Welcome to I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW, the segment that brings The Magpie Librarian lots of hits from people who have no idea how to do a proper internet search. I can’t tell you how much traffic this site gets from people Googling “SO HARD RIGHT NOW”. Sorry to disappoint, folks. This is where I talk about books that I am enjoying so much that I want to make sure you know about them, too. No summaries or spoilers here, my friends. Just honest opinions and excerpts from yours truly.
Today I want to talk about Pantomime by Laura Lam. I adore YA fantasy, but I’m extremely picky about what I read. The alternate worlds I read about must be full-bodied, totally realized, and completely seamless. I am far more discerning about the fantasy titles I read than I am about realistic fiction. The author needs to build an intricate support system in order for me to suspend disbelief, or I’m out after a couple of chapters. If the author does their job, hopefully I get completely wrapped up in their version of reality.
Laura Lam is a skilled world-builder. The world of Pantomime is deep and complex. It’s so rich, I swear you can smell it (it smells like smoke, beeswax, labdanum, and leather, in case you were wondering. This book is so ripe for BPAL, it’s scary). There’s markets and hologram ghosts and forgotten civilisations and diverse cultures and mythology and hints of steampunkery (but not so much as to overwhelm the novel).
Oh, and, did I mention much of the book takes place in a circus? I’m a huge fan of movies like Freaks and shows like Carnivale, which depict the circus as glamorous and magical, yet gritty and sinister. R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is no different, featuring a cast of characters that are colorful as well as unpredictable. Hardly anyone is exactly what they seem.
Micah Grey is a protagonist unlike any other that I’ve encountered in YA fantasy. There are so many layers and mysteries surrounding Micah, and I’m sure I don’t have them all figured out (if you have any theories, let me know). I was sort of disappointed to find out this book is part of a series (Pantomime is a page-turner to the extreme, so I was hoping to find out more about Micah’s origins by the time the book ended), but that only means more Micah in my future.
I don’t want to give everything away about Micah, but here’s a little excerpt that will get you on the road to understanding this character:
I was one of the first at the carnival outside, and I smelled sizzling meats and the burning fuel of the gas lanterns strung between poles. The carnival was a long alleyway, flanked with booths in lurid colors, and I was certain I recognized some of the sellers as merchants from the markets of Sicion.
I wandered amongst the booths, keeping an eye out for the pointed helmets of Policiers. Merchants in mismatched clothing sold jewelry and food. The women had daubed their eyes with kohl and tied their hair with scarves. Many of the merchants were foreign, for their eyes slanted or their skin was darker than Elladans’. They spoke with thick accents or called out to each other in exotic tongues. I started toward a jewelry stall run by a woman with skin as dark as the night and dressed all in scarlet.
“Come here, my boy,” a voice behind me said, startling me from the scarlet-clad woman. It was not a Policier. The ancient man behind his counter motioned for me to come closer. The weathered wooden sign above the booth proclaimed him as an “Alcymyst to Cure All Ills and Ails” in a wobbly script. His pale face was so wrinkled that it seemed to be slowly drawing in toward his shriveled, toothless mouth. He had a few stray white hairs bursting out of his head, ears, and nose.
“I can cure you,” he said.
“Cure me of what?” I asked, skeptical.
My eyes narrowed but my stomach somersaulted like the tumblers I had just seen. Very few knew what was wrong with me. “And what disorder is that?”
He peered closer at me. “Child, are you a boy or a girl?”
I said nothing, but my palms began to sweat.
He picked up a vial of pale blue powder. “This will cure you.”
“Cure me of what, exactly?”
“You have a serious condition. You have been to many to see it. None have been able to help you.”
My eyes widened. “How do you know this?”
He smirked and waved a hand, “I am both an alchemist and a psychic. Much of the mysteries and the ways of the world make themselves known to me…”
I leaned closer and whispered into his hairy ear, “Then what is my problem that no one will cure?”
He whispered into my ear, “You have warts on your nether regions.”
I jerked my head back, looked into his solemn face, and began to laugh. I laughed until tears pricked my eyes and I could barely catch my breath…
I wiped my cheek. “Mister Alchemist, sir, I wish that was the worst of my problems.”
~~Pantomime, by Laura Lam, pgs. 19-22
Granted, this passage gives away some of Micah’s secrets, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes I get bummed when I find out that a really engrossing book is part of a series, because I want to figure out every mystery right away. I hate waiting for all the answers. On the other hand, I look forward to seeing what Laura Lam and Micah Grey have in store for us. If Pantomime isn’t already on your radar, I hope you’ll give it a chance.
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid