. And now that his creation has eclipsed him Jasper starts to unravel. The last straw is when he realises he cannot ‘own’ Nellie, her heart already belongs to his brother. Jasper, his mind in torment, risks it all one night with a new show, with new tricks and on that night all their lives will be changed forever. How does this awkward triangle, this man on the edge, the awkward brother and the woman who does not want to sink back into obscurity go forward. It’s both a happy story and yet heartbreaking as well. It is full of pathos and small victories. It actually quite hard to describe but it is a very character driven story. And the characters are so well drawn, they all have their strengths and weaknesses, their triumphs and failures. The Crimean war is also described in all its bloody glory and it certainly changed some of our main characters. The story itself is beautifully written and it certainly qualified as ‘something different’ in my reading. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Twitter | Goodreads | Blog | Instagram | A “freak” in a circus. Whose not heard of this in the past historical events? We still have “little” people being clowns and there were the big bearded ladies who were odd because of their total facial hair. Anything odd drew in the money. Little Nell was sold to the circus because she had a birthmark that made her look like a Leopard which rose across half of her body. It’s a good story. I enjoyed it. It’s obvious the author had done lots of research but th Twitter | Goodreads | Blog | Instagram | A “freak” in a circus. Whose not heard of this in the past historical events? We still have “little” people being clowns and there were the big bearded ladies who were odd because of their total facial hair. Anything odd drew in the money. Little Nell was sold to the circus because she had a birthmark that made her look like a Leopard which rose across half of her body. It’s a good story. I enjoyed it. It’s obvious the author had done lots of research but the ending let it down. I had purchased the book, but found it wasn’t taking my interest so I requested the audio off of Netgalley. It was much better and the narrator was very good and adept at keeping me fixed on what was going on. I just don’t think this book was for me, I was totally hoping this book would go in the direction I hoped but it didn’t. Just something was missing for me, a bit of punch or impact. Little Nell was a treat though and the elements in the book are magical.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    The 2017 cult hit film 'The Greatest Showman' inspired marginalized people about the solace that can be found by establishing your own community with others who don't fit in with larger society. But it also perpetuated a dangerous mythology about P.T. Barnum as a showman who wholeheartedly believed in this ethos and deeply cared about the welfare of the performers in his freak shows and circuses. Elizabeth Macneal's new novel “Circus of Wonders” presents a more complicated fictional story of suc The 2017 cult hit film 'The Greatest Showman' inspired marginalized people about the solace that can be found by establishing your own community with others who don't fit in with larger society. But it also perpetuated a dangerous mythology about P.T. Barnum as a showman who wholeheartedly believed in this ethos and deeply cared about the welfare of the performers in his freak shows and circuses. Elizabeth Macneal's new novel “Circus of Wonders” presents a more complicated fictional story of such an impresario with Jasper Jupiter who in 1866 aspires to create a show that will eclipse Barnum in its success and draw Queen Victoria to attend. He does this through mercenary exchanges purchasing individuals with physical aberration from their families, tyrannically working his crew and making dangerous deals to enhance the spectacles. Though this egotist's circus is at the centre of this novel, Macneal primarily focuses instead on the points of view of two far more sympathetic characters. A young woman named Nell feels isolated in her community because of birthmarks which speckle her skin and, though she's kidnapped by Jupiter, she comes to embrace the circus' opportunities and the sense of importance which comes from being refashioned into a wonder known as the “Queen of the Moon and Stars”. But she soon realises that this isn't necessarily an empowering form of celebrity, her newfound freedom has limitations and the public's adulation has a sinister side. Jasper's brother Toby has always been the more awkward and less favoured of the pair. From an early age they hatched a dream of forming a circus together, but Jasper's ambition supersedes his brotherly love and there hangs between them a secret from their days being involved in the Crimean War. The complicated relationship between Nell and Toby plays out amidst the rise to fame of Jupiter's Circus of Wonders. Read my full review of Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal on LonesomeReader

