In a land of lost wonders, the past is stirring once more . . . 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?
Originally from sunny California, L.R. Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. Lam is a Sunday Times Bestselling author whose work includes epic fantasy romance Dragonfall (The Dragon Scales Trilogy), the near-future space thriller, Goldilocks, feminist space opera Seven Devils and Seven Mercies (co-written with Elizabeth May), BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, and the award-winning Micah Grey series: Pantomime, Shadowplay, and Masquerade.
Their short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies such as Nasty Women, Solaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, Scotland in Space, and more. Their romance alter ego is Laura Ambrose. Lam lectures part-time at Edinburgh Napier University and is Programme Leader of the Creative Writing MA.
Hello! This is my book. I'm pretty fond of it and stuff.
It's got an official blurb up above, but I thought I would add a more informal one here with pictures. Credit where credit is due: totally got this idea from Elizabeth May's review of her book The Falconer, though I have decidedly less animated gifs and wit, alas.
Pantomime has a girl, named Gene, who isn't completely content with her lot in life.
A boy named Micah becomes an aerialist:
Gene & Micah have a secret.
Most of the book is set in a circus:
There's Vestige from a past civilisation that may or may not be magical. It takes all forms from weapons to something rather innocuous, like this:
And, of course, it's got a little bit of this:
And it wouldn't be called Pantomime without a pantomime:
Comments on this thread are heavily moderated, meaning I am trigger-happy with the delete and block buttons. For a similar but less ranty viewpoint, check out this review by The Book Smugglers.
UPDATE: I am not only the who took issue with the book description. Shoutout to book bloggers The Book Smugglers and LGBT author Malinda Lo.
UPDATE 2: The book has been re-released with a new book description. So half of this review doesn't apply anymore, but I'll just leave it up as it is for record's sake. (And no, I did not petition the author or publisher or anything.)
How the Description is Offensive (to me)
I’m offended that the description for Pantomime misled me into thinking this was a story about star-crossed lovers. It is not. THIS IS NOT A SPOILER; I repeat, THIS IS NOT A SPOILER! Gene and Micah are the same person. This is a story about an intersex protagonist.
THIS IS NOT A SPOILER!
Misleading description is misleading and offensive on two fronts.
THIS IS NOT A SPOILER!
+ 1st front
It deceive readers because you think you're getting a YA romance when in fact it's a YA fantasy. Yes, I did assume it's a YA romance, but let me ask you this. If the description mentions a boy and a girl character, and the story is YA, and most YA nowadays, as in 99% of them, that mentions a boy and a girl characters are YA romances, can you honestly tell me my assumption is unreasonable?
There is a romance subplot in Pantomime, but it's not a romance book. The plot focuses on Gene and Micah but they're the same and one person. Pantomime is a YA fantasy.
To me this is the equivalent of reading a YA dystopian for the dystopian part when in fact the dystopian part is only 5% of the book at the most while 95% of it is ridiculous insta-love romance.
+ 2nd front
It smack of homophobia because there's no hint anywhere on the cover or in the description, especially the description, that it's an LGBT book unless you read reviews, “spoilers” reviews. Treating something a reader learn about the protagonist at The Very Beginning, especially when the protagonist is LGBT and there is a history of marginalization of LGBT people and whatnot, as a secret is disrespectful to say the least.
Not to mention the implication that readers have to be tricked in order to read about an LGBT individual.
You know what this is called? Motherfucking straightwashing. Well, just straightwashing but I added the motherfucking in to express my rage.
+ my 2-cents, take it or leave it
I do not believe for a second that the author nor the publisher intended the misleading description to be interpreted as so, but interpreted by me it did. What I do believe is that it's a very, Very Poor Marketing Decision.
I would understand why the description prevaricate the protagonist’s “secret” if it was not for the heavy clues dropped from The Very Beginning: the narrative voice, the red hair, the big brother, and the acrobatic talent Micah and Gene shared. And oh yeah, there were also the male-like body parts Gene had and how traditionally male she acted. I mean, seriously. You would have to be very disengaged from the book to not make the connection. At 20% of the book, it was bluntly pointed out that Micah was Gene in a way that suggested if you haven’t realize it you’re dense or very bored and thus very inattentive to the book or couldn’t care less. This was in no way some twist revealed at the end like the unmasking of the murderer in a mystery novel.
The protagonist was the best part of the book, and I feel strongly that the description should have been upfront about his LGBT trait. I understand some readers would not want to read LGBT YA books because there is a belief that such books are usually issue books, dark and depressing, life is a bitch and then you die. However, the description could have avoided that by emphasizing the fantasy part of the book because that is what the book was about anyway.
I am well aware of the great possibility that I may be the only one who have this interpretation because, let's face it, I'm almost always in the minority opinion when it comes to ratings and reviews. Still, it's my 2-cents, a very important 2-cents, and I'm letting it be known.
What The Book Is About
Pantomime is about Micah who runs away from home to the circus only to later end up in big trouble there too. He has an unrevealed destiny that could change the world, but he first got to survive circus life. The circus is like Hollywood. Behind all that fame and glam, bad shit is happening.
Pantomime is a dazzling YA fantasy. It is not an issue book like, well, anything by Ellen Hopkins.
Why I Love Micah
Barring the description of the book, not a thing written in the book offended me. Pantomime dealt with intersexuality in a respectful and preferably non heavy-hearted manner. I loved how the book made Micah more than about his intersexuality, that it was in the way of “this is how Micah is different but readers can relate to him anyway even though they don’t share his difference because everyone has something different about them that caused an issue for them.” It was easy for me to relate to Micah.
Micah felt real and tangible; he had an all around elegant character development. I liked his silent courage and his won’t-let-shit-pull-me-down-I’ll-be-okay attitude. His kickassness was subtle but no less awesome.
What I Didn’t Like
+ the love triangle
I liked Aenea and Drystan, but I didn’t like the love triangle. I quickly established myself as Team Drystan because Micah had a brighter future with him than with Aenea. Micah had many things in common with Drystan, and most importantly they were honest with each other later in the book.
Aenea, on the other hand, shared intimate details of her life which Micah did not reciprocate. Thus, it was absolutely no surprise that later in a revelation scene she felt betrayed. One thing I did not expect was how permanent things were going to be with Aenea.
Regardless, It was very predictable how the love triangle was going to be resolved, i.e. which romantic interest would win. The book would have been better off without the love triangle in the first place. I get that one of the reasons it existed was to show how Micah could be attracted to both sexes, that sexual orientation was a large non-issue and apart from Micah’s gender identity. I liked that about Micah, his clarity of love and attraction. However, passing attractions to strangers would have accomplished the same.
Poor girl, as if she had not suffered enough shit. Micah should have kept his relationship with Aenea platonic. That was one of the few things I did not like about Micah.
+ the over-extensive flashbacks
The plot alternated between the present and past, when Micah is Micah and when Micah is Gene respectively. For the first half of the book, I didn’t mind the flashbacks despite them being the singular reason for the slow pacing. I can plainly see the necessity for backstory building and character development.
But by the last half of the book, I quickly tired of it. I didn’t find the flashbacks to be necessary anymore, and my patience for the slow pacing reached its limit. I wanted the book to focus on the action in the present plot where things were heating up.
+ the domestic violence
It was a background issue. I didn’t like how it was kept as a background issue. I didn’t like how no one helped the victim except for passing concerns. I didn’t like how the issue was later pulled to the front stage for a climactic confrontation where the victim’s fate was revealed like some cheap conflict. How it ended bombs, in more ways than one.
