Book Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Book review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance SayersTitle: The Ladies of the Secret Circus
Author: Constance Sayers
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: March 23, 2021
Genre: Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: When Lara Barnes’s fiancé fails to show up on their wedding day, family secrets begin to tumble out, sending her to Paris for the answers she seeks when only her fiancé’s car ever turns up.

When I first learned about the Jazz Age in high school, I was hooked. I loved everything about it. But I knew nothing about the Jazz Age in Paris. The Jazz Age, Paris, a secret circus – I knew I couldn’t pass on The Ladies of the Secret Circus. I went into this book with almost no idea what it was about, and ended up loving almost every minute of it. Mostly set in modern times, that Jazz Age flair and a strange, but fascinating, sepia tone to the story easily waft around two time periods to create a story outside of time.

A Magical Story with a Daemonic Twist

In 2004, Lara Barnes is preparing to marry her fiancé on October 10th, though her mother Audrey is clearly uneasy about it. And rightfully so. Lara’s fiancé never shows up. But his car does, days later. For months, Lara searches tirelessly for answers, and police chief Ben Archer is more than happy to help. After all, there isn’t much to do in Kerrigan Falls where no crimes ever seem to happen.

But a man from Lara’s childhood pops up, enticing her with answers of what really happened, if only she goes to Paris. Audrey is reluctant to let her go because it’s dangerous for them to leave their little town, but Lara is desperate for answers. Answers that maybe the journals left by her great-grandmother Cecile might begin to answer.

In 1925 Paris, the Jazz Age is in full swing. Cecile Cabot, Lara’s great-grandmother, travels around Paris with a special circus. Full of incredible performers and even more incredible magic, the circus calls to many, including artist Emile Giroux. But their liaison is threatened by the one woman who holds the answers to a past Cecile doesn’t remember, a woman who will threaten Cecile’s line all the way down to Lara.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus was an incredible read. I was sucked into the story every time I opened the book. At times, it almost felt like I was reading magic instead of reading about magic. It took me to the little town of Kerrigan Falls, to Paris, and to the terrifying, horrifying Secret Circus.

Part love story, part villain origin story, part mystery, all with a dash of magic and the daemonic, this book kind of had it all. The romance was not a strong part of the story, but it tied in closely to the overall plot. It felt more like a gentle waft, reminding the reader the romance between the women of the Cabot family and their unfortunate men was important without taking over the story. I always love it when the romance is subtle, and this definitely delivered on that front. The villain origin story feel to it was the most surprising to me, but in a really pleasant way. I loved getting to know the villain, and understanding why they did what they did was really one of my favorite parts of this book. Again, it wasn’t a big part, but parts of it just struck me as being the perfect origin story for a villain. The mystery was more of a traditional whodunit, but with a big dose of magical interference. Through the police chief, the reader gets a bit of a breadcrumb trail to solving it, and it ties in so well with the rest of the story that, even though it’s both a big and small part of the story, I never minded when it faded from my mind.

If there was anything I wasn’t particularly fond of, it was the pacing. There was a big jump in time during the first half, and I couldn’t help wondering why nothing was really happening for almost a year before the story really gets going. The beginning also had chapters leaping back and forth in time. I had a bit of a difficult time keeping up with it as Lara aged between chapters and I had to do hasty math to figure out how old she was. And then the end came up really fast and suddenly everyone seemed to snap into literal action and figured things out.

Most of the story is devoted to Lara uncovering her family’s history and what it all means to her. I did love getting to know the Secret Circus and loved how the whole story was wrapped around it, but I do wish there had been a bit more going on.

Overall, The Ladies of the Secret Circus read like a daydream. It made me feel dreamy and longing to experience it for myself. Opening up the book made me feel like I was literally opening up a portal into another world and I couldn’t help but want to step into it.

The Cabot Women

The Ladies of the Secret Circus is centered around Lara and Cecile, the bookends of a family that should never have existed. But all of the secondary characters were just as wonderful, just as full of personality as Lara and Cecile. It also helped that there was a very manageable number of them so my mind was less tempted to mix them up.

I really liked Lara, but I did feel I had a harder time pining her down than the other characters. She has a caring heart and is loyal, but also has a need to find the truth. I often felt she was being jerked around by some of the other characters so she did as they wanted, but her commitment to her family always shone through. Similarly, Cecile was committed to her family, gave up things she loved because of them. She both felt like a free spirit, but always had chains around her. I loved that both of these women loved deeply and experienced loss deeply.

The other characters were just as interesting, but I struggled a little with the relationship between Lara and her mother. At times, I got a clear sense that Audrey was Lara’s mother. At other times, they felt more like friends. I’m more used to reading about a strict mother-daughter relationship, but it’s clear these two are close and have adopted a friendly mother-daughter relationship. I just wish their interactions were a little more consistent, especially at the beginning because I kept forgetting they were mother and daughter.

I loved that The Ladies of the Secret Circus absolutely focused on the women. While Althacazur, the daemonic ringmaster of the Circus, was definitely behind the scenes as one of the top daemons of Hell, I did feel a lot was out of his control, making the story rest almost entirely in the hands of the ladies. The male characters were definitely more supporting cast than lead actors, but I loved how they supported the women.

Touched with Magic

The Ladies of the Secret Circus is set in Kerrigan Falls, Virginia; Paris; and, of course, the Secret Circus. It was fun to be able to travel with Lara and experience such incredible things. I also loved getting a glimpse into Paris during the Jazz Age.

Kerrigan Falls was, appropriately, a picture perfect small town. Everything about it felt idyllic and, no wonder, there was no crime. Except for the unsolved disappearance of Lara’s fiancé and another man the reader briefly meets at the beginning of the book. It felt open and close knit, and I really liked how everyone was familiar with each other while secrets could also be kept.

Paris was fun, and I wish more time had been spent there. There’s plenty of time spent in Jazz Age Paris, which was fun and really managed to make me think of what it looked like, but modern day Paris felt a little lacking. While Paris in the past felt glittering and glamorous, Paris of today was painted as a bit lackluster. It felt like any other major city in the world with little outside of the mention of landmarks and bits of French being thrown around to mark it as Paris. Still, it provided a sharp and interesting contrast to Cecile’s Paris, which was nice.

The circus was my favorite place. I would probably be a little scared to visit, but I imagine that being swept up in all the magic of it would have made it very exciting. I loved it’s backstory and what it meant for all the performers. It felt like it’s own self-contained world, full of wonders and horrors. It’s an incredible place I probably wouldn’t actually want to visit, but it’s certainly nice to dream of how incredible it might be.

A Fantastic Read

Overall, I really loved this book. Certainly, there were things here and there I wasn’t a fan of, but I absolutely loved that I felt like I was sailing away into the story every time I opened it up. It just sucked me in and I wanted to linger in the circus and spend more time with the characters. Every element of The Ladies of the Secret Circus worked really well together to present an incredible cohesive story spanning time and space. I loved the magic of it and the incredible relationships between the women of the Cabot family. Absolutely a magical read!

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to Angela Man and Redhook for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

    1. Always happy to share someone’s hard work (and thank you so much for doing it)! I’ve added it to my blog’s side bar so I don’t flood your notifications by putting it in every book-related post.


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