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Jefferson

    Wow! What an amazingly captivating read. I so wish the ending had been different and Nellie, Toby and Pearl could have been a happy little family. A tale of heartache, love, jealousy, brotherhood and friendship. Never a dull moment in this book

  9. 5 out of 5

    Natalie "Curling up with a Coffee and a Kindle" Rampling

    This was an excellent read! A wonderful setting with captivating characters, and I loved the way the author showed the prejudices of the time throughout. I would say the plot slowed a little after the first half, but I constantly looked forward to the audiobook and the excellent narration. The writing was beautiful, and the whole combination made for an enjoyable novel.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    This one publishes this week, and I already have my copy pre-ordered. I can't recommend it enough 🎪 At turns magical and wonderous, tragic and cruel, this stunning novel will capture your imagination from start to finish. Mcneal's first novel, The Doll Factory, was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 and I couldn't wait for more from her. This was one of this year's releases I was anticipating the most, and I was so excited to get my hands on this very special early copy. I was entranced and e This one publishes this week, and I already have my copy pre-ordered. I can't recommend it enough 🎪 At turns magical and wonderous, tragic and cruel, this stunning novel will capture your imagination from start to finish. Mcneal's first novel, The Doll Factory, was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 and I couldn't wait for more from her. This was one of this year's releases I was anticipating the most, and I was so excited to get my hands on this very special early copy. I was entranced and enthralled throughout, and I adored our main character Nell, she completely stole my heart. I loved the way this story shows both the vulnerability and the strength of women. It is also a tale of brothers, with their experiences of the Crimean war subtly woven into a tale of Victorian curiosities. Highly recommend to lovers of Historical Fiction, and if you loved the Doll Factory then pick this up too, it's just as fabulous! 5 brilliant stars. Thank you so much to Picador for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Resh (The Book Satchel)

    Marvellous! Delight personified. Beautiful sentences Always a pleasure to come across books as these. Elizabeth's words are beautiful. The atmosphere of show, Victorian pleasure gardens, being captive while also marking a name for oneself. The plot is excellent with technical details of photography, stealing the stage, spectacles, the weird and wonderful, kidnappings, secrets. Lovely! Full review here - https://www.thebooksatchel.com/circus... 5 stars Much thanks to Picador for an e-ARC. All opinion Marvellous! Delight personified. Beautiful sentences Always a pleasure to come across books as these. Elizabeth's words are beautiful. The atmosphere of show, Victorian pleasure gardens, being captive while also marking a name for oneself. The plot is excellent with technical details of photography, stealing the stage, spectacles, the weird and wonderful, kidnappings, secrets. Lovely! Full review here - https://www.thebooksatchel.com/circus... 5 stars Much thanks to Picador for an e-ARC. All opinions my own

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Blah. Victoriana by numbers. Such a disappointment after how much I loved The Doll Factory! This felt most like Jamrach’s Menagerie, with traces of The Crimson Petal and the White and The Rose of Sebastopol. I hoped for more from the combination of circus freaks and Crimean War memories. I read the first 40-some pages and skimmed up to p. 90. None of the characters leapt out at me. Blah. Victoriana by numbers. Such a disappointment after how much I loved The Doll Factory! This felt most like Jamrach’s Menagerie, with traces of The Crimson Petal and the White and The Rose of Sebastopol. I hoped for more from the combination of circus freaks and Crimean War memories. I read the first 40-some pages and skimmed up to p. 90. None of the characters leapt out at me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    1866. In a remote coastal village,tucked away in southern England,Nell picks violets for a living.Her life is one of spectacle and pointing fingers as she has birthmarks that speckle all of her body and face. Nells entire world is her loving brother and her devotion to the sea. Cue Jasper Jupiter and his amazing Circus of Wonders,who snatches Nell away after her father sells her,promising Jasper his very own leopard girl. Nell cannot believe those closest to her could betray her,and at first she ref 1866. In a remote coastal village,tucked away in southern England,Nell picks violets for a living.Her life is one of spectacle and pointing fingers as she has birthmarks that speckle all of her body and face. Nells entire world is her loving brother and her devotion to the sea. Cue Jasper Jupiter and his amazing Circus of Wonders,who snatches Nell away after her father sells her,promising Jasper his very own leopard girl. Nell cannot believe those closest to her could betray her,and at first she refuses to believe this is her new life but as time goes on and fame starts to wrap its tendrils around Nell,she perhaps could begin to accept this life of dizzying highs,more money than she could ever need,people actually wanting her attention,and even memorabilia with her name on it! However,fame comes at a heavy price and one that neither Nell nor Jasper could ever pay,for Jasper must fund his circus any way he can when an opportunity presents itself for him and his many wonders to be showcased in London and he will go to any lengths to secure his name in history... Meanwhile Nell sparks an unlikely friendship with Jaspers brother Toby who couldn’t be more different than his sibling, always seeming to only want to help Nell rather than see her as just another part of Jaspers oddities. Will Nell ever feel comfortable in her own skin, can Jasper and Toby run from their past forever or will a terrible secret come back to haunt them both.... Vibrant, mesmerising, wondrous and a pure pleasure, Circus of Wonders firmly cements Elizabeth Macneal as a true talent and story teller.🎪

