Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This novel lives up to its name in every possible way. I know it's only March but this is already a firm favourite of books being published this year. Leslie Parry brings to life the dark underworld of New York city, from boxing fights in the dockyards, the opium dens of the bored and addicted to the state asylums.

Four main characters push the plot forward, twins Odile and Isabelle Church, heartbroken heroine Alphie and our underestimated hero Sylvan.

Odile and Isabelle have been brought up as performers in their mother's sideshow on Coney Island, The Church of Marvels, drawing tourists in from all over New York to be entertained and impressed by their contortionist, tiger taming and sword swallowing skills. But when a tragedy hits the cast of the spectaculor show, their lives are ripped apart. Isabelle leaves home and only months later does Odile receive a cryptic letter that leads her to believe that her beloved twin is in danger...

Sylvan Threadgill makes his money cleaning up New York's stinking filth, working night shifts and bare knuckle fighting to earn extra cash. One night he hears a newborn baby crying for help and he just can't ignore it...

Alphie found love in the least likely place. She makes a living down in the dockyards fixing the faces of drunks and dragon chasers. She meets Anthony and all her dreams come true as he takes her away from the docks and makes a respectable woman out of her. At least, until her secret is revealed and she is thrown into the lunatic asylum across the river...

I absolutely adored this novel. Beyond the world building of New York in 1895, circus entertainers, seedy establishments and underhand dealings, imprisonment and adventure, Leslie also makes the brave move of tackling some very tricky issues regarding gender identity, homophobia, hysteria, social hierarchies, drug addiction, abandonment and abuse. All of the characters are expertly developed, their voices are believable and above all else, dignified.

Church of Marvels had me enraptured in its smoky haze and I would definitely recommend a visit.

Church of Marvels is released in June. 

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