+ the cliffhanger
The ending was a cliffhanger. Things were finally getting epic, and the book forced me to wait for the sequel to see our heroes’ fate. I felt cheated. I felt like the book finally gave me pure awesomeness to chew on, but then at the last moment, when it was at my fingertips, ripped it away from my reach. Cheated and steamed. I was mad to the point where I seriously considered downgrading the book’s star rating a full star level.
I rate Pantomime 3-stars for I liked it. I came to this book hesitantly because it sounded like the YA version of The Night Circus, a book that I hold no interest for, let alone a YA version of it. Yet I decided to read Pantomime anyway because of the rave reviews. Great writing, vivid world building, and enchanting characters, the book merits the rave.
That said, I recommend waiting for the sequel to read the books back to back.
Man alive, this book was just as wonderful as when I had first devoured it.
I just cannot stress how incredibly unique this book is. I've literally never read anything like it, and possibly never will. The writing was beautiful, the world was enchanting, the characters were lovable, and I adored how the story was told in a non-linear fashion. But I think the thing I love the most above all is that I have no idea what to expect in the future of this series. I'm starting Shadowplay in just a moment and I honestly don't even have an inkling of how the story is going to go, and that gets me so excited.
The only thing, my only small peeve was that there was no map at the beginning of the book. I wish that there had been a map of Ellada or the Archipelago so I could have better pictured the world and where everything was, because I needed that extra sense of scale. Laura Lam definitely created a massive world, but I wanted to truly see it. Unfortunately such a map is also not present in Shadowplay, I just saw, but I hope we'll get to see it one day.
If you're looking for a high fantasy LGBT YA book? Look no further. Trust me.
A circus, an intersex main character, an alternate world with bits of Victorian and steampunk, and extremely catchy writing.
Concept: ★★★★★ Main character: ★★★★ Pacing: ★★★ (there is a split timeline, and I didn't love that)
Pantomime was a book that I randomly added to a Book Outlet haul a few weeks ago because it had a gorgeous cover and was blurbed by Leigh Bardugo. Enough said, right? Also, it was about a circus so I was ON IT.
It's about an intersex main character named Micah Grey who escapes their home one night when their family tries to "fix" them without their consent. Micah doesn't need to be fixed, they are happy with who they are. So they run away to the circus.
This is a tale with found family elements, magical elements, steampunk elements, and the gritty thread of the circus running throughout. Micah's adventure to find themselves as a teenager, a person, and an aerialist for the circus was a classic coming of age tale with some obvious twists. But, the world itself kept Pantomime from falling into the cracks of other circus stories. The world of Pantomime is weirdly Victorian, but also post-apocalyptic as there used to be a society of Alders who ruled the land. The Alders are long gone, and the only remnants of their society remain as "Vestiges," which are mechanical devices that are much more technologically advanced than the current society.
While this book in the trilogy focused on the world though the lens of the circus, it's clear that books two and three will be exploring more magic and more of the world—Micah's discovering that they might not be who they thought they were...and it's time to find out why.
I will start by simply saying: Pantomime’s cover copy is supremely misleading. One would think that this is a run-of-the-mill PNR YA featuring two protagonists that seem to be about to fall in love with each other whilst a secre–zzzz, BORING. I would never had picked up this book based on this blurb had I not known from the get go what it is really about.
Allow me to rephrase the blurb slightly:
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
An intersex teen, Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, raised as the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Gene’s parents wish to force a decision on which gender Gene will spend the rest of Gene’s life as, so Gene runs away from home, assumes the identity of Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
Now, doesn’t that sound infinitely better? You’re welcome. There is a discussion to be had about whether my reworded summary is spoilery or not but since we don’t really think this impacts on the reading of the book AT ALL, we moved this discussion to the Additional Thoughts below.
So, Pantomime. It’s mostly a very familiar coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a Fantastical world that hints to long-forgotten magic and knowledge and whose “different” protagonist joins the circus.
Of course, what makes it really distinct is the fact that the protagonist is intersex with very particular struggles that sets Micah/Gene apart. I absolutely loved Micah/Gene as a character but more than that I absolutely loved and appreciated the care given to Micah/Gene’s story-arc. The story alternates between past and present and presents Gene/Micah’s history as a mix of shame and acceptance (specially the brother Cyril), the terrible ordeals with doctors and potential suitors, the need to keep secrets. Most of all it portrays sensitively Micah/Gene’s attempts to understand, define and accept not only hir own body but hir own identity. How does hir body impact on hir gender identity? Is Micah/Gene, a boy, a girl, both, or neither?
Further, I loved how the story makes it very clear that there is an intricate but separate relationship between not only body and gender identity but also between the latter and the roles traditionally attributed to different genders. So for example: if Micah/Gene feels she is a girl but doesn’t like “girly” things like sewing and dancing does that make any her less of a girl? Can he identify as a boy if he likes dresses? What if Micah/Gene feels like hir is both? Gender identity is also different from sexual identity and thankfully this is also treated separately here and it seems that Micah might actually be bi, feeling attracted to both male and female. And that attraction shows up in the narrative in a very cool, uncomplicated way so for example when sexually aroused Micah/Gene mentions both penile and nipple erections.
For me, Micah/Gene’s arc and portrayal is the novel’s main point and its claim to success.
That said, I am not so sure about the rest of the novel and the way that Micah/Gene’s personal narrative intersects with that of the Circus as well as with the overall Fantastical background. For most of the book, as much as I appreciated Micah/Gene’s arc, I felt that the book was going nowhere. There is a world building that seemed interesting – with the long-forgotten magic and different mythologies – but barely touched upon to the point where it makes Pantomime read like a prequel, and this feeling becomes stronger upon the novel’s cliff-hanger ending. There is a question of pacing as well, very slow chapters leading to a monumentally hectic ending.
Finally, in spite of the care given to Micah/Gene’s portrayal I am unsure about the “magical” nature that intersex characters might have in the context of the novel’s world-building. It is hinted that intersex beings have existed in the past and where considered the epitome of the “complete” human and where worshipped as Gods. This is in a way extremely empowering. BUT doesn’t underlining differences reinforce otherness? I am curious and intrigued to see how the story proceeds and how the treatment of this mythology is examined in the sequel.
As an aside: Pantomime also made me think of Circuses books in general and how interesting it is to see that most books about circuses show them as a haven, a safe place for outsiders and “freaks” when real-life circus – specially the “Freak Shows” – were anything but. Coincidentally, just yesterday there was an article online about a woman’s seemingly terrible, harrowing existence as the “ugliest woman on Earth”, whose mummified body was just recently allowed a final resting place.
Overall, in spite of any misgivings, I truly enjoyed Pantomime and especially the protagonist’s incredible journey.
I have to fully, completely, 100% agree with Ana’s assessment. The marketing copy for this book frankly bothers me. Deeply. The copy does sound like this is a story about two struggling runaways that either a) Fall in Love and find each other thanks to a Magical Circus (yes, because all circuses are romantic and magical); or b) Discover they are long lost Magical Siblings, who will together unlock the secret magic of the past. We will discuss this at length below, but it bears mentioning again:
This is not even remotely what Pantomime is about.