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Actual rating 2.5 stars. This was my most anticipated book of the year. I loved the author’s debut novel, The Doll Factory, so my expectations for this were incredibly high. Unfortunately, this proved to be something of a disappointment. I felt this book lacked magic, lacked charm, lacked darkness. I also felt a huge disconnect with the characters, with the main character Nell being the worst. I never felt like I understood her or her motivations. Jasper and Toby didn’t fare much better. They bot Actual rating 2.5 stars. This was my most anticipated book of the year. I loved the author’s debut novel, The Doll Factory, so my expectations for this were incredibly high. Unfortunately, this proved to be something of a disappointment. I felt this book lacked magic, lacked charm, lacked darkness. I also felt a huge disconnect with the characters, with the main character Nell being the worst. I never felt like I understood her or her motivations. Jasper and Toby didn’t fare much better. They both had a lot of potential, but it went largely unexplored. To me, the most interesting characters were the side characters, the “wonders” of the circus, and they didn’t get anywhere near enough page time. The pacing also felt off to me. There were huge swathes of the book where very little happened. It wasn’t until the last few chapters that things actually started to get interesting. It was a real shame, as this book had all the ingredients to be really great but for me, it fizzled out like a sparkler in a rainstorm. I know a lot of people will love it, but it wasn’t a great read for me, I’m afraid.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah (thegirltheycalljones)

    Thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for the advanced copy! Dnf-ed around 50%. I really wanted to love this book and it was close, but in the end, I was really interested in half of the plot. Everything related to Toby and Jasper was super intriguing, and I kept reading only because of them and their past history. What happened?? It kept me going for longer than I thought. Because everything related to Nell didn't really catch my interest. I haven't finished the book, so I can only talk for t Thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for the advanced copy! Dnf-ed around 50%. I really wanted to love this book and it was close, but in the end, I was really interested in half of the plot. Everything related to Toby and Jasper was super intriguing, and I kept reading only because of them and their past history. What happened?? It kept me going for longer than I thought. Because everything related to Nell didn't really catch my interest. I haven't finished the book, so I can only talk for the first half, but it was a good old special snowflake journey, and I never really got what Nell had that made her so special, so much more than any other member of the circus. Also, I couldn't care for the romance, or what could be the romance. I'd have rather read about the development of strong friendship and solid bonds between Nell and the troupe than this instant and sudden thing she had for The Guy (to stay spoiler free). It wasn't bad, and at other times I could have maybe finished it but these days I just can't go on if I'm not 100% hooked. Some people will probably like this book very much though, so give it a chance!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    3.5 stars

