on 7 February 2013
When the cover was first revealed, my first impression was that it was gorgeous and intriguing. It wasn't until after I finished the book that I realised how appropriate the cover is. With a finger on the lips, like a modern day Mona Lisa, the cover has a secret. And when you discover the secret within the beautifully crafted Pantomime, boy, is it a good one.
The unfortunately named Iphegenia Laurus is the daughter of a noble family in Ellada. As a lady, she is required to learn to sew and dance and find herself a suitor, but she's more comfortable playing with her brother and his friends outdoors. Then we have Micah Grey, a runaway with no direction who finds himself watching the aerialists at R. H. Ragona's Circus of Magic and decides to join the circus. Their stories were charming and heart-breaking as they both struggled to find where they fit in.
In fact, this book had me both mesmerised and perplexed to start and I would definitely wish that same feeling on anyone reading this book, so I won't go into any more detail on the story. You don't have to wait until the end to discover the secret, but it's equally a treat watching the characters in the book unravel it for themselves.
The fantasy world of Ellada is described by Lam as `gaslight`. It has a society and class structures reminiscent of the Victorian era, and also has unexplained advancements in the form of Vestige, which are rare mechanical relics that run on magic. The world is also filled with mysterious blue Penglass domes that surround the cities-beautiful and bulletproof, they protect but no one knows what they contain. I loved the little tastes into the fascinating world of Ellada and I look forward to learning more about its history and mythology in the subsequent books.
Equally as fascinating is the vivid cast of characters the author has created. Every one of them was unique and memorable, from Gene's strict and proper mother, to the circus oddities who were wildly entertaining. A definite standout for me was Drystan, a fellow runaway and charming circus clown, who has a few secrets of his own (and is, dare I say, subtly sexy). I also really enjoyed Gene's brother, who was the only person to love her wholeheartedly. I wanted to give both of them a big hug for having a great sibling relationship.
I wanted to end on the note that for all the lovely world-building and fantastic characters, Pantomime at its heart is all about acceptance and making your own place in the world. My heart ached through the issues explored in this book, which Lam handled with finesse and respect. It really is a beautiful book to read and has set the bar very high for 2013 debuts indeed.
on 6 February 2013
Pantomime was one of those books that instantly interested me. The plot synopsis sounded amazing and something completely different and exciting compared to everything else I have been reading recently.
The book begins with young Micah Grey trying to join the circus. The setting is completely magical and mesmerising, especially in the descriptions about what goes on under the big top. The world of the circus is initially what got me hooked to Pantomime, after liking The Night Circus, although these books are very different. The actual world that Laura Lam has created is very different from our own, with cities being dissimilar to each other and having a whole range of characters living there. The ways of life in each city is different and in the circus, are people from all over, giving us an eclectic mix of characters.
Although the circus setting and world created were fantastic, the protagonist was even better. As a young runaway, Micah is trying to find a place in the world. For some of the book, the chapters alternate between circus life and where Micah came from. The alternating chapters make it possible to really realise the situation that Micah is in and why the initial need to run away was there. I really loved Micah as a character as there was so much to relate to.
Pantomime has a massive twist which makes writing a review quite difficult. One wrong word could give away the whole story and this is a twist that you are definitely going to want to discover for yourself. This massive twist is what sets this book apart from other young adult novels and what makes it so unique and exciting. Laura Lam has found a gap in the young adult market and filled it perfectly, showing that authors can take risks and people will love them even more for it.
This is one of those books which keeps you thinking about it for hours, or more like days, after you finish reading it. It was also a book that I instantly wanted to read again, which is something I haven't felt for such a long time now. I seriously cannot get enough of this book and if there is one young adult book you're going to buy this year, this should be it!
on 6 February 2013
Micah has a secret. He didn't run away to join the circus but when he finds himself stood inside the big tent, he knows that's what he wants to do. He has already left everything he knew behind and cannot go back. On the flip-side, Gene is the daughter of a noble family, destined to be paraded at debutante balls and married off to a deserving suitor. She would much rather be climbing trees with the boys than dancing but her mother is determined for her to be a nice normal girl.
The world encased within Pantomime is not far removed from the heyday of the circus in the real world. The glamour, glitz and seduction of the big tent is there; an attraction that would not fail to pull crowds at any city or town. The freak show, with a few exceptions, would not be out of place in any 19th century sideshow. The atmosphere of R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic is everything that I have been missing in other circus reads of late. Because I really do love a book set in the circus.
It is however a fantasy novel, set in Ellada. The world is reminiscent of steampunk without any overt characteristics. It has elements of both the past, with class structure and society of the past, and the future, where artefacts of a world lost litter the pages. The purpose of the Plenglass domes is unknown to the inhabitants and they are treated with a certain fear and respect. The Vestige is the name given to artefacts which move by magic, but the magic is in short supply. There's a bit of me that wondered if the magic was electricity or if this was just an analogy. I do get the feeling that the fantasy element will play a bigger part in the sequel as this was all about Micah and Gene.