So. Onto the rest: Pantomime features an intersex protagonist and details Gene/Micah’s arc as both a young noblewoman debutante, and an aspiring trapeze acrobat (aerialist) at Bal’s traveling circus. Gene is raised as a girl, put into dresses and ribbons, taught to dance and play music and embroider, while zir mother drags her to physician after physician looking for a “cure.”2 As Micah, Gene reinvents zirself as a boy and makes a daring leap to join the circus as an apprentice Aerialist. Here, Micah is hazed as a newcomer and hides zir past – but it is here that Micah feels happier and more complete than ze ever has before. Where Pantomime excels is in Gene/Micah’s character – like Ana says, Laura Lam does a fantastic job of creating a nuanced, relatable character who is struggling with enormous issues of identity and finding zir place in the world, and accepting zirself. I love that Gene/Micah is an intersex character that is both male and female, that does not want a sacrifice or a “cure.” And, as Ana mentions, Gene/Micah is attracted to both men and women, loves dancing and music just as much as ze loves climbing trees and racing through the woods. The questions of self-perception, self-acceptance, and self-worth are all examined in-depth with Pantomime, and I loved ever step of Gene/Micah’s heartbreaking, wonderful arc as a character. The other characters are pretty great too – my favorites being Gene’s brother Cyril and the clown Drystan (ok, aerialist Aenea, too).
On the plotting side, however, things start to get a little more muddled. The book alternates between Gene (past) and Micah’s (present) storylines – we see Gene as ze struggles with zir societal debut as a marriageable young woman, and we see Micah as ze fights to earn zir place in the Circus. I like the alternating style of the book and the way the novel builds to join the two storylines, as we finally learn why Gene runs away from home and becomes Micah. It is a horrific, heartbreaking reveal and I think done very well. That said…the two storylines drag out a little bit too long (Gene’s in particular), and there is some clunkiness when it comes to the integration of the two, especially where the fantasy elements are concerned. Similarly, the frenetic ending of the book after such a long slow overlapping series of alternating chapters feels…abrupt. Similarly, the setting of the circus is really well done, but it’s kind of tired – a magical circus, capturing the wonder of all who enter has been done, and done, and done.
There is one real concern and problem I have with the book: the fantasy elements. While these elements of the book are interesting, they are not particularly well fleshed out (and for the vast majority of the book aren’t even necessary). Pantomime is set in a land called Ellada, where ancient magical ancestors left behind artifacts (Vestige) whose workings are mysteriously shrouded to Ellada’s now human and decidedly non-magical inhabitants. As part of the magical cast of gods that existed to create this land, there are a group of demi-gods called Kedi – both male and female, and according to the Byssians, believed to be the only creature that is ever complete. The Kedi are super strong, with heightened senses, and believed never to be ill, and worshiped alongside the Chimaera (divine humans mixed with animals – mermaids, minotaurs, men with wings).
And this is the real, significant problem I have with Pantomime, because this awesome, wonderfully portrayed intersex main character is ultimately made to be something magical and actually compared to mermaids and centaurs. Intersex people exist. They are real people. Making them magical does reinforce otherness, and this deeply bothered me. At the same time, I understand that the intentions here are good, and that one could interpret Gene/Micah’s unique magical abilities as a positive and empowering message. Personally? It bothers me.
Overall, Pantomime is a wonderfully written book, with a fantastic main character and I truly enjoyed reading it…with some reservations. Definitely recommended, and I will be around to read the next book in the series.
As promised: we wanted to talk about the misleading blurb and the hidden LGBTQ aspect of the novel which from what we gather has been treated as a “spoiler” and a “twist” as a marketing decision.
This unfortunately does not sit that well with us. First of all, it is slightly disingenuous because there isn’t really a twist at all – it is very clear from the get go that Micah and Gene are the same person so it doesn’t even make sense that blurb leads to believe that they are two different people. To try and play this as well as the fact that Micah/Gene is intersex as a secretive plot twist is to expect this news to be shocking and mindblowing. To us, this reads at best as exploitative and at worst as playing into the self-fulfilling assumption that readers need to be tricked into reading a LGBTQ novel.
The “secret” surrounding the intersex character also frustrates us in the way that it makes it difficult for people interested in LGBTQ themes to find this novel and it shouldn’t be. Cass, reader/reviewer of mostly LGBTQ-focused LitFic and non-fiction at Bounjour,Cass recently wrote a guest post for Smugglivus in which she was bemoaning exactly how difficult it is to find LGBTQ books:
"For whatever reason (which I would encourage debate on), publishers are still wary of promoting YA (and even mainstream adult titles) by mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity. Muddling through Amazon, catalogs, Netgalley, and websites that discuss LGBTQ books, I realized how extremely difficult it was going to be to form a list that didn’t involve me writing, “I’m PRETTY sure, based on hints from the blurb and some guessing based on my knowledge of other blurbs from books I know contain LGBTQ characters, that this book features a ____ character.”
The other hint [commonly found] is “deepest, darkest secret,” which when it’s not referring to werewolves or vampires generally means “gay” (and, less often, “transgender”). (…) It shouldn’t be that difficult to find books."
Micah/Gene’s story is wonderful and it would have been great if the truth of this character had been out and proud in the blurb of the novel.
A runaway youth, fleeing the comfort and constrictions of a wealthy home. A circus, with its own society and rules. A peculiar city, with an underlay of an ancient, not-fully-understood magic prevailing. And the classic adolescent question, "Who am I, really?"
There is obviously more to come in this story, but there is still a satisfying arc, and promise for much more of the world to unfold.
This Book is seriously underrated and more people need to read it! It is honestly one of the best Young Adult books I have ever read!
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love circuses and I think this book does an excellent representation of showing the magic and mystery surrounding a fantasy circus. I mean ... what's not to love about bearded women, creepy clowns and contortionists.? However, what really set this book apart from a few other circus books I have read, is that there are Chimaera! I just think that Chimaera fit so neatly into the setting of a circus and really add to the dark, creepy and imaginative atmosphere it should have!
Putting my slight circus obsession aside, this was still a highly enjoyable read and had a very intriguing plot throughout. I found the pacing to be perfect, as I was never once felt bored, but at the same time no plot points ever felt rushed or glossed over.
The main character, Gene or Micah, is now one of my favourite YA protagonists! Gene is intersex and therefore both male and female, however she goes by the name of Micah, disguised as a boy for the main course of the novel. I have personally never read a book with an intersex main character and I found it so interesting to see the world from this perspective. I don't know how accurate the representation of being intersex was, but frankly this is a fantasy book, not a contemporary... and I loved how Laura Lam put her own fantasy twist onto this topic.
Gene is also a runaway (for valid reasons) and ends up at a circus, which is a trope I will never grow tired of! Despite her understandable running away, I appreciated how Laura Lam briefly included the effects this had on Gene's family, which is something that I feel isn't discussed enough with these kind of things. I find that the family is often forgotten about and never heard of again, when in reality they have just lost their child...
I also loved all of the side characters in this book, especially Aenea, who is an aerialist in the circus, but also all of the smaller characters, who each had their own unique roll to play in putting on a show. Despite this, I would have preferred it if there was more time dedicated to more circus members and their back stories, but I understand how this could have disrupted the pace of the novel for a lot of people... Maybe I'm just being greedy!
I never tend to take much notice to the romance in books (especially in YA), however I actually adored the romance in this novel and there was no insta-love. It was more lighthearted and slowly built, which I feel a romance should be at the beginning stages and not confessing your love for each other after two weeks, like some other Young Adult books... *eyerolls* I also found Gene to be highly likable in this respect as she was often kind and calculated, but also selfish when she needed to be and put herself first, which is something I personally admire in protagonists.
Despite all of this, I do have a few little quibbles.
In the beginning stages of the Novel , I found it very hard to picture the main character, which is never normally a problem for me! It was only half way through, when there was a description of Micah's Auburn hair that I started to get a solid image in my mind. I don't know if I missed some earlier description, but it definitely bugged me a little bit.
I also wish there was slightly more world building. I don't think the world building was bad by any means, but I just wish there was a little more! This could just be a personal preference, as I know not everyone cares for lengthy descriptions of places and lore, but I do ... :D Also, I understand how this is the first in a trilogy and I hope that a lot of things mentioned will come into play in the later installments.
