Series: Menagerie #1
Published by MIRA on September 29th 2015
From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a richly imagined, provocative new series set in the dark mythology of the Menagerie…
When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.
But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions"—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.
Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale.
Menagerie is one of those books that completely split my opinion. Some things I thought were great, others had me barrowing my face in my hands with frustration.
But first thing’s first. The book’s concept is unique and intriguing, and I am happy to say that the execution didn’t make me think differently. The plot is fresh and that, combined with the fact that this novel is devoid of romance, makes Menagerie stand out from other generic books from the genre.
But if monsters could look like humans, and humans could look like monsters, how could anyone ever really be sure that the right people stood on the outside of all those cages?
Menagerie starts out with a bang. It is set in a paranormal alternate America in which various supernatural creatures – known as cryptids – exist. These cryptids, although sentient beings and sometimes completely human-looking, have no fundamental rights and are killed, mistreated, tortured and imprisoned. They are seen as nothing more than property. Metzger’s Menagerie is a travelling carnival which houses such creatures under inhumane conditions.
Quite creative, don’t you think? But what really amazed me, was how real and convincing the setting is. Rachel Vincent made me believe that this world exists, that any moment I could go to the zoo and look at minotaurs, hear sirens and touch mermaids. The idea is both compelling and scary at the same time.
So we have Delilah Marlow, our protagonist, who is gifted tickets to go see Metzger’s Menagerie for her 25th birthday. She has never liked the idea of cryptid imprisonment but decides to go anyway. When she witnesses the torture of one of the encaged creatures, Delilah’s rage is sparked and she loses control, committing an act that has horrific consequences.
We watch as Delilah’s life gets turned upside down, how all her rights are taken and in an instant she becomes less than an animal to society. The author did a commendable job depicting Delilah’s horrors and evoking the suffocating conditions under which she must now live. Delilah’s helplessness was palpable and it added a driving force to the entirety of the novel.
What was I, if I had no name, no friends, no family, no job, no home, no belongings, and no authority over my own body? What could I be?
Besides the solid world-building, I also thought the pacing was great. Every time I started getting bored something would happen to shake things up. There is no info-dumping or unnecessary description, only what is needed to understand the story and be pulled into the world.
However, there were also numerous things I disliked about this book.
First and foremost, I didn’t feel attached to any of the characters. I felt for Delilah at the beginning (despite her being a bit of a hypocrite) and seeing her fight to retain some scrap of dignity broke my heart. She is very fierce and stubborn and didn’t just stand by watching others dehumanise her. These aspects of her character made it easy to root for her.
Break me? Like a stick for kindling or like a pony for riding? Break me like a date, or like a heart, or like a promise?
In the end, it wouldn’t matter. I had no intention of being broken.
As time went on however, Delilah started getting on my nerves. There are (many) moments when talking back and sticking up for yourself is appropriate, but there is also a line where pride becomes stupidity. Delilah crossed that line all the time. She had no sense of self-preservation. She’s also very much a special snowflake, but I’ve come to expect that from this genre.
Then we have Gallagher, who if I’m being honest, I didn’t like AT ALL. He annoyed me to no end. I’ve been trying to figure out what it was about him I didn’t like, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it. I just found him to be grating and inconsistent and his silly “my word is my honour” repetition did nothing for me.
When it comes to the side characters, I think they were done well enough. I felt sympathy for the imprisoned cryptids (though we aren’t told enough about them to truly make me care) and the menagerie workers were appropriately despicable. But again, I didn’t feel a lot of attachment towards any of them, even poor little Jenny.
The other big issue I had is very difficult to explain. Basically, I felt that there was a lack of foreshadowing that made the novel less suspenseful and the “reveals” seem cheap. There is this big mystery about how nobody knows what Delilah is. Then suddenly, we are told. But there was no way for us to guess what she was. The reader cannot figure it out by himself because the world was never fully established. We know that mythological creatures exist, but we don’t know the extent. Where are the limits? What is real and what is lore? Delilah could be anything, and that really took some of the fun out of the mystery. It was like the reader was just being served the answer on a silver platter, without having to work for it.
This wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had only happened once, but Rachel Vincent builds the entire story on the basis of these reveals and they just lacked impact. View Spoiler »It was the same thing with the reveal of Gallagher’s true identity. Yes, there was foreshadowing that he was Fey, the whole “I always tell the truth” was a giveaway, but how were we supposed to know what type he was? And then there is the relationship between Romilly (I listened to the audio, is that how her name is spelled?) and the minotaur. Were there any clues or did I miss something? Oh, and the fact that one of the sirens had a husband? So random! « Hide Spoiler
I also had problems with the writing style, which is quite unusual for me. It’s readable and easy to get into for sure, but there were things about it that bugged me. Firstly, we have what I call the “speaking eyes”. We all know this one, it’s especially prominent in YA. When characters look into each others eyes and can just read all of the other person’s emotions. Because eyes are the windows to the soul and eyes have faces and they speak. Right. The author used this technique so many times that I started to roll my eyes constantly (pun unintended).
Secondly, there was the POV swapping. You guys know I like multiple POVs. I love fantasy. But I didn’t like the way it was done here. Delilah’s point of view is in first person but all the side characters are in third. That was weird and took me out of the story. Also, it was unnecessary. I think the book would have been stronger had the whole thing been told from Delilah’s POV alone.
A few other minor complaints
– The ending was too rushed and felt unsatisfactory after 400 pages of reading.
– I thought the way that Delilah’s friends and her boyfriend just abandoned her was a bit unrealistic. And the fact that Delilah never thought about them again made her seem a bit heartless and cold, even if they were idiots for treating her the way they did.
– What on earth happened to Atherton? He’s introduced as this sympathetic character who is different from the others and I was sure he would play a bigger role in the story but then he just…didn’t.
Overall, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it. Please note that this isn’t a YA novel though and contains graphic violence and rape scenes (though the latter is not graphic). As I said at the beginning of my review, this is a solid book, but it just didn’t affect me the way I wanted. I still suggest you pick it up if the premise sounds interesting to you and you like Urban Fantasy/Paranormal.