Theatre of Marvels is a new publication, and I’m grateful to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance of an ARC. The premise appealed to me, but I struggled to read it for various reasons, many of which you already know about.
Theatre of Marvels
by Lianne Dillsworth
Crowds gather at Crillick’s Variety Theatre, where curiosity is satisfied with displays of intrigue and fear. They’re here for the star of the show – the Great Amazonia warrior. They needn’t know this warrior is in fact Zillah, a mixed-race actress from the East End fooling them each night with her thrilling performance.
But something is amiss, and when Crillick’s new act goes missing Zillah feels compelled to investigate, knowing the fates that can befall women in Victorian London.
From the bustle of the West India Docks to the coffee houses of Fleet Street to the parlours of Mayfair, Zillah’s journey for answers will find her caught between both sides of her own identity, and between two men: her wealthy white admirer, and an African merchant appalled by her act.
Will Zillah be forced to confront the price of her own performance? And in risking everything can she also save herself?
Featuring a defiant heroine for our times and a theatrical world of fragile dreams and ruthless ambition, THEATRE OF MARVELS shines a light on the experience of being Black and British in Victorian London through one woman’s journey to live her life on her own terms. (goodreads)
This is a beautifully written gothic novel, featuring the dark and light sides of London, and of the human soul.
I’m always concerned about authors getting London right, and Ms Dillsworth could be as much of a Londoner as I was. She brings the poverty and the contrasting wealth into sharp focus, yet clearly shows the subtleties in the strata of the rich, too. In some ways I found this heavy-handed, in particular with Zillah’s constant references to St. Giles. It seemed to interfere with the flow, for me, at any rate. But there was much to fear from the seedy showman Crillick, and at the point of his introducing his new act to his ‘party’ of cronies I began to feel distinctly uneasy. Full marks to the author for some great tension-building.
I’m not sure I agree with the last line of the blurb. It shines a light as much on the hypocrisy and arrogance of Victorian society; black or anything else not white and male and English (English, not British!). And that Victorian hypocrisy in not dead, by a long way, however deep we thought we’d buried it.Book Review | Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth; ' beautifully written gothic novel, featuring the dark and light sides of London, and of the human soul' #netgalley #TheatreofMarvels Click To Tweet