Another thing to note is that this book switches between the past and the present a fair bit, which I personally don't like in books, as I prefer a chronological narrative. However as I read on I adapted and understood the reasons behind this choice in structure and it actually kinda worked for me by the middle stages.
I do think that these issues are very minor and down to my own personal preference and not objective flaws to the story itself and should by no means put you off giving this book a shot! If you love circuses, or just want a fun YA book then look no further! Or if you want to read Caraval then I'd recommend this instead :D I'm not salty over that book... I swear ;)
Okay, can I first just say how misleading the description of Pantomime is and how blatantly it underrates the value and extent of its content? Honestly, it does not do this book justice! One look at it gives the unsuspecting reader the impression of a Young Adult paranormal romance, featuring a story of star-crossed love between a daughter from a noble family and a low-born circus scalawag, perhaps. But no, no, no, that's just all wrong!
That's the problem with publisher descriptions, I suppose. I understand about wanting to save some surprises for the book. I get that, I do. But it's another thing when it makes a book sound so average and conventional, when in reality it's anything but! Hiding behind the official synopsis here is a story that's a lot more significant and extraordinary. Yes, I was surprised and I loved this book for being so much more than its description. But on the other hand, had I know earlier what Pantomime is really about, then maybe I wouldn't have shrugged it off as "just another YA romance" and waited so long to get to it!
Having said that, I am now at a dilemma. How do I talk about how much I enjoyed this one without giving the story away? After all, I did just criticize the description for misrepresenting the book, and yet here I am being vague. At the same time, I was really surprised when revelation about the characters hit me, and spoiler or not, I wouldn't dream of taking that away from anyone else thinking of picking up this book. I loved the story more for it, and it's definitely something you have to read for yourself. Or bah, who knows, maybe the "secret" is actually common knowledge by now. Suffice it to say, I'm sure there are many other reviews out there that have divulged it if you're still curious and want to know, but you probably won't be getting the details from me.
What I will say though, is how impressed I am with the character development and how this coming-of-age story deals with matters of sexuality and identity. These are issues portrayed with sensitivity and attention, as well as the associated emotions that come along with the characters' struggles to understand what they want versus what society expects of them. There's action and drama and romance in Pantomime, but at its heart is a very unique journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and ultimately it's this aspect that sets this book apart and makes it so special.
I'm also a sucker for circuses, especially in fantasy stories. What an amazing setting and community Laura Lam has created here, complete with atmosphere and all the cultural dynamics. What's incredible is how she so perfectly captures the magical nature of a circus, without actually including much of what we'd think of as traditional magic. And yet there are plenty of other fantastical elements, and I find myself intrigued by the rich history of Ellada as well as the mysteries of Vestige. Still, nothing quite beats the vivid descriptions of the circus along with the performers and their acts.
As Angry Robot's YA imprint, Strange Chemistry has come a long way since its launch. I find some of their older titles to be pretty decent, though a few of their more recent books have been just incredible. I've always attributed that to the publisher gradually coming to find its groove over the last year. Little did I expect though, that I would find such a gem in Pantomime amongst some of their earliest publications. It is simply wonderful.
3-1/2 stars, but rounded down because of the pacing.
I am not sure what I can say about this book without giving away the central twist. And on the one hand, that twist is so unusual that it deserves to come as a surprise rather than given away in reviews (and most of the reviews for this book do give it away, so avoid them if you want to read the story unspoiled. DO NOT read the GR blurb, either). But on the other hand, keeping the twist secret gives the marketing of this book a troublesome identity crisis. The jacket blurb is downright misleading, and worse, it's BORING. It makes this sound like a fantasy romance with Chosen Ones, which I expect we've all pretty much read before, and zzzzz. Plus, the book is almost certainly not getting into the hands of the readers who might most appreciate it.
Instead, this is a story about identity. In alternating narration, Micah Grey, a runaway boy, joins R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic as a trapeze artist; Iphigenia Laurus, a young noblewoman, struggles with expectations of ladylike behavior and seeking a husband. But Micah and "Gene" share a secret, something so weird and socially unacceptable that they live in emotional isolation and constant anxiety of being found out and shamed. This aspect of the story is fascinating, and really well done. The quandaries they face, the struggle and inability to ever forget what sets them apart from everyone else, the loneliness, and the exploration of the aspects of this difference, make this story unique. I felt so deeply for Micah and Gene; it's a really moving issue that they face. These parts of the book are fantastic, and worth five stars.
What dragged the book down for me was poor worldbuilding and poor pacing. The mix of real-world and fantasy-world names of the various characters irritated me (and how is "Genie/Gene" a nickname for what I thought is pronounced Iff-uh-jen-EYE-uh?). Other examples of weak worldbuilding for me were that this seems to be a typical Victorian-type fantasy world, but then a cup of coffee is said to "taste like gasoline," which felt jarring, and got me wondering just how industrial this place actually is. What worldbuilding there is is really interesting, and I'd like to see more of this archipelago, but it didn't quite all hang together in this volume.
The pacing is the biggest problem. The first third of the book zooms along; I was completely drawn into both Micah and Gene's predicaments and attempted resolutions. But then the Big Twist is revealed, and too much of the rest of the book wallows around filling out the background some, but without really moving any plot forward, or developing any tension. I'm left wondering if this was meant to be a standalone, but then got sold as a trilogy instead, since that's what epic YA fantasy is "supposed" to be packaged as, because it feels expanded and slightly bloated. There are hints that there might be an epic story in here somewhere, as all kinds of intriguing mythology is introduced but then not followed up on very satisfactorily. I was never downright bored, but I did have a sense of dragginess through too much of the middle three-fifths of the book.
Then it gets exciting, and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.
I do plan to read the second volume, but I'm not in any hurry, since Book Three won't come out until 2017. (The author lucked out with Tor picking this trilogy up after the Strange Chemistry imprint shut down earlier this year.)
So I'm not sure I recommend this for the fantasy world or plot, although I enjoyed both Ellada and the circus. But I do very much recommend this book as a very different story about a unique situation. I'm glad I was intrigued by Vippi’s review and picked this book up. And I'm glad someone else has a library hold on it after me, because this story deserves a wider readership.
I don't really know where to start when it comes to reviewing this little gem apart from saying it's flawless and just WOW!
This review will be short deliberately as I don't really have the words to do it justice and I don't want to spoil the secret of this wonderful for anyone because it is jaw dropping. Believe me when I say this is one of the most unique stories for young adults I have read in a long long while (and this comes from a girl who has currently read about 250 so far this year). It's magical and beautifully written and the issue it revolves round is tackled in such a brilliant and fascinating way.
For me this book, everything else aside, is all about Gene and Micah working out who it is they want to be and accepting who they are and not what society expects of them. The way in which this is done is brilliant as it's just so heart-wrenching and emotional. You really find yourself invested in the characters and their hopes, dreams and fears to the point where they get under your skin and won't let you go.
The setting of the book is exciting. I'm not a huge circus book fan but I found myself getting into this one. You really getting a sense of the circus and its magic around with a real feel for the life style the members of the circus lead.
A fantastic read, a stunning debut and a jaw dropping secret! I cannot wait for book two.
One of the most disappointing things a reader can come across is a book they thought for sure that they would enjoy. And then didn’t.
I am disappointed. (As if the two stars didn’t already say that).
It had such potential! A character who is both male and female (awesome) who has magical abilities from a long lost race of beings (magic!!) who is betrayed by her parents (mysterious) and runs away from home dressed as a boy to join a circus. The description also said that the circus has a dark side, which I guess it does but it wasn’t really enough to mention in the blurb, and Gene/Micah sort of has visions but only, like, twice. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “plague”.