Pantomime is a difficult book to review without revealing the secret. It didn't take me long to have my suspicions; the split timeline gives enough hints and the environment it is set in allows the brain to wander there. Fortunately, you don't need to wait until the end and the majority of the story revolves around if it will be revealed to other characters and what their reactions may be. It's something that will shock some readers but it's not used gratuitously; it's all about acceptance.
It's a brave book and one that deserves to be read by a wide audience. I hope it will readjust some people's prejudices; to make them stop and think that we are all human beings with feelings and some things we just can't help. It's a refreshing take on running away to join the circus...and other things that I really can't tell you about.
Review copy provided by publisher.
"Transgressive fiction" is generally defined as a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined or limited by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those limitations in unapproved or boundary crossing ways. What setting is more apt for a transgressive tale than the circus? It is bounded by the normals, who are outside. Inside are the freaks, exotics, and practitioners of unusual arts; possessors of odd skills. One runs away to the circus. One hides at the circus. One performs at the circus and when not performing exhibits a different personality than that adopted as a performer. The sad clown. The shy strongman. Everyone has a hidden history and a shady backstory. It is a world of shadows; lives lived off stage. It is here today and gone tomorrow; always changing; never in place. Everyone in the circus is fluid, self-created, romantic and lost.
That's what the author shows us here. The circus travels an imagined world with a fantastical history - even more mystery and strangeness. Our hero is many faceted, and different from chapter to chapter. And everyone has secrets. If you wanted a metaphor for the YA struggle for self, for sexual identity, for love and for acceptance you couldn't do better than a strange circus.
So, you get a book that is vague and mystical and strange on one hand, but peppered with scenes and observations distinguished by crystal clarity. You get a book that is both exciting and slow building. You have self doubt and elation; love and hate; affection and contempt. Everything is two-sided. Especially at the circus.
I applaud such an audacious debut novel. Unconventional and rewarding.
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
on 27 March 2015
I started reading Pantomime because it came highly recommend via a fellow blogger. Usually I agree with the books they like and so I knew that I had to pick this book up to read. Fortunately, once again, she had hit the nail on the head. This book was one that I thoroughly enjoyed and am incredibly glad that I decided to pick it up and read it. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started reading, except knowing that it was set in a circus, and I was instantly blown away by the words on the page. After just finishing Night Circus which I wasn’t too enthralled with, I wasn’t sure if this would be a book I liked but I was proven drastically wrong. This book is completely unique and is just an incredible read.
The hardest part about reviewing books is talking about them without spoiling them for other readers and Pantomime is a book that is incredibly hard to review due to a rather large twist in the book. I will not be mentioning what it is, but just know that it made the book ten times better for me and I found myself truly enjoying the read. In all honesty, there should be more books like this one on the market! The plot of this book was compelling and entertaining and is also shrouded in mystery which helps to keep the reader entertained. I enjoyed the descriptions of Ellada and the circus, and found myself sucked into this world, fully engaging with the characters and hoping that everything would be alright for them.
There were a lot of characters mentioned in this book but none of them felt unrealistic in any way. They seemed to all be well-written and 3D which is always a lovely thing to get with books. My favourite character was Micah. I found him to be an incredibly interesting character. He had a lot of things to work through, a lot of secrets pulling him down and just seemed to be a genuine character who was afraid of just being himself in front of people. He was a character who was strong and often unsure of himself but always willing to just put himself out there; a brave individual who just wanted to be accpeted and understood. I also liked Gene as well. She was a character who was stuck with a secret and just wanted to feel free and happy. She was loyal to her brother, loved her friends but felt like a burden to her parents and didn’t feel natural in her own skin. I found her to be a compelling character that I quickly felt emotional over.
It would be unworthy to finish this book without mentioning Aenea and Drystan. I really loved Aenea, she was a vibrant character who I just instantly liked. There was such a likability to her, especially with how accepting she was of Micah to the circus. It is clear that she is a very spirited individual. Drystan was also a character I liked quite early on. He was a bit more reserved, and you could tell he kept a lot of things to himself but I quite liked the mystery surrounding him. He was also friendly to Micah and I just really liked the connection that the two characters had. Definitely keep an eye on these two when you read the book.
One of the things that really pulled me into this story was the way that it was written with the chapters alternating between Micah and Gene. It was really nice to get the story in this way, allowing you to quickly see the full picture by the end of it all and feeling as though you know so much about the characters completely. I really feel that Laura Lam is an incredibly talented writer and one that I am definitely going to be keeping an eye on from now on. Her writing style is simply easy to read but full of description, which allowed her to write a magnificent fantasy book with a lot of entertaining world building.
