Author: Laura Lam
Publication Date: 17. November 2016
Rating: 4/5. Stars
Diversity: LGBT Characters
TW: transphobia, interphobia, domestic abuse, murder, sexual assault, misgendering
Summary: Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. Then she displays unwanted magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age. Matters escalate further when her parents plan a devastating betrayal, so she flees home, dressed as a boy.
The city beyond contains glowing glass relics from a lost civilization. They call to her, but she wants freedom not mysteries. So, reinvented as ‘Micah Grey’, Gene joins the circus. As an aerialist, she discovers the joy of flight – but the circus has a dark side. She’s also plagued by visions foretelling danger. A storm is howling in from the past, but will she heed its roar?
I have heard about Pantomime for a while now, but I haven’t got around to buying and reading it until a short while ago. And it was a mistake! Waiting so long, that is.
This book has made me fall in love with it almost immediately. It has everything: Loveable characters, interesting world building of a fantastic world, awe-inspiring circus scenes and wonderful writing.
We have Micah Grey, our protagonist, an intersex person raised as a girl, who mostly goes by male pronouns, even though he never fully identifies as a man and instead feels more non-binary. He was raised as Iphigenia Laurus, but when he overheard that his mother planned to operate on him to make him more “marriageable” he ran away, reinvented himself and joined a circus. As an aerialist. Yes, he’s very talented. (His background story explains his immediate Talent quite well though, even though I nearly died from shock when Micah first climbed the trapeze.) While him being intersex is not the main focus of the story, it is still always an important part of his life and never forgotten, which was amazing. He is also bisexual, even though this is sadly not named on page, but it’s very obvious.
My second favorite thing was the great description of circus life. Some of it was most definitely romanticized I think (circuses back could be really terrible, especially for people involved in the freak show) but it also didn’t show it all through rose-tinted glasses. I loved how the training to become an aerialist was described and how many parts of circus life were shown.
I feel like I need to put trigger warnings for various scenes though: There’s the threat of forced surgery for Micah, people misgender him after they find out his “secret”, there’s a character that’s being abused by her husband (and while people feel sorry for her, no one really wants to help her which really bothered me? UGH!), one of the side-characters implies that she was raped by a former partner, another is sexually assaulted by her boss and the main character’s boobs are also once touched without his consent to make sure he is a “girl”.
Besides the abuse-not-dealt-with-enough, there are a few other things that bothered me a bit. The mythology was just teased at and never really explained, but having read the sequels already I can tell you: it will all be explained in the end, just not in the first novel which sadly makes it a bit hard to understand. Also, a map would probably have worked wonders to really understand the world better.
There’s also the dual storytelling where we switch between Micah (present) and Gene (past). While the story-telling was done well and I liked the contrast between Micah’s former life and now, in the end, it felt like the Gene part was dragged out too much. Due to this, it is also quite a slow pacing up until the end, which in return felt very abrupt.
There’s also a short love-triangle so be warned! I know, it was used to show us that Micah is bisexual, but it still bothered me a bit. (maybe especially because Micah is bisexual and because it once more made it seem like bisexuals can’t be truly monogamous (but also not really polyamorous, bc honestly when was the last time you saw a bisexual character in a polyamorous relationship where all parties where informed and happy with that arrangement and it was not cheating?… yeah, I’ve also never seen it). But since Micah was figuring out a lot of things about him, it fit quite well in that discovery plot.
Another thing that bothered me about this book is that Micah discovers he is a Kedi, a mythical intersex creature, and it makes it seem as if that’s the reason he’s intersex and that intersexuality is a fantasy thing, but this is resolved in the second book, so I did not include it in my rating.
My rating is probably a bit higher than it would be if I had just read the first book and left it there. But since I already read the second and third book, looking back at certain plot points makes a lot more sense now than it did when I first read the book.
I also have to say that the main force behind the story were definitely the characters. Micah, Aenea and Arik, the two aerialists who train Micah, Drystan, the white clown and Cyril, Micah’s brother. All of them were amazing character’s and they made the story feel so much more lively.
Now, I know, I have a lot of issues with this book, but it is still a good read and if you have the time you should definitely pick it up. Just make sure you also buy the second book at the same time or else you will be stuck in cliffhanger hell with a lot of unanswered questions.