For the most part, the story actually was pretty cool, and it was interesting to read from the perspective of a bi, intersex character. But what let it down so drastically, for me, was the writing. From the very start I found it off-putting and unfortunately it brought down all the good qualities of the novel. It felt like there was this masterpiece of a world that could only just be seen through a thick blanket of dullness.
To start off with, the writing consisted of 90% tell and 10% show. The author had so many opportunities to really drag the reader into the story and make them feel like they were living it, but I just felt detached from it for the most part. I'll be honest, there were a few scenes that made me anxious on behalf of Gene/Micah, but there are only three times in the whole story that I can really say I was emotionally invested, and they were towards the end of the novel - long after I wanted to give up (which was by the end of chapter one).
Normally you need to tell people to lay off using commas too much but please! Laura Lam use more commas! Stop creating lots of little, needless sentences. They interrupt the flow of the writing and make it feel jerky to read. And while you’re at it, also add in apostrophes! Just like The Selection series ruined the word “giggle” for me, I don’t think i’ll be able to read “could not”, “did not” or any other similar non-contractions without having my lip curl and eye twitch. JUST SAY “COULDN’T”!!!! Seriously, I don’t know if a contraction was used once in the whole book.
The author also had the habit of going into way too much detail over small and uninteresting things but then rushing through the exciting parts when a little more detail would not go amiss. I really don’t care about about the exact performance the circus held, it’s not really necessary to the plot. I would, however, like to know a little more about how Micah was feeling when almost found out for being intersex and/or a missing person (again, show not tell). I would also like more worldbuilding. It was fairly good but I feel as though a lot of things were missing (although that could be because I skimmed through some of it and didn’t always bother to go back and read passages when I found myself zoning out).
Finally, two dreaded, cliche, and cringe worthy lines were used. ”I let out a breath I did not know I had been holding” (notice the lack of an apostrophe!!) and, *shudders* ”you’re not like other girls” (hey! A contraction!! *cheers*). That last one being used not once, but twice. And this was one of the very few books where it would have been appropriate to use that line, only it was said by a character who didn’t know that Gene was both male and female.
The writing did get better a quarter of the way into it or so, but it still isn’t what I’d consider ‘great’. It struck me as amateur and I wish that the author had re-written the story a few more times until she really improved her writing. Then this could have been a 4 to 4.5 star read. I can definitely see how her later novels could be much better, but although I’m curious to find out what happens next, I don’t know if I want to continue on. I have a friend who read this and really loved it, and if she reads the next few books I might just get her to tell me the plot.
For all my going on about the writing, I wouldn’t necessarily tell someone not to read this. The story and characters were interesting enough and other people have read this and really loved it, so I’d say check it out for yourself. I’ll probably never read this again, but reading and more importantly enjoying books is such an individual process that I could never tell anyone to avoid a book I disliked (unless it had harmful themes in it). If you’re someone who can stand not the best writing, and the plot sounds interesting, then go forth and discover for yourself the world of Pantomime.
"Byssian music played - brass and nickel instruments, large drums, and twanging strings. It made me think of sunsets and yellow eyes and deep growls in dark jungles."
Ah, such a cruel way to end a book. But Pantomine...PANTOMINE...gee, I'm at lost for words.
Nope, I'm not just throwing a random picture from the internet. This picture gave me the same effect as Pantomine did - it messes with my head in the most wonderful way I could ever imagine.
This is an art.
*Takes a deep breath*
I don't know. I really don't know where to begin. I mean, of course I was looking forward to read it but I had my worry as well. I was afraid it turned out like The Night Circus i.e. a book filled with extraordinary imaginary plus amazing prose but sadly, I couldn't connect with it.
Pantomine is both commercial and experimental. It's odd, bizarre, shocking, fearless, magical and real. It's a combination of all things that shouldn't be put together but somehow it works. I mean, Laura Lam, is this truly your debut book? Seriously? Hah, I don't buy it. It reads like the author has a dozen books to her name previously. She did not create a book, she had created a world.
And I'm so grateful that there's no map plastered at the beginning of the book. This is a fantasy book, alright, but not that fantasy, fantasy book, you see. (Blah, classic Zuleeza, can't even explaining herself right).
Seriously, just take my words. Pantomine is not that fantasy, fantasy. And despite the similarities to The Night Circus, Pantomine's circus is no The Night Circus' circus.
I think I might have just given myself a headache
Some might find the pacing to be a bit slow but I think it's just appropriate with the whole theme and the tone of the book. It's okay to take your time reading Pantomine because it's important to devour it, to imagine yourself in Micah's or Gene's position. To feel what they feel, to think of what sort of decision you would take if you were put in their spot. No books had such impact on me for a loooong time.
I'm positive that it's impossible to elaborate on the characters without giving anything away. Micah and Gene - WOW! I like how 'neutral' they sound. Drystan, the white clown - who would've thought a clown could be this charismatic! Overall, there isn't even one character I didn't like. I'm not even sure if there's anyone deserved to be called antagonist. Some characters made mistakes not by choice but because of the pressing circumstances or by accident. All the primary and secondary characters received just the right amount of character building and back-story. While I wish to know more about some of the other circus members, I wouldn't change anything about the way the characters were presented.
Scratch that! Actually, there's nothing I would like to change about this book. :)
But I have to mention this, about 15% through the book, a shocking secret would be revealed and at that point I thought 'Eh, isn't it too early to give away the big secret? I think this will kill my interest in this book soon.'
You know what? The big revelation didn't kill my interest even one bit. In fact, I felt more drawn into it afterwards. But as I said before, the book ends with a cliffhanger. There are still secrets yet to be revealed AND IT'S KILLING ME! :(
And it's decided that you have to pre-order this book ASAP! :D
**An ARC was provided by Strange Chemistry in exchange for an honest review
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.
It took a long time for the final book in this trilogy to be published and I'm really excited that we're finally going to see how Micha's story ends. I'm glad I decided to reread the earlier books first though, I'd forgotten so much about this book.
The last paragraph may contain spoilers if you haven't read the blurb for the book, the original UK blurb kept a very big secret from readers which is why my review was so vague but later blurbs are much more open so I don't think it really counts as a proper spoiler anymore though.
I love how diverse this series is, not only is the main character intersex but you also have openly gay and bisexual characters too. I absolutely adore Micha, he's such an amazing character and I love the changes he goes through as he walks away from the life where he was raised as a young lady and tries to find his place in the world. It's great to see his confidence grow as he makes new friends at the circus, especially Dustin who completely accepts him for who and what he is. I also love that he has a close relationship with his brother and I hope we get to see that explored further in the next two books (I really can't remember if Cyril makes an appearance in Shadowplay or not!).
Um... where do I start? Brilliant. Magical. Unique. Shocking. These are the words that come to mind when I think about this utterly gripping and deliciously bizarre novel.
There is not a lot I can say here without giving away the twist (and trust me your jaw will DROP), but I will say that Laura Lam handles a complex and emotional issue in a mature and accessible way.
The love story is endearing - as are the motley band of characters: circus freaks and performers, and the bourgeoisie. You will love both Gene and Micah - and I refuse to put in spoilers prior to the release of the novel, so I shall say no more - SORRY!
I am already eagerly awaiting another installment of Pantomime. These are characters I need and want and hope to spend more time with. Bring on a sequel - or in circus speak: BRAVO! ENCORE!
Disclosure: We are published by the same imprint, which is how I got my hands on an advance copy!
