A macabre tale of a magician and the circus of damned souls that takes him in to help him escape the clutches of a greedy crime lord who saw his con job in the crime lord’s territory and all the money he pocketed as a result. Gilbert, the magician, soon learns that the deal he made in haste and disbelief was real and he’s stuck with the circus for the rest of his life, but now the circus is in danger because Count Reuben continues to look for him and sends his men far and wide. And if that weren’t enough, another member of of the circus dies and the deal with the devil dictates that the soul must be replaced with in a day or all lives are forfeit and they go to hell as damned souls. Gilbert understands and slowly starts to adjust to his new circumstances, he will do what it takes to keep the circus out of Reuben’s grasping hands and protect the man he wants for his own.
It’s a blend of paranormal and steampunk with romance tossed in there too that is told against a gritty, atmospheric backdrop. This story really worked because of the main character. Gilbert Blake is different, a freak if you will who was cast out of his home as a child and left to die because he is different. In the beginning, he denies that he is like the other freaks inhabiting Jesse’s tattered little circus. He has street smarts and cunning. He knows how to blend in and look ‘normal’- be accepted as normal or so he tells himself. This is Gilbert’s story of finding himself and finding a home where he least expects to find it all under the guidance of a mysterious devil who now owns his very soul.
I have never read this author’s works before, but she has the amazing ability to create mood and her characters are unforgettable. Gilbert is the lead and he is the narrator, but the others are nearly as engaging. Each member of the circus and learning their abilities along with encountering Gilbert’s city friends wasn’t just background stuff. They each really shone in their own right with their own little stories. The big scene where the circus performed for the public was a favorite. It was like being there and I loved seeing the people do their acts.
I wasn’t sure what direction this story would take and made some assumptions that I had to quickly adjust. I wasn’t left disappointed by the change at all because I was so caught up in the story. The biggest thing I had to realize was that this is not a traditional romance with certain formulaic romance milestones, but more of a story with romantic elements. Not to say the passion and love weren’t there, they were. It is attraction to Jesse that helps Gilbert settle in to his new life and try it and then later Gilbert’s biggest selfless actions are all motivated by love. Gilbert’s love for Jesse has a rather large barrier in place. He learns quickly that Jesse cannot be his when he learns the story of the little family of circus folk including that of the handsome, melancholy ringmaster. Jesse’s soul belongs to Farfarello, the enigmatic devil, and there is a history between him and Jesse that leaves Gilbert out. All is not as it seems when it comes to this devil. It wasn’t all doomed and unrequited love for Gilbert. Gilbert and Jesse manage to get up to some pretty heated passion. Jesse learns the benefits of sexy times with a magician.
Farfarello was introduced in the novella that began this series and more of his character is teased out in this one, but not enough. Scenes sparkled and snapped with extra electricity when he was present. I look forward to more appearances by him in the ongoing series.
Also, I just wanted to point out the wonderful cover that conveys the feel and backdrop of this book so nicely.
So, in the end, I was as amazed as a child at a real circus and I definitely want more. I would recommend this one for those who enjoy m/m romance that leans toward the macabre and strange in this blend of steampunk and paranormal.
My thanks to Riptide Publishing for the opportunity to read this story in exchange for my honest review.
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