Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Circus of the Damned by Cornelia Grey

Title: Circus of the Damned
Author: Cornelia Grey
Purchase at Riptide

Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: Kanaxa
Genre: steampunk, fantasy
Length: 91500 words
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, print

Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival.

But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.

Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due

~*~*~*~*

Last time we saw Farfarello, he had his hands full with a dissipated blues guitarist. He’s back, again not as the POV character, but as a mover and shaker offscreen. You don’t need to read Devil at the Crossroads to understand this book, but your enjoyment at Gilbert’s consternation will be that much greater.


Gilbert, who’s fended for himself on the streets since he was a youngster, has a heart full of ache and a head full of bravado. He reads younger and far less world-wise than his situation would indicate, since he hasn’t mastered keeping his head down very well. He’s confident enough to make his bets and win them, and foolhardy enough to show off at the wrong moment and before the wrong audience. But hey, Saturday night is livelier if you’re running for your life, right?

His magical abilities make him a perfect fit for the circus, and if he doesn’t understand what he’s agreed to nor how tightly it would bind him, he’s not alone. All of the other performers were there once, and their amusement and eyerolling at the newbie is funny.

Gilbert has little experience in caring about others or acting for anyone’s good save his own, aside from his constant companion, a mouse named Emilia, who seemed underutilized as a character (and very well pocket-broken). We get to watch him learn to think outside of himself, a slow process, and while he’s hot for Jesse from the beginning, he has to expand his thinking to become a worthy sex partner and finally to be a worthy lover. We’re in Gilbert’s head the whole time, and have to follow Jesse’s arc from outside. Jesse’s tired, and he has a history, and maybe it’s time to put this cup down. Farfarello has his own reasons for keeping the circus going, and has little tolerance for sudden changes of mind.

The intensity of the story takes some of the sting out of the enormous size of the piece, but it could have been tighter in sections and occasionally did make me mutter, “Get the hint already!” Still, we come to care about the denizens of the circus and their fate, and if Emilia never gets her moment to shine, a lot of other folks do. Gilbert’s love affair is almost more with the circus and a place to belong than it is with Jesse.

It’s a lovely, if longish, journey for young and impulsive Gilbert and the more jaded Jesse to come together and then more effort to stay together, but since it’s in Cornelia Grey’s trademarked atmospheric prose, the gambling dens’ fug and tattered tents’ flapping are thick on the page. Be prepared to get sucked completely into this magical, Edwardian world. 4.25 marbles




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