Overall, Pantomime was a book that I am really glad that I read and one that I truly enjoyed. It was a different book to those I have read recently and I really liked how fresh of a read it was. A genuinely pleasant book that I was happy to have read and have to thank Daphne for the recommendations. This is a book that will surprise you, make you smile, and ultimately make you fall in love with Ellada and all the characters living within the world. It is a wonderful book that allows you to escape this world for a little while as you escape into a magical world. If you like YA fantasy reads and want something that is unique and intriguing, then you should definitely get your hands on Pantomime.
Pantomime tells the story of Gene, an inter-sex bisexual character who upon discovering her parents lies & plans runs away from home and joins a circus. At first the outsider, Gene has to deal with cruel jokes and the worst jobs before proving that she is an invaluable member of the circus. She makes friends & falls in love all the while keeping her inter-sex identity a secret. Things are complicated however because Gene has an mysterious connection to old technology/inventions that were created by an old race. Plus her parents are looking for her and have hired someone to whisk her away from the circus, the place she now happily calls home.
I refer to Gene as 'her' as she was raised female but once at the circus Gene lives as a boy and this issue of gender identity and sexuality (Gene is attracted to both a male & female at the circus) is what really makes this novel so interesting and refreshing. It really makes you think of identity and just what we define as 'male' or 'female' and 'man' and 'woman'. I especially liked the bisexual element because its just so rare that you read about a character who appreciates both men and women and I think it was a very brave decision for the author to incorporate this into her work. This is definitely the first time I have read about an inter-sex character and I thought it was both interesting & educational and again this is a topic not usually dealt with but which here is treated with such care and understanding that you are left greatly admiring the author. The story is strong and there are questions left unanswered at the novel's end which just make you want to carry on and read book two. Gene is a great character and this novel is a very strong start to a series.
on 11 November 2013
[EDIT I've been able to get my excitable paws on an ARC of Pantomime's Sequel Shadowplay which is out in January. My review can be found at [...] but please be aware it contains spoilers for Pantomime]
I'm not Pantomime's audience. I'm in my thirties. That's so old, the closest things we had to YA as teenagers were Sweet Valley High and the Point Horror books. So, with this I expected to read a book which was slightly annoying because when you're 30 odd all YA is to some degree. If it wasn't annoying, it wouldn't be about an authentic 16-18 year-old. Yes, this is my backhanded compliment, YA authors. I wanted to read it though because Laura is a vague internet friend via AbsoluteWrite (and if she's reading this and wondering which one I am over there: naff off Lam, reviews are not for authors), but also (and mainly) because the main character is intersex.
Raised as a girl, Iphigenia Laurus joins the circus as the male Micah Gray. The narrative is split between Summer (as Micah at the circus) and Spring (as Iphigenia, struggling with being a noble's daughter). Not a great deal happens, but the tension in Iphigenia's sections as she prepares for her Débutante ball is well done and engaging, and Micah's parts are studded with the colour of the circus. I'd have criticisms of the language and the lightness (and convenience) with which some of the more logistical aspects are dealt with, but I feel they are down to the genre rather than the writing. I really liked how Micah's gender impacts the obligatory YA love triangle. My biggest criticism is for the plot which I felt lacked any real direction or urgency until the last 20% or so when the pace really picked up.
It's an interesting book, but I felt (at first) it read more like a prequel than the first of a series, especially as it's not as standalone as something like The Hunger Games is. Book 2 - Shadowplay - is out in January. Once there are several books to read and the bigger overall story comes into play, this will likely be a strength.
I am incredibly frustrated with that blurb. It has virtually nothing to do with the plot has very little to do with the book. Imagine the back cover of Harry Potter failing to mention [SPOILER ALERT] Harry is a wizard.
I'm giving this one three stars (with a mental 3.5 stars for that last 20%). It says a lot about that last 20% that I would have gone to check out the sequel straight away if it was already out. If you're not 30 odd, you can probably make that 4 stars.
on 23 February 2013
As other reviewers have said, it's hard to review this book without spoiling a rather nice little twist which lifts it up a level in terms of both storytelling and characterisation, but I shall do my best.
Micah Grey, the main protagonist, is an appealing character with a nice blend of uncertainty over who he is and subtle confidence running underneath - he may not think he knows who he is, but he readily acts on his opinions and doesn't struggle to interact with others in the way that teen-heroes-learning-about-the-big-bad-world often do. I found that quite appealing, and definitely look forward to seeing who he grows up to be. I also felt the structure of the book worked well, keeping me guessing long after I should have spotted a few things for myself, and offering some variety from the tales of circus life which I could easily have found a bit samey after a while. The vaguely steampunk-y, historically influenced fantasy world that the book inhabits also felt very real and well lived in, and left me generally quite happy picturing the various places the story went.
