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Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus

The Ladies of the Secret Circus book cover

Title: The Ladies of the Secret Circus
Author: Constance Sayers
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Page Count: 448
Published by: Redhook
Date Published: March 23, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


Lara Barnes’ life is idyllic. Working at the local rock radio station in the bucolic small town of Kerrigan Falls, Virginia, nestled aside the Blue Ridge Mountains where no crime ever happens and the downtown is laid out like a 1940s movie set. But on what should be the happiest day of her life, her fiancee disappears on the morning of their wedding. Even more, she soon discovers her grandmother’s journals from the 1920s and learns that his disappearance may have something to do with her own magical history.

Paris, 1925. The dark, magical circus – Le Cirque Secret – is the only home Cecile Cabot has known. Daring acts that defy reality, magnificent beasts, and carousels that take you back in time, this circus of the damned is all anyone can talk about. When Cecile meets and falls in love with a local painter and tries to leave the circus, their union will have devastating effects that will span multiple generations of Cabot women.

As Lara continues to unveil the secrets of her family, she ventures to Paris to find out what happened to her finance and put an end to this curse.

Overall Thoughts

A dark, macabre, magical circus, Paris in the 1920s, and a family generational tragedy of lovers disappearing in an idyllic small Virginian town … I mean, what’s not to love? The Ladies of the Secret Circus had massive potential for me. I was instantly absorbed by the eerie, foreboding beginning and my The Night Circus-loving-heart beat pitter-pat when we dove into the journals centring around the enchanted circus in the 1920s. But as captivating as all these story elements should’ve been, I found myself incredibly frustrated throughout the reading. From writing inconsistencies and editorial mistakes, in which sequences of events would be out of order within a chapter, to overly simplified, expressional narrative – “Look at him all alone. I feel sad for him” – kept pulling me out of the story, making for a frustrating chore of a read.

From magical realism to historical fiction to mystery to fantasy and horror and romance, The Ladies of the Secret Circus really tried to juggle too many genres and would’ve been such a tighter story if some had been eliminated, specifically the romances which muddled the plot even more. Unsurprising, flat reveals regarding the central missive of the story and illogical, whip-lash character decisions rounded out the last one-hundred pages resulting in a book that collapsed under its overstretched buildup.

Starting out strong, hitting a bumpy middle, and unfortunately devolving into a highly absurd and messy ending, The Ladies of the Secret Circus failed to coalesce into the compulsively addictive read I was sincerely rooting for it to be.

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