Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance SayersThe Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, magical realism
Pages: 448
Published by Redhook on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder-a world where women tame magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. But each daring feat has a cost. Bound to her family's strange and magical circus, it's the only world Cecile Cabot knows-until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate love affair that could cost her everything.
Virginia, 2005: Lara Barnes is on top of the world-until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. Desperate, her search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother's journals and sweeps her into the story of a dark circus and a generational curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations.

My Review:

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In The Ladies of the Secret Circus, the road FROM hell is paved with exactly the same stuff.

It all begins with a mystery, even if that mystery is not the one that anyone in tiny Kerrigan Falls, Virginia believes that it is.

But then, nothing about this story turns out to be exactly what people believe it is, especially not Le Cirque Secret and its mysterious proprietor.

Lara Barnes thinks the story begins with the disappearance of her fiancé on the morning of their wedding. But Todd’s abandoned car isn’t the beginning of the story – not even for Lara.

Because once upon a time, when Lara was a little girl, she received a pair of mysterious visitors. The daemon Althacazar and his daughter Cecile. They’ve come to see if Lara might be the one. The one to fix the mistakes that Althacazar made, not out of evil in spite of his position as a powerful prince of Hell, but out of a love that should never have been.

A love that gave birth to Cecile, her sister Esme, and the magical, mysterious, compelling Le Cirque Secret amid the glitter and glamour of Jazz Age Paris. A love that eventually gave birth to Lara herself, and to the hatred and obsession that has followed her, her family, and even the circus itself.

A hate that has finally come to get her – unless she manages to get it first.

Escape Rating A+: This story flies on a trapeze over the haunted crossroads where timeslip fiction turns into historical fiction, and the paranormal bleeds into dark fantasy, with hellhounds patrolling on all sides.

It’s a story about love, obsession and daemons. And it’s a story about a father trying to do his best for his daughters and failing miserably, even though he’s one of the great princes of Hell.

Part of what’s so fascinating about The Ladies of the Secret Circus is just how many different kinds of stories it manages to tell – all at the same time!

There’s the mystery of the disappearance, which turns into the mysteries of the disappearances, plural. There’s the magical realism bit about Lara’s, and her mother Audrey’s, ability to do magic. Which morphs into the big scary paranormal horror-adjacent element of the Le Cirque Secret, its condemned performers and its mysterious, daemonic owner and master of ceremonies.

Then there’s the timeslip bits, where artifacts from 1920s Paris seem to slip through to 2005 Virginia, and where Lara translates what turns out to be her great-grandmother’s diary, and suddenly we’re there in Jazz Age Paris watching the tragedy unfold.

(This bit that took me way back to a book I read nearly ten years ago, The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King. They both have that same sense of everything winding down and the crash coming even though they are different crashes.)

And the story just keeps spinning, like Cecile’s circus act, floating in mid air with magic and no net whatsoever. Until it all falls back into the present, and we – and Lara – finally discover what’s really been going on all along.

That there was a price to be paid for the magic, and for Althacazar’s original mistake so long ago. A price that Lara believes she’s going to have to pay. And so she does, just not in the way that she originally thought. A price that she discovers is much, much too high.

But that’s so often true when it comes to Althacazar. His gifts – and his mistakes – always cost more than anyone planned on. Including himself.

Readers who love stories where all the genres are bent to the point that they whirl around faster than the eye can see are going to love this book. And be captivated by the spell of Le Cirque Secret.

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