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus is one of my all-time favourites. The wit and wonder and grit of it. Macneal’s debut hit the note of visceral realism I crave in historical fiction, so I’m sure you can infer my excitement for this one. Mellow is the neatest way I can describe Circus of Wonders. It handles much of the same themes Macneal tackled in The Doll Factory - in fact, it is rather on the nose with its discourse of autonomy, possession and the Other – and it sets me wondering (probably Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus is one of my all-time favourites. The wit and wonder and grit of it. Macneal’s debut hit the note of visceral realism I crave in historical fiction, so I’m sure you can infer my excitement for this one. Mellow is the neatest way I can describe Circus of Wonders. It handles much of the same themes Macneal tackled in The Doll Factory - in fact, it is rather on the nose with its discourse of autonomy, possession and the Other – and it sets me wondering (probably unfairly) whether she really has a huge amount to say. The historical detail is unflinching when it comes to the real people exhibited in the Victorian circus; the entire basis of the novel challenges the modern romanticization popular culture loves to indulge in (Jen Campbell makes incredibly provocative videos about this issue). But for me, these issues were not suggested so much as stated, with sustained references to highbrow literature. So much introspection and dialogue revolves around this (thoughts and feelings that any decent empathetic person would understand) that it eclipses any potential nuance. I would have loved to have heard firsthand from the women in the circus. I don’t know whether there was a word-count to hit, but the prose felt strained. It was not as pacey or as compulsive as The Doll Factory, and my attention certainly waned towards the end. The skew into the Crimean war, to this effect, felt somewhat unnecessary. Although it illuminated one character dynamic, I would have appreciated more insight into the conflict itself and how the existential horror of the events might affect the individuals. The characters themselves are relatively safe and I can’t say I found them compelling. The ending is, however, reassuringly fresh. Fabulous escapism, but not one I think I will revisit in a hurry. With thanks to Netgalley and PanMac for the proof. Yes, I finally worked out how to link up my Kindle to my account!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Robey

    A story of hope, greed and finding your place in the world. I loved Nell - she is such a captivating character. Her fight for acceptance is heartbreaking and emotional even amongst her own family. The sights and sounds described of Jasper and Toby’s war are so vivid, you can almost smell the burning and hear the cries. I loved the descriptions of the circus- almost fantasy like with the threads of fairytales spun through the story. Just magical.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kayleigh (BookwormEscapes)

    the best way I can describe it is that it’s got vibes of The Greatest Showman, but with much darker themes and the atmospheric setting of Victorian England! Nell and the other “curiousities” are the heart of the book and impossible not to fall in love with - they just radiate everything GOOD! Along with the circus they are brought to life in such vivid detail! There’s a real sense of foreboding to the circus owner Jasper’s POV, as he recklessly borrows from a violent loan shark to make his obses the best way I can describe it is that it’s got vibes of The Greatest Showman, but with much darker themes and the atmospheric setting of Victorian England! Nell and the other “curiousities” are the heart of the book and impossible not to fall in love with - they just radiate everything GOOD! Along with the circus they are brought to life in such vivid detail! There’s a real sense of foreboding to the circus owner Jasper’s POV, as he recklessly borrows from a violent loan shark to make his obsession with making his circus world-famous a reality. You know it’s going to terribly wrong but you just pray that Nell gets a happy ending!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    A very engaging read with some great characters, kept me turning the pages to see what happens to Nell. Two brothers who fought in the Crimea, dream of owning a circus together. When they realise their dream, things start to turn sour when a young woman called Nell, covered in birthmarks which mark her as different joins the band of "freaks" who work in the circus. Sadly I found the ending slightly disappointing as it felt rather rushed. But the great writing and fascinating story were compensat A very engaging read with some great characters, kept me turning the pages to see what happens to Nell. Two brothers who fought in the Crimea, dream of owning a circus together. When they realise their dream, things start to turn sour when a young woman called Nell, covered in birthmarks which mark her as different joins the band of "freaks" who work in the circus. Sadly I found the ending slightly disappointing as it felt rather rushed. But the great writing and fascinating story were compensation.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jane Healey

    “Circus was life, desire, amplified.” Circus of Wonders is a glittering, begrimed tale of love and self-determination flush with richly detailed prose. Sumptuous, macabre, enthralling; a perfect slice of Victoriana. (If you loved The Doll Factory, you’ll love this even more ❤️🎪✨)

