Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Release Date: February 5 2013
Source: e-ARC from Publisher
In a word: magical, mysterious, secretive and inventive.
In order to write this review, I had to make a decision. Do I spill the beans about the “secret” nature of the characters Gene and Micah, or do I try to keep this review spoiler-free? I try to be sensitive about spoilers, because some readers want to be completely surprised. I also think about how the author might react to a review that gives everything away. So I’m keeping the “surprise” under wraps, although to be honest, it’s not that hard to figure out, and Lam tells you everything you need to know to crack the code in the first couple of chapters. In any case, the element of this story that may surprise you is by no means the focus of this book, so I still have plenty to talk about.
Micah Grey has run away from home and stumbled upon R. H. Rogona’s Circus of Magic. He convinces Bil, the owner of the circus, to allow him to audition on the trapeze, and Bil reluctantly agrees to let him stay after Micah proves adept at climbing. He begins training under the tutelage of aerialists Arik and Aenea and slowly finds a place with this odd group of people. But life in the circus is hard and painful, and Micah struggles to hide his real identity while dealing with a budding attraction to Aenea.
Iphigenia “Gene” Laurus is a young girl who would rather climb trees and hang out with her brother Cyril and his friends, than wear pretty dresses and go to tea parties. Gene’s mother is trying to mold her daughter into a proper young lady and find her a husband. But Gene has a terrible secret that could affect the future her mother wants for her. When she overhears her parents discussing a surgical procedure that will allow her to fit into society more easily, she decides to run away.
Micah’s and Gene’s stories are told in alternating chapters, “Summer” and “Spring,” and as they slowly converge, most readers will have already figured out their relationship. Most of the story takes place in the circus and follows Micah’s growing finesse on the trapeze, his budding friendships with the quirky circus-folk, and the growing sense of danger that he might be caught by the Policiers. This is a coming-of-age story at heart, and Lam does a wonderful job showing the awkwardness of growing up and the conflicting emotions that Micah and Gene feel as they experience the pangs of first love. There are LGBT overtones as Micah feels an attraction to an older clown named Drystan, a character I loved, by the way. But because he is also attracted to the lovely aerialist Aenea, his partner on the trapeze, it seemed more like the typical confusion experienced by many adolescents and didn’t feel forced at all.
But the most wonderful thing about this story, for me anyway, is the world of Ellada that Laura Lam has created. The world-building is amazingly creative, but subtly done, and the author does not explain everything, which although frustrating, made me even more anxious for the second installment to come out. Ellada is a world filled with myth and mysteries, the biggest mystery being the Penglass formations that dot the landscape. I am still trying to picture exactly what Penglass looks like, but here’s a quote from the book that will give you an idea:
The light filtered through the cobalt-blue Penglass domes that threaded their way through the city like the backbone of some gigantic beast, illuminating the black veins of the glass and the murky shapes within. In this light, they looked delicate, like dragonfly wings.
Penglass belongs to the Alders, a society of people who have disappeared. The Alders have also left behind Vestige, artifacts that are almost as cryptic as the Penglass domes, and may be magical to boot. The story also references “chimera,” mythical beasts that are combinations of different animals, who may or may not exist. Gene’s and Micah’s roles in all these magical elements is another secret that you will have to discover for yourself.
There is very little that I didn’t like about Pantomime; however I thought the pace really slowed down during the pantomime section of the story, ironically. Yes, the book is called “Pantomime” for a reason, but the long description of the play that the circus puts on seemed never-ending, and although it does serve a purpose, it came near the end when the action is just starting to pick up. Another thing that struck me as odd was the startling graphic violence at the end of the book. The author doesn’t really prepare you for it, and it almost felt tacked on in order to add drama to the story. Believe me, there is enough drama without a bloodbath thrown in.
Pantomime is highly recommended, especially for readers with an adventurous nature who love mysteries. And be prepared at the end to be slightly frustrated, since the story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I personally cannot wait to see what’s next!
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may appear different in the finished version.
This book counts toward my participation in Hobbitsies 2013 Debut Author Challenge.