Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Released: 5th February 2013
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I had my eyes on Pantomime for quite a while before I got the chance to read it. Just by looking at it and reading the synopsis, it's easy to see that this is not something you come across very often - a story against the backdrop of a circus. A world that seems almost beyond time itself, where you will find references to the Alder and the Vestige and Penglass, and a more specific setting in the city of Ellada. While Pantomime was by no means perfect, it was enjoyable nonetheless.
It is difficult to say anything about what the book is about without spoiling anything. Even while I was reading the book I was wondering how I could possibly write this review without giving anything away. The description provided is misleading, but in the best possible way. I don't really see how the author could have worked around it, either. Meeting Gene and Micah was a wonderful experience; reading from both perspectives showed them to be likeable characters. I enjoyed seeing Gene rebel against society's expectations of her, doing more of what were considered to be boyish activities. Her home life was not at all easy and I was very sympathetic towards her. Micah's love of the circus and determination to work hard to become something more than just an outsider in the eyes of those working in the circus was also appreciable.
Of course the thing that sets Pantomime apart is the world in which the story takes place. Laura Lam's mind is clearly an incredible place to be. It kind of makes me wish it was real, so I could physically experience it for myself. But let's move on from my weirdness. The setting is very complex. It's magical, it's mysterious, there's this idea that perhaps it's set at some point in the future. At the same time there's this sort of Victorianism to the way society is set out and how it works, the idea of markets and trade and merchants. It's very hard to pinpoint when this might actually be taking place. And while this world is amazing, and while I did truly love seeing the circus, in some ways it was all almost too much. I wanted to know more about the Alders. Who were they? I wanted to know more about the Vestige, artefacts from the time the Alders were living. With the Penglass, I found it difficult to imagine. Maybe it was just me, but that was something else that made it difficult for me to completely connect with the book.
One thing that did surprise me was how early on the plot twist came. After a moment of confusion I suddenly realised what I'd just read and then checked back to a couple of reviews to see if that was actually the twist. The twist itself is ingenious. It's something that hasn't been broached before and it introduces key themes. The way that Lam dealt with it was expert. It did mean that not a great deal happened for a long time, but this wasn't a particularly massive issue. The ending was a lot better in terms of pacing, and I quite liked the turn the story took, presenting a wonderful opening for the sequel. The presence of romance also ties into a couple of the issues that the plot twist brings in, and it's certainly something that gets you thinking.
Trying to write this review was somewhat tricky, and I'm aware it's not exactly one of my finest. But despite the issues that the book presents, it's still worth reading, at the very least for the originality it brings. There are a diverse range of characters to meet, and quite a bit of mystery, so in some ways you do get a lot. I definitely will be reading the sequel.