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Pantomime by Laura Lam

R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

I’ve spent some time thinking about the best way to describe this novel. The best I can come up with is that Pantomime is the literary equivalent of a matryoshka doll. There is a secret waiting to be discovered at it’s heart and the reader gets to unlock each new layer of the story in order to uncover it. Dont’ panic, I wouldn’t even dream of suggesting to you what the secret is. Everyone should get the opportunity to learn that for themselves. The good news though is that there is still plenty more to discuss. The nature of secrets and the effect that keeping them can have is just one of many themes that Pantomime explores.

What can I tell you about this novel then?

Gene and Micah both suffer from the same problem, they are both trying to discover their place in the world. They crave the freedom to find themselves. Their respective journeys are leading them to the same place, that sense of belonging, of fitting in. If you have ever found yourself in the situation where you feel like you don’t belong then this story will undoubtedly resonate with you.

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Currs and skags! Step into the world as you’ve never seen it! Discover the skills, the mystery, and the magic of R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, the Best Circus in Ellada! There are the fabled felines of Linde and their fearless trainers! Men and women eat fire, stand upon a galloping horse, and contort into knots like rubber! Watch them fly through the air! This is the show you have always been waiting for, so step right up!

The denizens of the circus are a motley bunch who are brought vividly to life. Arik and Aenea, the trapeze artists who become like a surrogate family to Micah are two standouts. I also particularly liked the ringmaster R.H. ‘Bil’ Ragona. It struck me that his character is a rather good example of the duality that exists in this story. Bil has a polished professional exterior that is always on display when the audience is around but he is someone else entirely when they are gone. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, it’s always fascinating to read a flawed character. Perfect people are boring, give me flawed any day of the week.

There is some first class world-building going on in Pantomime. Lam had created a fully fleshed society which nicely mirrors the tail end of the Victorian era whilst also containing some features uniquely its own. There is also some subtle social commentary hiding amongst this novel’s pages. Some of the attitudes that characters display feel all too real and more than a little topical. Lam’s writing manages to deftly convey a whole raft of ideas without ever bashing the reader over the head with them.

Pantomime is beautifully written and more than a little affecting. At times it is darker in tone than I was expecting, but I rather liked that. Once again I find myself more than pleasantly surprised by a young adult title from a debut author. In all honestly, I think everyone should be reading this. I’m a firm believer the best fiction is that which is thought provoking without even appearing to try. Laura Lam has not only achieved this most difficult of tasks, she has managed to make it look effortless. Even now, days after finishing the book I’m still thinking about it. I’m genuinely looking forward to discovering where her writing will take us next.

And now sadly, a bit of bad news. You’re going to have to be patient for just a little bit longer before you can pick this novel up. Pantomime is published by Strange Chemistry and will be available in February 2013. Mark it on your calendars, people.


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