Church of Marvels


Church of Marvels – Leslie Parry

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of circuses,  I have a fear of clowns. Despite that, every book I have ever read about circuses or circus performers have been pretty awesome, Water for Elephants, Night Circus, these are just two amazing books with a circus premise, Church of Marvels is a similarly enjoyable story.

New York, 1895. Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler cleaning out the privies behind the tenement houses, finds an abandoned newborn baby in the muck. An orphan himself, Sylvan rescues the child, determined to find where she belongs.
Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. Now Belle, the family’s star, has vanished into the bowels of Manhattan, leaving Odile alone and desperate to find her.
A young woman named Alphie awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum—sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile, overbearing mother. On the ward she meets another young woman of ethereal beauty who does not speak, a girl with an extraordinary talent that might save them both.
As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger. In magnetic, luminous prose, Leslie Parry offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past in a narrative of astonishing beauty, full of wondrous enchantments?a marvelous debut that will leave readers breathless.

One of the things that I wanted to do this year was read less YA and more… adult… books. Is adult the right term? I kind of just wanted to read books that were aimed more at my age range if that makes sense. I’ve not really accomplished much of that so far, but I all the books I have picked so far have been pretty spectacular and this was no exception. So, let me tell you a little about it.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m not great with circuses because of my clown phobia, but I love reading about them. Seriously, if anyone can think of any other books about circuses they can recommend me, please do so. This, although having a circus related back drop, doesn’t have an awful lot of action actually happening at a theatre. What we have is four very different people who are all connected in ways that are not obvious until the very end. This is a slow burner, it is character rather than story driven. We have the twins, who grew up as part of their mother’s show at the church of marvels, the theatre that connects these four people, Sylvan, an orphan who finds a baby and is in search of the child’s mother and Alphie, who has found herself in an asylum and is trying to piece together what has happened to her and how to get back to her family. All four of these characters are well composed and each of their voices unique. It isn’t an easy novel to read, its dark and the brutalities of Manhattan in the 1800s aren’t dressed up or hidden for the reader. Its a book that needs time and patience to get to its heart, like I said its a slow burner, but once it gets cooking, that’s when the magic starts to happen.

I’m not really sure how to review this without taking away from the reading experience, its one of those stories where the less you know about it, the better the plot will be. There is a lot going on, there is a lot to take in, just make sure you give it the time it needs to sink in and grab hold of you. The holiday season is almost upon is and if you have a two week break next to a pool somewhere warm and isolated planned, this might just be the perfect companion.

Many thanks for bookbridgr for sending me a copy of this! It is always exciting to get parcels addressed to my blog in the post!


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