Strange Chemistry, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Iphigenia Laurus is the daughter of a noble family. Her life consists of being groomed for her debutante ball, under strict parental guidance, and sneaking off to play games and climb trees with her brother and his friends at every opportunity she gets. With her introduction to society looming, Gene, as she prefers to be called, is having serious doubts that the choices her parents have made concerning her upbringing and her future are the right ones for her.
Micah Grey is a runaway, fleeing a noble background for a life of independence. Unfortunately that noble background is obvious to everyone on the street and Micah is running out of options. R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, billed as the greatest circus of Ellada, is in town and Micah spots an opportunity. Caught up by the magic of the trapeze artists Micah knows where the future lies. Unfortunately the first challenge is to convince the ringmaster he has what it takes, and there is only one quick way to do this: take a leap.
Pantomime plunges the reader straight into the magic of Ellada’s greatest circus, where a colourful cast, and Vestige, or magic bearing, artefacts blend with the reader’s real life memories and perceptions of circus animals, clowns, contortionists, the tightrope and the big top, and all of the smells, sounds, tastes and applause of the circus truly come to life. Lam uses the power of imagery to create the setting, giving the story a very realistic grounding.
This is perhaps a difficult book to review, because to explore and discuss the key themes and events in the story would lead to major spoilers, and the true magic here comes from not knowing what to expect and the eventual discovery of the characters’ secrets as the two narratives, Gene’s unhappy lead up to her debut and Micah’s new life with the circus, play out concurrently.
The ending of Pantomime is truly dramatic and it leaves the reader expecting that the mystery will continue into another story and hoping that Gene and Micah will find happiness in their new life after everything they have gone through in this book. This is a well-crafted tale of secrets and dreams, written with a satisfyingly rhythmic prose that lends itself perfectly to the slow beauty and tragedy of the story, and is certainly the most in-depth character based fantasy to have been seen in a long while.