Tuesday, September 1, 2015

2016 Second Takes: Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus.

The publisher hyped it.

Sam loved it. 

Brandy hated it.

As for me? Well, don't mess with me, folks, because I'm Mr. In Between.

I think first-time-novelist Cassie Beasley does a lot of things well in this book. Most notably, she pulls off that mothball-scented Olde Time Storyteller voice that can be magical and engaging, but is so often cloying and off-putting instead. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it is, exactly, that makes a particular instance of this style effective or ineffective, and I've come up empty-handed. It may just boil down to personal taste. For me, it doesn't work in The Night Gardener or A Snicker of Magic. It does work in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and it does work in Circus Mirandus. Your mileage may vary.

Also notable - possibly even more notable - is the way Beasley portrays an irredeemable character. Characters who are puuuuure eeeeeeville don't bother me, necessarily - I can appreciate a Cruella deVil - but I know that Sam hates them. So I had to ask him, after I finished Circus Mirandus: what makes Victoria different? His best answer was that she rings true as a sociopath, and I have to agree. She's less a mustache-twirling villain and more of a John Wayne Gacy. Which makes her scary as hell.

Finally: circuses. It's hard to sell me on them. The Night Circus is the first book that made me actually want to visit the circus in question, and that made me even more skeptical about Circus Mirandus. Surely The Night Circus had fully covered the Circus Acts That Rachael Might Enjoy ground, and this would only be a retread. But it's not! This circus sounds great, and if not completely original, at least charmingly re-imagined.

Maybe I only like magical circuses.

Anyway, if that all makes it sound like I liked this book a lot, well, I did. I do think it's a bit rough around the edges, though. Brandy complains about character development, and I do think that's a weak point, especially with the secondary characters. As much as I wanted to like her, Jenny never felt like a real person to me, and even Ephraim (especially older Ephraim) is more idea than person.

There are also some questionable plot choices. I don't want to spoil anything, but I didn't think the final test of the book didn't made sense in terms of the book's internal logic. Sorry to vagueblog.

In a year with The War That Saved My Life in it, as well as new Laura Amy Schlitz and Rebecca Stead novels coming out soon, I just don't think Circus Mirandus is The Most Distinguished. It is, however, a deeply satisfying novel.

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