Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.
But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions"—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Harlequin MIRA.
Honestly, I’m not sure why I requested this book, because I have a major phobia of circuses. Just thinking about them makes me shudder. So I actually started this book with a trepidation, a bit of fear that I would end up squealing and giving up before I got through the introduction. However, I was extremely happy to find, that the circus itself, is really just periphery in the story line. Menagerie isn’t about acrobatic monkeys, and evil^10 clowns; it is about denying people the right to their humanity, due to the fear of their differences.
It's focus is on the story of the Cryptids; being owned by a menagerie and treated like breeding stock, money making objects and living in fear of the brutal treatment that their human owners deal out. Torture is a daily occurrence, denial of food and water, denying access to their children, rape, forcing sexual favours for basic necessities,, . It’s pretty damned horrible. Anybody picking this up thinking it’ll be a paranormal romance (this is not the Harlequin you think you know!), or a young adult style novel - should probably step away now.
The driving force behind this novel is the character Delilah, a young woman, with a fairly generic voice that most women can relate to, grows up thinking she is human, and has had the rights of a human all of her life. When she is ‘outed’ as something other, she is stripped of everything. Her rights, her name, her freedom; things she has taken for granted all her life. And her voice become anything BUT generic.
As expected, Delilah fights tooth and nail to drag herself back up, and try and gain a shred of her old existence back, whilst helping those around her that are suffering the same abuses. The complete despair Rachel Vincent has been able to emote in this book, is astonishing. I don’t think she could’ve made it any more convincing if she tried. I was with Delilah all the way.
Vincent uses an interesting device to tell the backstory of this alternate reality; little snippets of news reports, notes from scientists, newspaper articles etc. are placed at the end of the chapters, to explain the history of the world; without shifting too far from the present story. It’s like a mini-mystery, piecing the puzzle together from those few lines of text. It adds depth the the book, without overwhelming the focus of the book.
I could be reading too much into Menagerie, I don’t know, but it seems to be about much, much more than what the surface presents. Within it’s very funky little excerpts about the reasons why the cryptids are treated as they are, there is something that resonates far beyond this menagerie. It’s how we, as humans, speculate, talk about, and report, on other people that we don’t understand. The fear, the emotion, the shock, the uncertainties. Something inexplicable happens, so we tar everyone that might have the same features, with the same brush. And when you live in a country where people really are put in ‘detention centres’, and have their rights, freedoms and identities taken away, with frequent reports of the same abuses presented in this book, simply because they are alien - it hits very close to home, and in the heart.
Another thing I picked up on, was when the book presents a point of view that isn’t in Delilah’s first person narrative, it slips into third person. It actually creates the sense of ‘this stuff needs to be told, but this isn't your focus’; you feel as though are with Delilah in this mess, whereas you are simply viewing what others are doing. It was a pretty good way keeping a wall between Delilah and the other POVs. There is real genius behind that seemingly small choice!
There were many things to love about Menagerie, but my concern is that the plot just didn’t give enough for the reader to chew on. It’s so focused on Delilah’s emotional and physical struggle, and relies so heavily on the horrors that the cryptids are facing, that everything else going on in the plot is really very obvious and predictable. You can guess how it'll pan out as soon as it starts, and there isn’t very much to surprise you, or make the plot line really shine as something truly unique. Everything happens as expected, in about the time frame you expect.
I suppose in it’s way, the plot just plodded along so everything else could be explored more thoroughly. However, It will be interesting to see what happens in the sequels, where I think the plot may need to be a lot snappier, in order to hold people's interest.
I really enjoyed (not sure enjoyed is the right word? Maybe admired!) Menagerie, and I’ll definitely be checking out future novels in the series!