Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: The Circus of Ghosts by Barbara Ewing

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sphere, 2011

"Bring her to me, she is mine."

London, late 1840's.......memories fester in the mind of an old and vicious duke of the realm who plots with an unscrupulous lawyer against the mother and daughter: to kill one and abduct the other.

Cordelia and Gwenlliam Preston have fled from his evil intentions to the exciting young city of New York where they have found sanctuary and employment in Silas P. Swift's circus. Here they hide their own painful memories and excite audiences in the Big Top: Cordelia as a mesmerist who can heal people and Gwenlliam as an acrobat and tightrope walker. But very soon their security will be threatened and their lives will become entangled with New York gangs and the Police Department.

New York - " expanding, bustling, prosperous, wild, thrilling, new-world New York".

From elegant mansions on gas lit streets to the seething and sinister underbelly of the Bowery where vicious gangs rule: Barbara Ewing excels at capturing the essence of great cities, and in this book writes in a bold and exuberant style with larger than life characters to match including Cordelia and Gwenlliam's ' family' - a London detective who is Cordelia's husband,the elderly Frenchman who is her mesmerism teacher and mentor, her best friend and two elderly ladies. Real life people are also woven into the story - the Fox sisters, a 19th century phenomenon who began the cult of table-tapping and claimed to talk to the dead. Gallus Mag, a well-known figure in the underworld of New York gangs and the colourful Mrs Ray from the Royal Theatre in New Zealand.

The central narrative moves from New York to the Californian goldfields and the back to New York as mother and daughter attempt to elude their pursuer in a story that is full of adventure, romance and excitement but the historical background provides equally as much interest. In the mid 1800's the world was going through great changes as the old made way for the new and New York is the perfect choice to reflect these changes. A city where new ideas and new inventions were welcomed - the telegraph, anaesthestics, daguerreotypes are a few of the subjects mentioned which make fascinating reading.

There's never a dull moment in The Circus of Ghosts. It's a wonderfully entertaining and interesting book that  I recommend to all readers. 


  1. I have to read this book! I think next pay day will see me paying a little visit to Amazon :)

  2. Coincidentally I was just listening to a podcast about the Fox sisters just as I read your review!

  3. Going on my to read and wishlist. Thanks for posting this. I have never heard of it till now.

  4. Sounds like a good one. I hadn't heard of it before.

  5. I enjoyed it enough to include as a choice for the Literary Giveaway Hop so be sure to come back and enter my giveaway - you might be lucky and win a copy! :-)