My Rating: 8/10
Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder—a world where women weave illusions of magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. Bound to her family’s circus, it’s the only world Cecile Cabot knows until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate affair that could cost her everything.
Virginia, 2004: Lara Barnes is on top of the world, until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. When her desperate search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother’s journals, Lara is swept into a story of a dark circus and ill-fated love.
The Ladies of the Secret Circus is my second book by Constance Sayers and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them both! From the first pages when Lara’s fiancé disappears to the last moments, I found myself very invested in all of these characters. I loved the dual storylines, mostly told from Lara’s POV but partially told through Cecile’s diary. Usually I find diary entries from the past to be pretty boring but I was just as interested in what Cecile had to say as Lara. Each time we dove into the past with Cecile, the voice was so distinctly different from Lara. I found myself getting chills, waiting to see what could go wrong. Through this diary and some other means, Lara finds out that her circus-owning family might have a more sinister background than she ever expected; that they might even have something to do with disappearances in their town. At the same time, she’s getting closer to a friend and wondering if she can ever love again when she doesn’t know what happened to her husband-to-be.
“I’m sorry that I had to grow up—that you didn’t meet me now instead of then.”
This book was romantic, devastating, and eery. It’s part love story, part horror, and part mystery. It’s one of those genre-bending novels that has a little bit of something for everyone. The atmosphere is vividly painted for us and I was eager to know how everything intertwined. Althacazur is a demon, Lucifer’s supposed favorite. He shows up throughout the novel to stir up trouble and to try to influence Lara. She digs to find out why all of the women in her family seem to have seen him at some point. Not only did he provide some tension, he also provided some humor. He was the perfect representation of a carefree but malicious demon.
I had just a few issues with this novel. Sometimes it tended to meander from the plot. I think our author was excited to build the history behind these people and the circus, but it wasn’t always necessary. Additionally, I don’t think the last scene of the book was needed, it kind of irritated me that one of our characters was willing to throw everything away after so much had been accomplished. I thought it was a bit selfish in light of all that had happened. My last issue can be contributed to my edition being an advanced reader copy. There were a lot more errors in regards to spelling, punctuation, and grammar than I’m used to. It could be a bit distracting, but I’m sure that has been worked out for the final published print and shouldn’t inhibit the reading experience.
Still, with all that, it was a perfectly stunning read. You can tell Sayers holds Paris in her heart, that she loves writing about it and she does it well. Much of the novel has this dark, sinister tone to it that is attributed to the demonic Secret Circus. It manages to keep a much-needed spark of light, though. There were moments that truly surprised me, which doesn’t happen too often. The Ladies of the Secret Circus was a thrilling, witchy, brutal– yet tender read.
Thanks to Hanna from Sparkpoint for asking if I’d like a copy, and to Redhook/Orbit.