Be warned. Spoilers throughout.
Encapsulate the book in one sentence?
Run away to join the circus in a gender-bending YA fantasy.
Book Pot or Personal Choice?
Book Pot, but I’ve been looking forward to reading this for aaaaaaages.
Did you finish it? Did it work for you?
I finished it in two days, and it would have been faster had half of that not been on a motion-sickness-inducing bus-journey. And hell yes, it worked for me.
Micah Grey stows away with R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, and begins to train as an aerialist. Cross-cut with his life in the Circus, we see his past as Iphigenia Laurus, a noble girl. Micah’s secret is that he was born intersex, and when Iphigenia’s parents decide to enact surgery, she runs away and becomes Micah.
What genre would you say it is?
YA fantasy, although with a great deal more subtlety than many of the other players in the genre. The fantasy elements really only play on the fringes of the narrative — we are in a fantasy world, and there are long-departed mythical beings, The Alders, who left behind magic, or Vestiges. Likewise, there is talk of mystical beings with both male and female genitalia whom were once worshipped by the people…
What surprises did it hold – if any?
Not the twist that Micah the boy was Iphigenia the girl. The back blurb goes some way to hide that they are the same person, and it is a third of the novel before it is stated explicitly, but either through foreknowledge or just, y’know, sense, I never assumed that they were anything other. The surprise comes in how expertly handled the gender-confusion and fluidity was handled, and it truly sets this book apart.
Likewise, although the theme appeals, its quite refreshing for a circus-set story to not harp on the ‘we’re all freaks together’ theme. The circus does not readily accept Micah, and as such it feels ground and real, and above all tough.
What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
This book is all about Micah. He’s a beautifully nuanced character, whether we’re talking the world of YA or otherwise, and the push-and-pull of worlds, genders and sexualities is rendered in such a way as to be genuinely affecting. Micah is a stunning achievement of writing.
Have you read more by this author? Did it remind you of anything else?
I have not, although I certainly shall. The beauty of this novel was that it didn’t readily remind me of anything else–the circus and the world of Ellada are not mould-breaking in their form, but experienced through the eyes of Micah, the entire thing is fresh and quite different to anything else I’ve read in easy memory.
Is it available today?
It is, along with two (?) sequels. This is good; the one flaw of Pantomime is that in some ways it functions as a very long set-up to further adventures, leaving quite a few mysteries trailing.
After writing this review, I had a nosy around some other reviews, and uncovered a certain backlash that takes against the choice of marketing and blurb to suggest that this is a fantasy romance (when in fact the romance is largely a subplot) and that the intersex nature of Iphigenia/Micah is directly hidden by the blurb which implies they are seperate people. My response: sod off. I get that there’s a case to be made for it being borderline homophobic to hide the fact, but realistically, LGBT YA is a hard sell, and this book does more to blast through preconceptions of transgender/gender/genderfluid/bisexuality/whatever than its nearest hundred competitors. Sometimes, readers can be reactionary, and it’s tiresome. (And that’s before I even tackle the idea that treating the male and female sides of a person in gender crisis as seperate people could just be a damn good metaphor…)