  22. 5 out of 5

    TheFrenchReadingGirl

    This book had everything I wanted: circus vibes, love and it broke my heart! Loved it!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mobyskine

    Another unexpectedly good read. I am always fond with reading historical fictions and this has captured me in both its setting and characters. Circus of Wonders' narrative was set in 1866 when circus was in its glitz and glamour. Nell has been kidnapped after secretly being sold by her father to a circus troupe. Having birthmarks speckle all over her skin, being told she was a curse and a bad omen of all her life, Nell found a new journey for herself as Nellie Moon; The Queen of the Moon and Sta Another unexpectedly good read. I am always fond with reading historical fictions and this has captured me in both its setting and characters. Circus of Wonders' narrative was set in 1866 when circus was in its glitz and glamour. Nell has been kidnapped after secretly being sold by her father to a circus troupe. Having birthmarks speckle all over her skin, being told she was a curse and a bad omen of all her life, Nell found a new journey for herself as Nellie Moon; The Queen of the Moon and Stars at Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders. As her fame grows, and she finds friendship (which she never really experienced before as people at her village observed her as a strange creature) 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. Gripping and evocative, great well-rounded characters telling their stories from each perspective. Nell's story was engaging and poignant at the beginning. From a village girl to been described as the eight wonder of the world (I was not really into Jasper's intention in objectifying humans though) and knowing what she wanted for her own life-- her dynamic was compelling. That ordinary Toby, the quiet existence and his acceptance towards Nell was heartwarming. Not really a fan of Jasper but I appreciate his narrative in bringing me to know more about the circus business during the Victorian era. It gets interesting in the middle when Jasper's ambitious personality getting more ferocious. Totally into the brotherhood plot of both him and Toby although I was having a love-hate with Toby's character-- about his past and secret, I wish he can be more assertive and carefree :// No heavy conflict but Dash's making me curious as much as Stella wanting to know the real truth. Love the style of writing-- no overused phrasing, quite lyrical and I fancy the mesmerizing drama-ish vibe. Honestly love the epilogue, 4 stars to this!👌🏻 "Circus was life, desire, amplified. I can make you brilliant." (Jasper Jupiter) Thanks to Pansing Distribution for sending me an ARC of this book in return for my honest review!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Ottessen

    Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. It's gripping and had me avoiding all adulting because I just wanted to keep reading. At one point I thought it was turning into a re-telling of P.T Barnum and his life, just with a different ringmaster, but it quickly proved me wrong. The story comfortably switches between the circus performers story, the Ringmasters story and past events during the Crimean war building the exact right amount of suspense and wraps up beautifully in the end. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. It's gripping and had me avoiding all adulting because I just wanted to keep reading. At one point I thought it was turning into a re-telling of P.T Barnum and his life, just with a different ringmaster, but it quickly proved me wrong. The story comfortably switches between the circus performers story, the Ringmasters story and past events during the Crimean war building the exact right amount of suspense and wraps up beautifully in the end. 5 stars from me!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bookclubforme

    Having loved 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘋𝘰𝘭𝘭 𝘍𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺, Macneal's new book was one of my most anticipated reads and wow was it everything I wanted it to be and more! Capturing all the excitement of a travelling circus, the story focuses on the coming of age story of Nell, who, after years of hiding away begins finding her worth when she is cruelly sold by her Father, only to find love and huge fame under the dazzling lights of the big top, as Jasper Jupiter's newest marvel - Nellie Moon: The Queen of the Moon and Stars Having loved 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘋𝘰𝘭𝘭 𝘍𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺, Macneal's new book was one of my most anticipated reads and wow was it everything I wanted it to be and more! Capturing all the excitement of a travelling circus, the story focuses on the coming of age story of Nell, who, after years of hiding away begins finding her worth when she is cruelly sold by her Father, only to find love and huge fame under the dazzling lights of the big top, as Jasper Jupiter's newest marvel - Nellie Moon: The Queen of the Moon and Stars 🌙 🌟 Empowerment and belonging are major themes of the story and it's so rewarding to watch Nell's character grow. However, exploitation and ownership are also explored through Jasper's self-absorption, the popularity of ogling 'circus freaks' and with Nell's fame threatening to eclipse that of her "creator". Macneal has woven together a cast of colourful characters with incredible story telling, which results in a novel that is magical, immersive and full of curiosity but also tinged in darkness and a presentiment of disaster. I found myself completely entranced the further I delved into the story, quickly turning pages, yet never wanting it to end. I've purposely not given to much away as I'd hate to ruin the thrill for future readers (you must read it) But it's safe to say it's firmly made its way into my favourites - I absolutely LOVED it!! ✨🎪

