Top positive review
appealing characters, a fantasy carnival, and more
Reviewed in the United States on August 26, 2017
I usually like fantasies with magical carnivals or circuses in them, and this certainly has that, but it has a lot more besides. I immediately became attached to teenaged Sorina, the head of the Freak Show in the traveling carnival city of Gomorrah, and her family of performers, from Crown, whose body is covered with fingernails instead of hair, to toddler Blister, who performs fire magic. They are a very close family indeed, because they are all illusions created by Sorina—but somehow they have become real enough, not only to be seen by her audiences, but to be murdered, one by one, as the story progresses. I don’t just mean that someone makes them disappear; these are real murders, with blood everywhere and bodies to bury afterward. The grief-stricken Sorina, therefore, must solve not only the classic murder-mystery question of “whodunnit,” but a greater question: how can an illusion be killed?
Sorina is more than a performer in Gomorrah; she is also the adopted daughter and heir apparent of the show/city’s Proprietor, Villiam. Because of her youth, he has kept most of the details of Gomorrah’s past and the Proprietor’s job from her until now, but the murders suggest to both that she needs to learn more, and quickly. Readers don’t learn much about the geography and politics of the land Gomorrah travels through until about a third of the way through the book, but thereafter, these elements become increasingly important. Sorina also encounters romance, but her her relationship with Luca, a fellow performer who helps her investigate the murders, develops slowly, and the author does not hit the reader over the head with it.
I was amazed to discover after I finished the book that it was part of a “Harlequin Teen” series. Such an imprint would have led me to expect (mistakenly, perhaps) not only a “YA” book but a rather superficial one, heavy on the romance—but this book is anything but. It does have a teenaged protagonist, and a romance of sorts, but the character development and the issues raised, including the nature of reality and illusion and the painful inner conflict that competing loyalties can produce, make it worthwhile and enjoyable reading for people of any age.