If I have one criticism, it's that the whole book feels a little too much like the start of another book, not a complete story in itself. Obviously that's partially true of all first books in any series, but usually that is mostly hidden from the reader until the end of the book, and even if you know it objectively you get sucked into whatever the reasonably contained story of the first book is. Only at the end should you mentally step back and think 'well obviously now yes he has to set off on his hero's quest or whatever.' I just felt that this story, particularly in the second half of the book, lacked an immediate drive and purpose which would have stopped me noticing that the bigger questions of the setting and Micah's destiny were still hanging around unanswered.
But... that really is a fairly minor criticism compared to my enjoyment of other aspects of the book, and it certainly won't stop me being eager to read the sequel - in fact it will obviously have the opposite effect. Generally speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and am very intrigued as to where the story will go next.
It is really difficult to know where to start with this review, I'm going to have to be incredibly careful about what I tell you because there is no way I want to spoil the shocking twist in Pantomime. Honestly, this has to be one of the most unusual YA books I've ever read and it is an incredible debut from Laura Lam. I want to go out and start placing copies of Pantomime in people's hands because I think everyone should be reading this book. In fact, I NEED everyone to read this book and then I need them to contact me so that I can discuss it with them without having to avoid spoilers!
Pantomime is an atmospheric debut that captures the essence of life in the circus and makes you feel like you're right there alongside Micha learning how to perform on the trapeze. Micha is new to the circus, still trying to find his place with the other performers who aren't happy to have a stranger in their midst. All Micha can do is work hard and hope that people will start to accept him and stop playing tricks trying to make him leave. At the same time we are getting to know Micha we are also introduced to Iphigenia (or Gene as she prefers to be called), a young girl who hates the restrictions placed on her by society. She is constantly forced to dress and act like a proper young lady but she'd much rather be climbing trees and having fun with her brother and his friends. Gene and Micha's lives couldn't be more different but their paths cross in a very surprising way that will change everything.
As much as I loved the circus setting for most of the story Pantomime's biggest strength by far is it's characters. I really, really adored Micha right from the start, he was so brave in the way he fought to be accepted in the circus and he never even considered giving up. He's the kind of person you'd want to have in your corner, someone who is loyal to his friends and who desperately needed to have that friendship and loyalty returned. Life has taught him some very difficult lessons but I was happy to see him come to accept himself for who he was. I also really liked Gene, she was a feisty and fearless tom boy who hated the fact that people only saw her as a young lady who should do as she was told, wear pretty dresses and try to find herself a good husband. She wanted more for herself but it seemed like everyone was against her apart from her brother who was incredibly protective and supportive.
The story is a fantasy, set in the fictional land of Ellada and has a very historical feel to it. If it weren't for the mysterious Penglass monuments and talk of an ancient vanished race called the Chimaera I would have thought I was reading a historical novel set in Victorian times. If there is one thing that I was slightly disappointed with it was the fact that I wanted to learn more about the Chimaera and the history of Ellada, we were given some information and I'm sure it will be expanded upon in the next book but I'd have liked to know a little more now. Especially since the story is so focused on world building and introducing the characters and there is very little action until the end. The ending was fantastic edge of your seat stuff though and it left me desperate to find out what happens next. At Pantomime's heart lies a very big secret, one I have to confess I'd guessed well before it was revealed but one that I still absolutely loved. Laura Lam may be a debut author but she isn't afraid to take risks and that is something I really appreciate, I'm definitely adding her to my list of authors to watch out for and I'm predicting big things from her in the future.
Pantomime is published by Strange Chemistry, a YA imprint, but I would definitely class it as `cross-over', as there's plenty for all ages.
In fact, this is a book which is generally hard to place within a genre, although I would imagine the sci fi element may become more prominent in subsequent books. It's set in a world which is not our own, but very similar. It has a Victorian feel to it, but also gives the impression of being set in a future somewhere. The main setting is a travelling circus, complete with trapeze artists, clowns, and a freak show.
Most importantly this book is about the characters. Iphigenia - or Gene, as she prefers, is the daughter of a noble family, who's much happier being a tomboy. She also has a secret which threatens to ruin her future. Micah is a runaway who joins the circus as a way to escape. Both are going through a journey, trying to understand just who they are, and find acceptance.
The surrounding characters are also fascinating and well written, with secrets of their own. These people all find their way into your mind and heart, and stay with you long after the book is finished. I've read some excellent YA books this year, but this one may just be my favourite. It's hard to believe that it's a debut book - I savoured every moment, and am impatient for the next book, to discover what else is awaiting in this rich world.
(Reviewed Dec last year, early review copy from NetGalley)