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katie Hewlett

    I don’t know about you but anything to do with the circus is an instant read for me 🎪 And what a captivating story this was, I was drawn into the world of the circus and I didn’t want to leave. We follow Nell’s journey, from being an outcast in her town to becoming a global sensation. She faces many trials and tribulations along the way but I found myself routing for her throughout the novel. She became such a strong willed character and her bond with the other female performers was beautiful. Alon I don’t know about you but anything to do with the circus is an instant read for me 🎪 And what a captivating story this was, I was drawn into the world of the circus and I didn’t want to leave. We follow Nell’s journey, from being an outcast in her town to becoming a global sensation. She faces many trials and tribulations along the way but I found myself routing for her throughout the novel. She became such a strong willed character and her bond with the other female performers was beautiful. Alongside this we have the two brothers, Jasper and Toby, who really intrigued me. Having survived the horrors of the Crimea war both brothers are trying to find a way to live with what they’d seen and done. Built on secrets and jealousy their relationship was fragile at the best of times and seemed to be holding on by a thread. The short chapters and Macneal’s beautiful writing style lures you in but do not be fooled, this isn’t just a magical book about the Circus. It’s a story of survival and hope, of finding your place in the world and the empowerment this acceptance can give you.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Mcneal was an author I first came to in her debut novel The Doll Factory, it was a captivating work of fiction that kept me thinking about its pages long after I put the book down. So when Circus of Wonders came up for pre-order you can bet your bottom dollar that I added it straight to my cart. The signed edition no less. For me, it is not often that I come across an author whose work appealed to me after just one outing. But after having loved her first book so much I was hoping that this one Mcneal was an author I first came to in her debut novel The Doll Factory, it was a captivating work of fiction that kept me thinking about its pages long after I put the book down. So when Circus of Wonders came up for pre-order you can bet your bottom dollar that I added it straight to my cart. The signed edition no less. For me, it is not often that I come across an author whose work appealed to me after just one outing. But after having loved her first book so much I was hoping that this one could live up to my expectations and at least match the joy I had in reading The Doll Factory. Once again she has managed to capture that era in British history when things were so noticeable changing. The cities were on the rise and populations were booming. But there are still very strong streams flowing into this future from social norms of the past. For us looking back, the world Nell finds herself thrust into would be horrifying if we were to see it advertised at your local co-op. For people of the 1800s thought it was a good Saturday night out. Why not sit and watch the freaks, to laugh and joke about their physical appearance. To think better them, than me. It's something humans have done for thousands of years. And if we are honest I think many people still do this, after all, what is reality t.v if not the freak show of the modern age. We have just managed to give it a less shameful name and tell ourselves they know full well what they were getting themselves into. So why not join in in the mocking right? Macneal has this way of creating microcosmos of worlds for her books. They seem to come alive dancing and tripping off the page and into the reader's minds in glorious technocolour. So tangible that they are you can almost smell the blood sweat and tear of her heroes. Within these pages I could see every aspect of Nell's world, it is an amazing feat to be able to write in such a way that allows the outside world to melt away and to be lost in this dream-like state. But do not be mistaken for thinking she has painted this circus life as some beautiful Disney version of its self. There is still the very harsh reality of what took place to these performers back then. We are treated to a pulling back of the curtain in all its horrific glory. To see them treated as no more than things to be exploited, we as the reader are left with no doubt as to not only how those who ran these circuses saw them but also those of the great British public. But we can live safe in our worlds knowing this author gave them back their humanity lost to the poster and the laughter. When it comes to her heroes and villains the work is no less impeccable. To me, they felt like living breathing people. We quickly come to care deeply for Nell and her plight, as her life gets turned upside down, we are swept up in her riptide. But as with her previous book, it isn't just her lead that we form the emotional attachments to. Each of her supporting cast seems to be just as worthy of our time as each other. Maybe this is why her world-building comes off as so amazing. what you are getting here is the whole package. To me, it seems she captures the ups and downs this very dysfunctional family goes through. And that to me is what swirls at its center. Because whether they hate or love each other they are for the most part stuck together. For some this means looking out for those less fortunate than them selves and for others what can be extracted from them to make money. But nevertheless what we a presented with is very human and whilst at times we might want to look away from their terrible action, collectively we are given a beautiful story of a girl trying to make the best of her lot in life. There is a lot to take in, in this world of wonders and horrors. And much like its predecessor, I'm sure its content will stay with me for some time to come. Mcneal has once again crafted a complex and fascinating novel. I'm sure that a great deal of time and effort has gone into researching not only the world she chose to show us but also in making sure her cast of characters lived up to their full potential. It is I believe a tricky feat to pull off but one in which this author has managed to pull off twice now. So it is safe to say that for me there was no drop-off between her first and second outing. She constantly knocks it out of the park so with works like this, I live in hope of more to come.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Sansom

