Adrian’s life has always been lived at the margins, “where all of the excitement, beauty, and magic were.” At the start, I was excited to read more about that life, especially the summers he spends with his father the circus-worker, but we got so much history at the beginning, and not enough story, that I lost interest. I kept reading, though, and was rewarded by a sharp, sudden crossing of a margin about half-way through (a transition point that I wish had come much earlier). What came after was still somewhat plodding at times, but was overall intriguing.
Every full moon the circus comes to Elsie’s town, but none of the townspeople ever go; only strangers visit the circus. Until one month, when Elsie wakes up to a sign that marks her out as the first of her village to be called to the circus. “Everyone comes to the circus to find something they’ve been missing,” the Ringmaster tells her when she arrives, but Elsie visits all the stalls and sees all the performances and none of them are what she is looking for. Instead, her missing piece is something entirely different — something that made me really really happy when she finally found it. This was a quiet story overall, but rather deftly done.
Camille has dreamed of going to the stars ever since third grade, and while a chance to cover the Strato Circus’s show in honor of the comet Stephan-Oterma isn’t quite the same thing, it’s still closer than anything else she’s achieved — but the assignment isn’t without its dangers, or its costs.
For being set in the future, there was a delightfully steam-punk feel to this story. It was also exceptionally realistic; every step of Camille’s journey into the stratosphere felt believable and relatable. This was a seriously gripping story which I really enjoyed.
Skyla’s life is ordinary, mundane, and miserable — husband, two children, no more job once she had her children, doing all the parenting while her husband loafs amongst the crab pots. “Weekends always made her feel like a failure,” we are told, and it that sentence I, and I am sure many other readers will see themselves reflected. The most exciting thing in her life is the gift of a new bikini, and even that comes with demands. There’s no way she could wear it without at least getting waxed. “If her family would just leave her alone she could get everything done without falling behind” — another line that will hit close to home for many mothers.
It’s a cliche to say “everything changes when” but everything does change for Skyla when Gwyn, the optometrist’s office manager, invites Skyla and her sons to an anti-circus protest — after all, mermaids weren’t meant for captivity.
A circus of cyborgs coming to perform for an audience of lumberjacks on the planet Hathor — that description both perfectly summarises the central plot of this story, and completely fails to capture the way in which this story felt weighty and serious, not haphazard and humorous, as you might expect from such a description. This story had a real quality to it; well done.
My overwhelming impression of this one was uncertainty. After a string of circus stories, I was surprised by this one, which didn’t have any identifiable circuses in it for a very long time. Between the rather excessively-long build-up and the large quantity of prolix sentences in this story, I felt like I spent a lot of waiting simply wading through words waiting for the story to start. There was a close encounter with a circus, but then there were equally many, equally slow-moving words on the other side of that encounter, so I just struggled to enjoy it. It didn’t quite make the fairy-tale-esque mark I think the author was shooting for, sadly.
When this story opened with a library and a circus getting married, I didn’t expect it to become an allegory of contemporary hetero marital structures, rife with all the misogyny and patriarchy involved. Let’s just say, parts of this story had rather more realism than fantasy in them!
Emma works in a timetraveling circus, the only life she’s ever known. No one ever leaves the building that houses the circus, because no one ever knows when the circus might decide to up and leave to another time, leaving them stranded where they are forever. But Emma is tired of being trapped, and willing to risk anything to escape.
I thought this was a novel take on the topic, and felt that Kint’s story captured the sinisterness of circuses exceptionally well.
There were bits and parts of the story I really liked — the description “The reality-broken world was dangerous, with so many structures and safeguards failing, and so many people failed to manage themselves or cope or be kind in their new circumstances” felt very real in our post-Covid world — while other parts, especially towards the beginning, I found too disjointed and didactic for my tastes. It wasn’t until the very end of the story that the twist came that made this a distinctive circus story, rewarding the reader for their perseverance.