Edit 12/23/14: I'm going through some of my previous reads and adjusting ratings I felt were too generous. This is one. I'm dropping this down to 2.5 stars. I lost interest in this series shortly after finishing this book, and won't be continuing them any further.
A three star read for me. Any spoilers will be clearly marked.
Well...I can honestly say that this book was very different than anything I've ever read before.
We follow two main characters (with a whole slew of side characters I thoroughly enjoyed) throughout the story: Micah and Gene. We alternate timeframes following Micah in the present and Gene in the very recent past. Micah finds himself in the circus, and Gene we watch struggling with the girl her mother wants her to be.
My heart was quite involved with these two. I felt ridiculously sad for Gene. I've never been in the situation where my family wants me to be something different so badly that I struggle to force myself into that person. My family has always supported who I am, and what I want. I really cannot imagine the pain it would cause if that was different. The only person in Gene's life that loved her for who and what she was is her brother Cyril. I loved him.
The circus world Micah is a part of was so much fun!! The aerialists Arik and Aenea were two of my favorite side characters. I also liked our clown Drystan early on. An incredibly sweet love story blossomed, and I began to root for it to continue to grow.
Things aren't as they seem in this book. I was (and am) intrigued as to the backstory of the Chimaera and the Kedi. I certainly hope we get more of this backstory in the next book.
First off, this review isn't going to be a full review. There is a big secret within the pages of Pantomime - a very big secret - and both Laura Lam and the publishers, Strange Chemistry, want the secret to stay well under wraps until Pantomime is released. To talk about it would be to spoil a major part of this book, but it's something I want to talk about. So, with Strange Chemistry's permission, I am writing a mini-esque review now (it might not be that mini), and my full review after publication. But now, on with this review!
Pantomime is absolutely amazing! It's a fantastic character driven fantasy, that will draw you in from the very first page and have you caring deeply about it's brilliant main characters, Gene and Micah.
When I asked her on Twitter about the genre of Pantomime, Lam said, "I've been calling it gaslight fantasy, since it's sort of steampunk without the steam." I'm going to describe the genre based on my experience of reading fantasy. I haven't read any steampunk, it's definitely not dystopia or urban fantasy, so for me, that leaves high fantasy. Except, it only just fits into my idea of high fantasy; an imagined world that feels historical, with magical people and creatures. This Pantomime has - the very different way of living, the magic in the chimaera and the Alders - but it doesn't have so much of the politics or any of the epic battles that most high fantasies I've read I have, or at least not in this book. But the fantasy elements of the story - the magic, the chimaera and the Alders - are not a massive part of this story. Pantomime is very much about the characters, and so feels more like a historical about historical teenagers, though I have a feeling that the fantasy elements will play a much bigger part in future books.
So on to Gene and Micah. Gene is the teenage daughter in a noble family; she's expected to go to balls and wear beautiful dresses, to enjoy embroidery and high tea, but she doesn't. It's just not her. Micah is a teenage runaway who has joined the circus in order to find his own way in life. For both characters, Pantomime is very much about being true to yourself, and working out just exactly who that is. It's about fighting against being pigeon-holed - especially when you, a square peg, are being forced into a round hole. These characters are brilliant, and they're unlike any other characters I've read before. You can't help but fall in love with each of them in turn, and want so badly for them to be accepted for who they are, rather than being made to do what is expected of them. Your heart goes out to each of them; there are moments where I was so disturbed by the way they were treated, and moments when my heart just broke over the crappy choices they had in front of them. These are characters with terribly hard lives; lives where only more difficulty lies ahead.
As I said, I feel the fantasy elements will play a much bigger part in the next books. Which means the questions you have relating to our characters and the fantasy elements aren't all answered. In any other book, this would be quite frustrating, but I'm so invested in the lives of the Micah and Gene, in the people they are, that I almost don't care that I have unanswered questions, because the characters - who have found a permanent home in my heart - are much more important than the questions I have.
Pantomime is not only an amazing story, but an important one. You're not wowed because of the world building, the mythology behind the chimaera and the Alders, or the cliffhanger ending - which are all incredible - but by the truly beautiful, enthralling people we find in Micah and Gene. There's is a story that needs to be told, and that everyone should read. A completely eye-opening, enthralling debut, and I can't thank Lam enough for writing it. Another book to add to the favourites list.
I had my eyes on Pantomime for quite a while before I got the chance to read it. Just by looking at it and reading the synopsis, it's easy to see that this is not something you come across very often - a story against the backdrop of a circus. A world that seems almost beyond time itself, where you will find references to the Alder and the Vestige and Penglass, and a more specific setting in the city of Ellada. While Pantomime was by no means perfect, it was enjoyable nonetheless.
It is difficult to say anything about what the book is about without spoiling anything. Even while I was reading the book I was wondering how I could possibly write this review without giving anything away. The description provided is misleading, but in the best possible way. I don't really see how the author could have worked around it, either. Meeting Gene and Micah was a wonderful experience; reading from both perspectives showed them to be likeable characters. I enjoyed seeing Gene rebel against society's expectations of her, doing more of what were considered to be boyish activities. Her home life was not at all easy and I was very sympathetic towards her. Micah's love of the circus and determination to work hard to become something more than just an outsider in the eyes of those working in the circus was also appreciable.
Of course the thing that sets Pantomime apart is the world in which the story takes place. Laura Lam's mind is clearly an incredible place to be. It kind of makes me wish it was real, so I could physically experience it for myself. But let's move on from my weirdness. The setting is very complex. It's magical, it's mysterious, there's this idea that perhaps it's set at some point in the future. At the same time there's this sort of Victorianism to the way society is set out and how it works, the idea of markets and trade and merchants. It's very hard to pinpoint when this might actually be taking place. And while this world is amazing, and while I did truly love seeing the circus, in some ways it was all almost too much. I wanted to know more about the Alders. Who were they? I wanted to know more about the Vestige, artefacts from the time the Alders were living. With the Penglass, I found it difficult to imagine. Maybe it was just me, but that was something else that made it difficult for me to completely connect with the book.
One thing that did surprise me was how early on the plot twist came. After a moment of confusion I suddenly realised what I'd just read and then checked back to a couple of reviews to see if that was actually the twist. The twist itself is ingenious. It's something that hasn't been broached before and it introduces key themes. The way that Lam dealt with it was expert. It did mean that not a great deal happened for a long time, but this wasn't a particularly massive issue. The ending was a lot better in terms of pacing, and I quite liked the turn the story took, presenting a wonderful opening for the sequel. The presence of romance also ties into a couple of the issues that the plot twist brings in, and it's certainly something that gets you thinking.
Trying to write this review was somewhat tricky, and I'm aware it's not exactly one of my finest. But despite the issues that the book presents, it's still worth reading, at the very least for the originality it brings. There are a diverse range of characters to meet, and quite a bit of mystery, so in some ways you do get a lot. I definitely will be reading the sequel.
To pantomime is to tell a story with your body and facial expressions, and what a story this Pantomime is.I'm struggling to write a review and not spoil the story... It’s not at all what I expected. I was just imagining a simple tale about a teen running off to the circus in a fantasy world setting. It is so much more. It’s a study in differences, male and female, colorful and dark, normal and abnormal, safe and daring. It’s a fascinating and at times uncomfortable commentary on expectations and identity. Laura Lam has woven an intriguing world filled with freaks and circus performers and starring one of the most unusual protagonist I’ve ever read.
Our protagonist Iphigenia(Gene)/Micah is so well drawn that I ached for Micah. I cared what this character was going through and I applauded every step away from the safe and expected into the unknown.
