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Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival.
But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.
Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due.
When I first found out that Cornelia Grey – one of my most beloved underrated authors – was finally releasing her first NOVEL, I was absolutely excited. Especially when the story is part of her paranormal romance series, Deal with a Devil, which includes book 1 Devil at the Crossroads released last year.
While Farfarello, the devil that starred in Devil at the Crossroads, makes an appearance in this novel, this is not his story. This is a story of Gilbert Blake, a magician who uses his power to con drunkards and then finds himself being saved from the men of crime lord, Count Reuben, by joining Circus of the Damned only to realize that by joining, he has signed away his soul and he cannot run away.
For me, The Circus of the Damned was a personal journey of Gilbert Blake – and less of a romance (which I’ll explain later). See, despite his magic, Gilbert never sees himself as one of the freaks. In fact, he hates the word. There is nothing physically wrong with him, Gilbert is an actual magician, so thinks of himself above these sideshow people.
It wasn’t like he couldn’t appear perfectly normal if he wanted to. Live a perfectly ordinary life. Walk on the street without anyone looking at him twice. People didn’t stare at him in horror, didn’t recoil from him, didn’t laugh. He could stop doing magic and forget about it and be just like everybody else, if he’d so choose.
“It’s different,” he managed to say, his throat closing.
Until Gilbert learns about the people in the circus – and befriends them and he realizes that for the first time in his life, he belongs. He has his family right here, among the freaks. He doesn’t have to be afraid of his magic anymore. And Gilbert starts to care for these people. For me, this journey of personal growth is the core of the story. Apart from the magic and the threat from the crime lord and the paranormal steampunk-ish aspect, this is a story of someone who learns about himself and his priorities in life and how he comes to appreciate people who are, well, different.
The secondary characters are charming. We have an octopus man, a muscled-lady, joined-at-the-hip twins, a ginger-bearded dwarf, a deathly pale girl, a wooden toy that speak, a mechanical clock-work elephant, a bear, and of course, the ringmaster himself, Jesse, who is also a master of fire. They round-up this ragtag circus family and I found myself caring for each and every one of them as well.
Then we have the circus performances!! Oh wow, those were mesmerizing as well!! I actually held my breath when I read them because I could see it with my mind’s eye, how those performances felt otherworldly, especially when Gilbert was performing his magic. I wished there were more of those in the book – alas, these circus people must also fight for their lives from the threat of Count Reuben *pout*.
The romance, however, was a little underwhelming. I neither felt nor believed that Gilbert’s feeling towards Jesse was love. The emotional connection wasn’t there, even if the two men struck friendship and shared their deepest fear and had erotic moments. In fact, I felt that Jesse had better emotional turmoil with Farfarello – as lovers who didn’t exactly part ways on good terms. For me, what Gilbert and Jesse were experiencing felt like lust at best, which made me question whether Gilbert was making the right decision in the end.
Underwhelming romance aside, The Circus of the Damned is a story filled with magical moments, colorful characters, and gripping action. Cornelia Grey once again made a satisfied reader out of me and I cannot wait for the third story from this series.