Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

“She floats through the air with the greatest of ease,” it’s Nell the Queen of the Moon and Stars. As the main attraction to Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders, Nell finds herself in the center of adoring fans and public scrutiny, without her family and in the midst of creating her own, between the heart of one brother and the obsession of the other. While Nell may be a queen in the ring, she has little control as to where she lands.

Set in the 1860s, at the height of marvels and deformities, when peculiarities and disturbances without explanations were obsessions of the public and Queen Victoria, Circus of Wonders is the tragic story of brothers and love. As though Elizabeth Macneal took a page from Shakespeare’s romantic tragedies, and I suspect such, she added a layer of lore to the telling of her own personal Brothers Grimm: Jasper and Toby. While the actual Brothers Grimm collected stories and folklore for their fairy tales in the early nineteenth century, Macneal’s brothers took those tales to heart. Jasper constructed a life that was his own downfall, Toby was a brick that never bothered to move from whatever house he was stuck to, and three amazing women chose to break themselves from the roles they were born into.

With a switching narrative and delicately crafted sentences, Macneal weaves a wonderful Circus of Wonders. My only gripe with the work is how large and tragic the story of Jasper becomes, it almost read as lore itself, but that may have been the point. The difference between Macneal’s work and the Brothers Grimm comes to the women within the text. Most women/girls/the feminine are destroyed in the folktales recorded by them. The women/girls/feminine in Macneal’s work are brave, even when they are chained into worlds that aren’t their own. But enough stories have been stolen from women, I’ll let them tell their own tale. Don’t miss your chance to see the Circus of Wonders.

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