    The Circus of Wonders is a rich and evocative story of Nell, sold to Jasper Jupiter by her father for just twenty pounds. Nell’s top-to-toe constellation of birthmarks set her apart, forcing her to live a stifled, isolated existence, and yet she’s brimming with hope for freedom and adventure. Her new life in the circus gifts her the sense of belonging she’s longed for, whilst Jasper regards her as his golden ticket to the fame and fortune he craves. Jasper is full of his own self-congratulation The Circus of Wonders is a rich and evocative story of Nell, sold to Jasper Jupiter by her father for just twenty pounds. Nell’s top-to-toe constellation of birthmarks set her apart, forcing her to live a stifled, isolated existence, and yet she’s brimming with hope for freedom and adventure. Her new life in the circus gifts her the sense of belonging she’s longed for, whilst Jasper regards her as his golden ticket to the fame and fortune he craves. Jasper is full of his own self-congratulation when his Circus of Wonders secures a highly coveted pitch at the Southwark Pleasure Gardens, but he never expected Nell’s celebrated success to eclipse his own. Nor did he foresee his gentle, slavishly-loyal younger brother, Toby, falling head over heels in love with his newest ‘monster’. In contrast to the superficially gaudy glamours of the circus, a darker underbelly snakes its way throughout the story. Themes of objectification and bigotry, control and exploitation run freely as the author brings to life the bitter truths of the Victorian appetite for ‘freaks’ and ‘monsters’. And the still-fresh memories of the battlefield haunt Jasper and Toby as they struggle to move on from their experiences during the Crimean War. I enjoyed how the author augmented her characters, particularly Jasper. It would be all too easy to view him as the archetypal villain based on the blurb alone, but he’s been written with some very complex layers which make him impossible to dislike. Yes he can be cruel and certainly greedy, but beneath the vain façade he simmers with insecurities that make him as much a victim of the fickle whims of the era, as the acts are victims of the gilded cage he holds them in. Whilst the story progresses at a genteel pace, the final chapters - by contrast - barrel towards a crescendo that’s befitting of the attention-commanding drama Jasper so craves. But it brings with it a fear for the futures of the three main characters, and both Nell and Toby are forced to take brave, decisive steps. Blessedly, the author gifts us an epilogue set ten years later; a chapter which brings a sense of peace, if not the happily-ever-after ending that a many readers might crave. This is a beautifully-written, vibrant, treasure of a book, shimmering with atmosphere and redolent visual imagery. The further into the book I read, the more aware I became of the how the scenic influences each played a role in enhancing the mood of the moment; the lowing and pacing animals, the voracity of the campfire, the portent of the weather, the fluctuations of troupe dynamics, the crack of a whip. The lavish and eloquent detailing of Circus of Wonders offers its readers tales within tales, whilst the authentic factual basis and social scrutiny make for an unforgettable and thought-provoking read. I loved this book for its highly original and insightful narrative, and applaud its sensitive study of sibling relationships, belonging, and difference. Setting aside the circus context, this is a story of humanity in all its glories and ugliness. The writing has a quiet intensity that draws the reader closer; it’s neither explicit nor showy and yet it’s absolutely spellbinding.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Set against the backdrop of Victorian London with flashbacks to the Crimean war, Circus of Wonders tells the story of Nell who is sold to the circus by her father because of the birthmarks that cover her face and body. We follow Nell’s journey to empowerment and growing into an acceptance of her facial differences, the book explores how the circus setting fosters that acceptance as a safe space and where that can quickly turn into a feeling of exploitation when the power dynamic of performance is Set against the backdrop of Victorian London with flashbacks to the Crimean war, Circus of Wonders tells the story of Nell who is sold to the circus by her father because of the birthmarks that cover her face and body. We follow Nell’s journey to empowerment and growing into an acceptance of her facial differences, the book explores how the circus setting fosters that acceptance as a safe space and where that can quickly turn into a feeling of exploitation when the power dynamic of performance is removed. I loved the characters in this book and the exploration of sibling relationships especially. Toby and Jasper’s relationship was a really compelling, toxic imbalance that ebbs and flows between total codependence and dismissal from Jasper’s side. The emotionally fragile and dependent Toby is totally in his brothers thrall and their experience in the Crimean war only deepened that sense of duty to him (I loved the references to Frankenstein in these sections as a big fan of that book). I think their contrast also plays out very poignantly in the setting of the circus as one takes the role as performer, ringleader, and the other takes a role in the background, as an observer, photographing the experiences of others. Nell and Toby are drawn together mostly through loneliness but also through their own delicate natures. The way their relationship plays out in line with her coming into her own power made for an unexpected but also quite satisfying ending. I also loved the supporting female characters and how they all navigated the world differently and had completely different natures and aspirations but still developed a sisterhood and a harmony. I would definitely recommend this for fans of historical fiction with unique settings and strong female characters!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Lawther

