Published by Strange Chemistry on 7th February 2013 (first published on 5th Feburary 2013)
Genre: YA, Fantasy
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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 Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.Holy shitballs, this book is amazing.
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.
I'm in love! I am so in love! I have already ordered a copy of Shadowplay (the next book in the series) and I can't wait till I can get my hands on it! I am just head over heels in love with this book and the world within it, and Micah. MICAH.
Okay, so like a lot of other people who have reviewed this book, I really think that although the blurb doesn't mention this, it shouldn't be considered a spoiler that the main character is intersex. The author herself mentions it when talking about the book in decidedly non-spoilery terms, such as in this Tumblr post, a giveaway for a copy of either Pantomime or Shadowplay. Gene and Micah are the same person. Micah is genderfluid, and for the purposes of this review I'll refer to Micah with they/them pronouns.
Micah is also bisexual! This is awesome. You know how much I like my bisexual MCs. Micah finds themself attracted to a female character and a male character in this book. There's kind of a love triangle, but it's not as big of a deal as love triangles normally are in books.
Plus Micah is just kind of awesome all round. Back when they had to live as Gene and wear dresses, they were climbing trees and scaffolding all the time already. They pull off something pretty cool, if stupidly impulsive, to prove themself and join the circus, and once they're in, they pick up the skills of being an aerialist really easily. Micah is bold and inquisitive and complex and just super easily to love as a character.
Pantomime is set in a fantasy world (WE GOT A YA FANTASY SERIES WITH A BISEXUAL INTERSEX CHARACTER, I'm still in shock). It's quasi-Victorian in atmosphere, but there's a lot of stuff that's different to our world. The world-building is pretty fantastic, and we get a sense of the rich and mysterious history that makes the world of Pantomime what it is. I especially liked that at the beginning of each chapter, there would be a quotation, usually an excerpt from some literature or academic writing from this fantasy world, that would help to expand the reader's knowledge of it.
We're told myths of strange creatures, Chimaera, creatures that were half-human and half-animal, and of the Alder, a people long-vanished, leaving behind cobalt-blue domes of Penglass ranging from the size of small rocks to that of mountain ranges, and seemingly magical artefacts. There are a lot of really intriguing mysteries in this world, and Micah is somehow connected to them all. This book doesn't give any answers to them, so I'm dying to read the sequel.
The book switches back and forth from summer to spring of the same year, always narrated from Micah's viewpoint. It is on the first day of summer that Micah joins the circus, after running away from their home and their life as Iphigenia Laurus. So we see Micah training to become an aerialist with the circus while trying to keep their their past a secret, and we also go back to the time before they joined the circus, and we see what their life was like, living as the daughter of a noble family and feeling trapped. All the time, whether as Gene or as Micah, they have to keep their intersexuality a secret except from those closest to them.
I must say that I found the summer chapters much more fun to read, watching Micah settle into a new life as they experience the busyness and exhilaration of being part of the circus and start to develop friendships with and feelings for other characters. That's not to say the spring chapters weren't good; they were definitely necessary to the book and to painting a fuller picture of who Micah was, and they had their enjoyable moments, but those chapters were a little more slow.
Micah has a lovely relationship with their brother, Cyril, which is one of my favourite relationships in the book. Cyril is really good to Micah; he's understanding and affectionate and supportive, and the two siblings love each other very much. I also enjoyed Micah's relationships with both of their love interests; the two characters were very different, and Micah's interactions with them were very different too, but they were both very interesting characters in their own way.
The book ends with summer changing into autumn, and it is as the seasons change that everything suddenly kicks off all at once. A lot of pretty shocking things happen in quick succession. I'm still kind of reeling from it.
So yep, this is my last read of the month for LGBT April, and I'm so glad I finished the month on this spectacular book. I really immersed myself in the world of Pantomime and I loved every second of sharing Micah's adventure with them. I'm looking forward to more!
P.S. As mentioned above, the author, Laura Lam, is currently holding a Tumblr giveaway for a copy of either Pantomime or Shadowplay, and you should all go enter immediately! What are you waiting for?