Pantomime by Laura Lam

February 25, 2013 Reviews 0 ★★★★★

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 Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

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.

As usual, I’m mystified at Strange Chemistry choice with its blurb, so I’ll be straight with you – the Very Big Secret hinted at didn’t seem like a huge secret to me. In fact, it was obvious to me from the very first view-point switch between Micah and Gene. I have thought long and hard about this, and I think it’s because the author has written in first person, and the voices of Gene and Micah are indistinguishable. So when I came to write this review and read the blurb, I thought to myself, oh wasn’t I meant to figure out three chapters in? Maybe not.

Pantomime is a 2013 début that exists in that ambiguous space between YA fantasy and fantasy written for an adult audience. It’s themes and plot are nothing like traditional YA, but the ages of the protagonists and their story lends itself to marketing as YA. As such, I really liked it. It’s not as vapid and romance-oriented as most of the YA I read, but it wasn’t too heavy handed with its politics and world building. In essence, Pantomime features the best of Fantasy written for both audiences.

I loved the setting of the book – in the midst of a travelling circus! I haven’t read a circus-book before and the way Laura Lam describes life in a circus engaging. I enjoyed the myriad of characters that from the circus, the acrobats, clowns and freaks, and I applaud the author at having created such a dimensional secondary cast. The primary cast is even more nuanced, more relatable, not only Gene and Micah, but the trapeze artist Aenea and Drystan, one of the clowns. All the circus performers have been shunned by society, they all have their secrets and vices, which makes for a cast more realistic than usually seen in fantasy.

The fantasy element in Pantomime is subtle and gradually makes itself known throughout the narrative. I really liked it, and certain hints dropped by the author regarding the history of the world have piqued my interest. Luckily there is a sequel in the works, which I hope will shed some light on the world and its magic, and Micah’s place in it all.

Here’s the part where you should stop reading and skip to the last paragraph if you haven’t read the book already. You have been warned.

That Very Big Secret? Micah is intersex – he and Gene are the same person. Micah struggles to find a place for himself in a world that doesn’t understand how he never fit into traditional feminine roles as Gene, and doesn’t fit into the masculine ones as Micah. Gene is far too boisterous and un-ladylike for her mother’s liking, and her parents make her see doctors and specialists in the hopes that she can be cured. Her future – to make an advantageous marriage and cease being a burden on her parents – doesn’t seem especially enticing, especially after one of the young men in her social circles discovers her secret and treats her abominably. Her only solace is her brother Cyril, who accepts her just the way she is and loves her fiercely. Forced to flee her home because of her parent’s plans for her, Gene decides to live as a boy, Micah, and join the circus. There he is razed and bullied as the new comer, but never gives up and is grudgingly accepted into the ranks of the performers. But he has to continually hide his past, and his family has a Shadow, a detective who works outside the law, looking for him. To make matters worse, he finds himself falling for a girl, and doesn’t know how to tell her about his ‘condition’.

I enjoyed reading Pantomime immensely, and recommend it to those who like Fantasy and Young Adult alike. I think Laura Lam has written a book that has something for everyone, which is a commendable aspect of a début novel.

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