The story is set in a fantasy world of Ellada and I was a bit bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the variety of the cast of performers at the circus. The standouts for me were Bil, the Ring Master, the trapeze flyer, Aenea, who becomes Micah’s first love interest and the clown Drystan, who’s has intriguing secrets of his own.
And then there’s Micah… I need the next book in this saga. I became wrapped up in Micah’s journey away from conforming to society’s expectations and finding out who Micah is. I admired Micah’s bravery and courage. I care about this character. I yearned for Micah to find acceptance and love.
Micah’s story is told in layers of flashbacks to society life as Gene, daily life of the circus as Micah and woven throughout, poetic fables of Ellada’s gods and the mystery of it’s lost civilization. There’s an almost dreamy lyrical quality to the first three quarters of the story and it builds slowly to a fast climax that left me a gasping.
Here are a few standout lines…
♦“We also offer more magic and more excitement than any other circus in Ellada. After the show, there is also a fun fair where you can see the animals close up – if you dare – or view our collection of human curiosities!” He beamed again. His teeth were very white
♦”I wanted my old life back, but it was lost. My face was wet. I rubbed at my eyes, crying as silently as possible and settled down into my musty, uncomfortable pallet.”
“♦ No. You’re strange, and there’s no denying that. But I’m strange as well.”
♦ “Secrets, once spoken, have a way of running away from you. They cannot be gathered in again
♦ After playing Iona so many times, I thouroughly hated her character. Though she tried to escape once, she did not try again, and mewled and cried and hoped for someone else to take her fate in hand.
♦ “No, but this is different. I fit here. I belong and I’ve found what I’m good at.”
♦ There were so many things I was frightened of. “Not being accepted or loved for what – who – I am.”
The protagonist of Pantomime is a teen but this isn’t a light YA story. It deals with serious themes of choices, responsibility and acceptance. There are some sexual situations and violence as well. I would recommend it for mature teens and adults who are open minded and willing to take a chance on a fantasy adventure filled with magic and mystery and starring a very different kind of protagonist. Micah’s story is not even close to over and I was left a bit melancholy when I read the final page of Pantomime. I will definitely read the sequel and follow Micah’s continuing journey.
The Queen of Tarts
♦ ebook provided for review for my honest opinion.
I picked up this book by chance. The cover and the synopsis really intrigued me and for once, going with my gut, that was enough. And I'm so glad of taking that impulsive choice, because it made me discover a very talented writer and a beautiful, stunningly original story.
I loved the magical, delicate athmosphere created by the Author, the plot full of secrets and twists and how the parallel stories of Gene and Micah entertwined.
I must admit that the description is quite misleading because you start Pantomime with some expectations and for a while everything is exactly as it seems... but then BAM! All your assumptions are turned upside down and you end up with this face:
I really liked that surprising turn, though.
I can't add anything else not indulging in some major spoiler. Just follow my advice: don't expect to find some kind of romance, but if you are looking for something unique and original, read it. It's worth the ride!
I know, I know. It’s taken me far too long to get round to reading Pantomime, and I deserve a kicking. I really do, because now I’ve finally read it, I wish I hadn’t taken so long. It’s pretty unique in that it has an intersex protagonist and a queer love story, but it’s not just about that. I’m fascinated by the world, too: the different species, the magic, the Vestiges, what the mysterious glass is… And by the end of the book, I very much wanted to know more about Drystan, too.
I did have one disappointment, and that was the love interest’s reaction to Micah’s revelation of the fact that he is intersex. Also, I wish I was a little clearer on what pronouns Micah would prefer, just because I feel weird saying either he or she in the context. In real life, of course, I’d just ask. The ending of the arc with the love interest just really annoyed me, because it felt like an easy way out of dealing with the complex emotions that’d been stirred up by Micah’s revelation.
I’m definitely eager to read the rest, despite that discomfort throughout the book where I felt that reveal scene coming. I hope it’s not such a big thing in the other books, though.
ohhh this was so cool. i love books set in circuses and this was just another level of uniqueness. i loved how this book made allusions to the greek mythology. it didn't refer to (demi-)gods as you would expect, but this book treated the mythology of hermaphroditus in a interesting, creative way. especially because i currently have a class on body image this book was very intriguing to me.
i would have found it better if the book was set in "our" world, in a historical setting, because this book feels very early modern age but it's set in a fantasy world and i can see why the other chose this option. words like "gender" are dropped which would be a little too modern for this time period the author decided to adapt (although it felt too modern for me in here too but it made more sense than if it was a realistic novel). and yeah, of course we have the magical aspect which isn't that present in this book, though. there are a few hints but i think the magic will play a larger role in the sequel.
so yeah!! can only recommend this one because it really stands out for me in between all the other ya fantasy books :-)
I was surprised by what this book was actually about, and it is a much more original novel than I originally thought it would be. This book is full of emotion, and both the characters and the plot are well written. This is definitely not a book for everyone, but I will give too much away if I explain why. I would recommend this book to anyone who is adventurous and open minded, and also anyone who loves stories about misfits and coming of age stories with a twist.
This is definitely not a romance novel, but instead a novel about self discovery, with a backdrop of an intriguing world with remnants of fascinating magic. I will definitely be reading the next book in this series (and hopefully the rest of the series after that if it gets published despite the shutting down of Strange Chemistry... though the series is good enough that I am sure it will find a home)!
I actively seek out YA that I think will be not just original but weird. The more YA I read, the more I get jaded of its cliches, and the more desperate I get for something new to shake things up. I want books that expand the boundaries of what YA can be, and what it's capable of. And when I find books that are weird in this way, even when they don't work, I tend to give the author at least a little credit, because at least I share their values. At least I want something new and different as much as they do.
I bring this up because I have no idea what genre this book is. I mean, it's clearly fantasy, but beyond that... it's this weird mix of high fantasy, cyberpunk, and steampunk, and I have no idea what to make of it. Not to mention that around a quarter of the way into the book, we get a reveal about Micah and Gene, the book's two narrators, and I genuinely haven't seen anything like it before. Not only that, but I assumed that if I were to come across something like it, it would be in a bad contemporary book. I never expected a twist of this kind to be put into a fantasy novel set in the distance future. It's a bold, genuinely risky move, and it's also one of my favorite things I've ever seen in a YA book. With this, Lam has proved that she is genuinely dedicated to expanding the boundaries of what YA can do and what it can be. This novel fills a huge vacuum that needed filling. Not only that, but the book, while not amazing, is good enough that it might gain a cult following. Maybe I'm being overly-optimistic, but I want to emphasize how much I want this book to be influential. I want more like this. I want YA fantasy to look less like the never-ending plague of paranormal romances and more like this.
Yeah, as you might have noticed, I can add this book to my growing list of great novels that are incredibly difficult to discuss without spoiling them. See also: my attempts to review Liar, We Were Liars, Ultraviolet, and The Adoration of Jenna Fox. But unlike those other books, I do think this twist is fairly important to whether or not you decide to read this novel. So if you don't want spoilers, just consider the above my generic recommendation.
But if you don't mind spoilers, you should probably know that
And speaking of a Victorian circus, I have to address how... bizarre the worldbuilding choices were. I will give credit where credit is due and say that Lam is extremely good at incorporating worldbuilding into the story seamlessly. In the beginning of the book, Lam establishes several key aspects of this world very quickly, yet she doesn't use a single infodump. Instead, she uses carefully planned scenes to make the worldbuilding feel natural, while still directly communicating what needed to be said. I wish other authors had this kind of skill in incorporating worldbuilding into the plot. The problem, however, is that the world here makes no goddamn sense. The novel takes place thousands of years in the future, yet apparently, in roughly the year 10,000 (or whenever it was, I don't really remember), everything will loop back around to Victorian sensibilities. I'm serious, the culture here is clearly 100% Victorian. It's not Victorian-inspired, it's not an homage to Victorian novels. The culture and even most of the technology are completely 18th century. To make things even more confusing, every once in a while, we'll come across a fantasy concept that doesn't make sense even in a futuristic sci-fi world. Lam seems to want to eat her cake and have it too - she doesn't want to build just one world, so she awkwardly mashes together two or three and hopes we don't notice.
