Book Review: Church of Marvels

Church of Marvels
By: Leslie Parry
Published By: Ecco
Publication Date: May 5th, 2015
Page Count: 320
Source: ARC Kindly Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult Fiction
 Buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

A dark and thoroughly engrossing novel, filled with richly drawn scenes and characters out of the underbelly of NYC, this is a great addition to the growing list of circus/sideshow centric books that have come out in the past few year. Following the four main characters through this novel was a fantastic way to spend a few hours!
There's not a ton I can share with you about Church of Marvels that won't give away some of the more OMG-inducing moments as you read this fantastic debut novel. You have a set of twin circus performers, a privy cleaner who finds an abandoned baby in an outhouse. There is a carnival (the Church of Marvels). There is death, and there is fire. There is trouble followed by journeys fraught with peril. You have families, circus freaks, gritty, sexually-moral and amoral people around every turn. Some of the bits are unsettling, but they're all written with a delicate and not overly graphic hand.

Another aspect of the story that shines is the history and sense of place. This is another great example of well-done historical fiction, and reminded me of Alice Hoffman's The Museum of Extraordinary Things (one of my all-time favorites) in places. Parry has done extensive research and brings Manhattan and the city to life.

Summary via Goodreads

A ravishing first novel, set in vibrant, tumultuous turn-of-the-century New York City, where the lives of four outsiders become entwined, bringing irrevocable change to them all

New York, 1895. Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler cleaning out the privies behind the tenement houses, finds an abandoned newborn baby in the muck. An orphan himself, Sylvan rescues the child, determined to find where she belongs.

Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. Now Belle, the family’s star, has vanished into the bowels of Manhattan, leaving Odile alone and desperate to find her.

A young woman named Alphie awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum—sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile, overbearing mother. On the ward she meets another young woman of ethereal beauty who does not speak, a girl with an extraordinary talent that might save them both.

As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger. In magnetic, luminous prose, Leslie Parry offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past in a narrative of astonishing beauty, full of wondrous enchantments-a marvelous debut that will leave readers breathless.