Blog Tours book reviews Emma's Anticipated Treasures

Blog Tour: Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

Published: May 13th, 2021
Publisher: Picador
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction

Happy Publication Elizabeth Macneal! I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of this dazzling novel today.


The spellbinding novel from the author of the Sunday Times bestselling The Doll Factory.
‘An absolute triumph. Exquisitely written, intensely satisfying’ – Stacey Halls, author of The Familiars

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.



“It is as if someone has taken a paintbrush and run it from her cheekbone to her chin, splashed tiny flecks of brown paint across the rest of her face and neck. He should look away, but he can’t. He cannot believe that this quiet village could contain someone so extraordinary.“

Elizabeth Macneal has done it again. Circus of Wonders is an absolute masterpiece. Captivating, illuminating and transportive, Macneal had me in the palm of her hands from beginning to end as I absorbed this marvelous dazzling tale. 

When you fall in love with an author and their debut novel there is always some trepidation that accompanies the excitement of reading their second novel. But Macneal has once again crafted something special. Exquisitely written and richly drawn, she paints an evocative picture that spirits you away to a world that has drifted away into history. With great attention to detail she immerses you in the sights and sounds of Victorian life, making you feel like you are right there beside Nell and the others.

“How can she do that, Nell wonders; how can she beat to make a feature of her own difference, to stare the world in the eye?” 

This is a book filled with a cast of fabulous and varied characters that are all outcasts, battling inner demons and searching for acceptance. Written with sensitivity and realism, the author draws them so vividly that they dance before your eyes as if you’re watching them on a movie screen. I adored Nell. She is a fantastic protagonist and I loved how the author really builds her character before the circus becomes a big part of the story. Allowing us to get to know her and her backstory straight away builds a rapport between her and the reader, creates  empathy for the heartbreak, pain and longing she feels, and helps us to understand her feelings and actions later in the story. Toby is another great character. The relationship between him and his brother Japer – the villain of the story – is mysterious and complex. But through glimpses of their childhood and their time on the battlefield during the Crimean War, we slowly have a greater understanding of their relationship and of them as individuals. 

“There’s more than one way to tell a story.”

The author weaves a number of recurring themes throughout the story: love, belonging, self-acceptance, redemption, the power of storytelling and of who controls the narrative, that are explored in a variety of ways. For example, Nell starts out as a pariah who tries to live a life in the shadows unseen. But through the acceptance and friendship of the other wonders at the circus, and the fame she finds as Nellie Moon, she not only begins to accept herself, but she soars. She is a butterfly emerging from her chrysalis, illuminated and spectacular, and discovers there is a power in being different. She also finds that it opens the door to something else she never thought possible: love. 

Spellbinding, intoxicating, atmospheric and consuming, this is a story about what it is to be human. I was lost in the world she created and didn’t want to go back to reality when it was finished. It is something truly special. 

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮



Elizabeth Macneal was born in Scotland and now lives in East London. She is a writer and potter and works from a small studio at the bottom of her garden. The Doll Factory, Elizabeth’s debut novel, was a Sunday Times bestseller, has been translated into twenty-nine languages and has been optioned for a major television series. It won the Caledonia Novel Award 2018. Circus of Wonders is her second novel.

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Thank you to Hope at Pan Macmillan for the invitation to take part and the gifted ARC of the book.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

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