That said, this was still an exceptional book. I love the way it bends genres, even if it could've been a bit more coherent, and I love Micah as a narrator. This probably isn't ever going to have wide mainstream appeal, but I think it could potentially gain a cult following. It's only been out for a few weeks in America, but I hope it gains some momentum, because it genuinely deserves to do so. I rarely walk away from a book with the conviction that it deserves popularity, and that YA would be better if it was popular, the way I'm walking away from this. I recommend this to any YA fans, and I eagerly await the sequel.
Gene is a reluctant debutante with a secret: though raised female, she was born both male and female. When her parents plan a potentially dangerous procedure without her consent, she flees to the circus. Dressing as a boy and renaming herself Micah Grey, she attempts to blend in as the circus’s new aerialist. But the circus has its own prejudices to outsiders and dark secrets of its own, and a detective called a Shadow is circling ever closer, looking for Gene. Will her new home keep her safe, or will the circus unravel from the inside? Note: I’m going to use he/him pronouns for Micah since that’s the identity he’s chosen in this book, although he notes that he doesn’t feel completely like either gender. If in future books he chooses other pronouns, I’ll switch to those. Trigger warnings: death (on-page), domestic violence/abuse, violence, injury, blood, some gore, interphobia, homophobia, self-loathing, bullying, threats, mentions of non-consensual surgeries.
I can never resist a circus story, and I’ve made it a mission this year to read more books with trans, intersex, or bisexual characters (all areas I felt I was lacking). I can’t speak to the representation, but it tracks with the little I know about intersexuality, and it’s one of those books that helps me see the world from a perspective entirely different from mine. It’s often emotionally difficult, as Micah is by no means in a place of acceptance about his gender, and how could he be? His parents have insisted on secrecy, and the only person who knows (with the exception of his sweet brother, Cyril) is awful about it. Micah struggles with self-loathing, even calling himself a monster at times, and believes that no one will ever accept him.
It’s this struggle, and Micah as a main character, that are the real strengths of the novel for me. Despite being in a time of total uncertainty, he’s brave enough to set out and scrape together a new life for himself, and despite all the crap that’s piled on him, he’s never cruel. I’m less fond of his romance with the other aerialist, Aenea, in part because I’m not much for romance and in part because so much of it is based on lies. There’s little chance for real development when Aenea only knows the circus Micah, and none of his life before. He has better rapport with Drystan, a circus clown from a wealthy background who fled much the way Micah did. I’m excited to see that friendship develop. The rest of the circus members are less memorable, with the exception of the drunk, abusive owner, Bil, and his poor wife, Frit, whose darkness threatens to overtake the circus.
The book is less strong in other areas. It took me a while to figure out that Penglass is actual glass, some sort of technology left over from an ancient race. There isn’t a lot of information on that, mainly I think because Micah doesn’t know much about it, and it’s occasionally frustrating. The one cool bit of mythology we have is of the Kedi, an intersex deity who is considered completely whole and therefore more powerful. We can see that Micah is stronger and faster than the average human, in addition to his strange affinity with Penglass, so I’m interested to see how that plays out in the rest of the series.
Pacing-wise, it’s just slow. There are entire scenes with the circus that don’t push the story or the development forward in any way, most notably the pantomime they put on near the end of the book, along with a lot of details that just don’t stick because they’re not important. This is reinforced by the timeline jumping back and forth between Micah’s history as Gene and his time with the circus. I’m rarely as interested in past timelines as I am in current ones, and I think there could have been better ways to streamline this. The ending is unexpectedly grim; after the relatively minor drama of the middle of the book, I just wasn’t expecting things to get so dark so fast. Regardless of some of these issues, I love Micah enough as a character to continue with the series and hope things get better for him.
I review regularly at brightbeautifulthings.tumblr.com.
Can we get one thing out of the way? The main character, described as two people on the cover blurb, is actually an intergender teen called Iphigenia by her family and taking the name Micah when he goes out on his own. This is not a ‘plot twist,’ nor some cheap trick to fool the reader. It is not a gimmick, nor an incidental fact that has no bearing on the story. This is Micah’s story, his gender (I will use ‘he’ as the pronoun due to Micah choosing to present as male for most of the story) is the catalyst that drives the story. Micah’s attempts to define his gender to himself, to understand what it means both physically and within the social bounds, make the core of the story. It is the thread that ties everything together; it is the reasoning behind so many day to day decisions Micah has to make. The way it is handled may be the highlight of the book.
Bouncing between past and present with ease we watch Gene/Micah grow and learn. Gene chapters focus on a young girl in noble society, hiding a secret but above that giving a good fight against the norms forced on her. These chapters are full of shame but also love, time spent with a family confused and conflicted. Contrast with Micah chapters; a young man learning the ropes in the circus. Seemingly showing more freedom and acceptance; but still confined by his secret. I could go on and on about Micah’s growth as a character but let’s be honest, others have probably done so and done it much more elegantly. So let me leave the character study behind and move on to the other elements of the book.
Pantomime is a young adult fantasy first; with all the trim and trappings of the genre. Being a study of character within a fantasy setting it is not an action book, nor is there any big bad threat to the world at large. There is a hint that Micah could be more important to the world at large running though, but if that is the case it will have to wait for further volumes. Instead this is a fantasy completely focused on one character making his way. This is not an action packed book, though action is present, so it may not appeal to some readers due to a slower pace. And flashbacks are well known for causing some readers to grind their teeth. So if either of these things could cause you pause, look for another book. If you are willing to look past that there are some great things going on.
There is some hidden depths to the seemingly generic fantasy world. An ancient civilization has left its mark all over the world, most noticeable with glowing glass Penglass littering the landscape. Also present are old artifacts that still have uses; and these are more relevant to the world we are part of. For it is these seemingly magical artifacts that give the circus Micah joins much of its sense of wonder, from fog effects to a magical fairy like creature that seems to speak to Micah. There are many possible ways this could go, I am off a mind that the world is earth of the future, but certainly nothing is given away yet.
The time spent with the circus is fun, but it would be a bad book indeed that managed to not do wonders with a circus in fantasy land. Learning the secrets of the freak show, flying through the air with the trapeze artists, seeing little details like the skill and dexterity it takes to be a clown; all fun. While Micah steals the show he is surrounded by quite a cast. And the threat of a Shadow, a legal bounty hunter of sorts, gives a since of danger to the story throughout.
Really my only nitpicks are actually fears of what may come. There is a character that shows a fairly dark side yet never seems to give Micah pause. I hope said characters complacency in a specific act isn’t glossed over going forward. And it wouldn’t be a fantasy without the main character turning into something of a chosen one, which is fine. But I am a little worried how there seems to me magic tied to being intersexual; please don’t make all the growth he went through nothing more than a gimmick for super powers. That could break my heart.
I know Pratchett once said something to the effect that to write YA he doesn’t dumb down the books, he just writes the same story about younger characters. Valente said she wouldn’t talk down to your child. Lam has written in this same mold; this book had more depth and was much smarter than many ‘adult’ fantasy novels I have read recently. Do I have a copy of its sequel sitting around here? No? Damn. Going to have to fix that.