    ‘She flies like icarus, and they are waiting for her to fall.’ I was lucky enough to get an advance proof copy of this one, which tells the story of Nell - a young woman from a small English village whose skin is speckled with birthmarks. Nell is kidnapped when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes to town and her father sells her to Jasper Jupiter, who is desperate to become the world’s greatest showman. As Nell settles into her new life, she makes friends with the other human wonders, and ‘She flies like icarus, and they are waiting for her to fall.’ I was lucky enough to get an advance proof copy of this one, which tells the story of Nell - a young woman from a small English village whose skin is speckled with birthmarks. Nell is kidnapped when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes to town and her father sells her to Jasper Jupiter, who is desperate to become the world’s greatest showman. As Nell settles into her new life, she makes friends with the other human wonders, and begins to fall for Jasper’s brother Toby and starts to thrive in her new life. I raced through this one in just a few days. I found it to be an entertaining and thought-provoking read, with some truly fascinating characters. I was really taken by Nell and found myself rooting for her from the very first page, and the short chapters told through the viewpoints of Nell, Jasper and Toby kept me hooked and dying to find out how Nell’s story ended up. Circus of Wonders is not short of human drama, that is for sure! I was really interested by the flashbacks to Jasper and Toby’s days out in the Crimea, it really got me thinking about the role of war photographers and I feel like I may now need to add some non fiction to my TBR about the Crimean War and the Victorian period in general. Elizabeth Macneal writes so beautifully, I will definitely be looking out for a copy of The Doll Factory after this! I’d also like to give a special mention to how gorgeous the cover is for Circus of Wonder – I hear there are some beautiful editions of this one available. Recommended!

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