Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal - review by Paloma van Tol

Paloma van Tol

Nellie Packs Her Trunk

Circus of Wonders


Picador 369pp £14.99

Step right up! From bearded women to giantesses, leopard twins to the Queen of Moon and Stars, the Circus of Wonders invites you to gaze upon marvels only heretofore imagined. In her new book, Elizabeth Macneal takes the circus novel and twists it into something a little darker. At the centre of the action is Nell, a girl covered in birthmarks. The people in her small town see them as ‘blots or stains’, so she hides them and herself from unwanted stares. Until one day, she is snatched away and sold to Jasper Jupiter’s travelling circus.

Under exacting, possessive and power-hungry Jasper, she transforms into Nellie Moon, ‘her very skin speckled with the constellations that exist within her command’. Alongside Nell’s story and struggle to reclaim her agency, we follow Jasper’s sinister plans for success and the worries these spark in his younger, quiet ‘dullard’ of

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