Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry

From the sideshows of Coney Island to the opium dens of the Lower East Side to an asylum on Blackwell’s Island, Church of Marvels follows the adventures of a motley crew of strangers. On a single night the lives of two sisters, an orphan, a mortician’s bride, an assortment of freaks and a newborn baby become entwined as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle to understand.

Odile is a second-fiddle act in a show that has long since lost its magic. Her sister Belle, the sword swallower, was always the star. But now the sideshow has burned to the ground, their mother perishing in the flames, and Belle has fled to the city without a word as to why. Odile goes in search of her sister and begins to uncover some deep dark secrets in the murky underbelly of the city.

The book starts off slow and as each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective is a little hard to follow. You can’t help but feel you are missing something, but you just can’t seem to put your finger on what that might be. The characters are well rounded and you are drawn into a magical mystical world but something seems off.

Persevere however and you will be richly rewarded.

Circus of Marvels is Parry’s debut novel but she writes so masterfully. She slowly, yet mesmerisingly, reveals a beautiful story that will delight. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall in to place, it becomes harder to put the book down. Each of the characters become even more like family and the setting is so richly and vividly described that you feel like you are walking alongside them. The epilogue slaps you in the face and is one of the best you’ll read.

It is an absorbing, masterful read and a stunning and unique debut from Parry. Circus of Marvels is a novel to lose yourself in.

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TITLE: Church of Marvels
AUTHOR(S): Leslie Parry
PUBLISHER: Hachette
RRP: $37.99
ISBN: 9781473605633

Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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