When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.
But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.
Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale.
Freaks of A Different Breed
I was, for the most part, obstinately set against reading this book when it first came out. Circus freaks never did hold any appeal. But if anyone has told me these freaks aren’t your run-of-the-mill freaks, then things would’ve turned out differently. I’ve been trying to come up with the proper word to describe the kind of circus Rachel Vincent came up with here but I’m failing miserably. There’s no bearded lady or a two-headed, conjoined twins. What you’ve got is every single monster that ever walked the pages of an Urban Fantasy novel. Don’t let Rachel Vincent hear that, though because she’d vehemently deny it. Let’s do a quick run down: minotaur, empaths, sirens, fae, werewolves, trolls, shape-shifters, and a being whose killing abilities are powered by revenge. I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed but you get the picture.
Delilah Marlow did not expect to find herself inside a cage after she witnessed a werewolf pup being tortured for the crowd’s benefit. Her rage was so complete that all she could think about was inflicting the same pain to the pup’s torturer. To everyone’s shock, her appearance quickly changed into a monstrous being with claws; black veins, and hair with a life of its own. When she woke up from her trance, the handler was reduced to a bloody, mindless mess. Unable to explain what she was (other than she’s not human) to the police, she was sold to the Menagerie.
Supernatural Beings Are Not Welcomed Here
In this world inhabited by humans and supernatural beings alike, the former are superior of the two. They suppressed the Cryptids’ freedom and treated them like the subspecies that they think they are. Reading about their oppression was difficult to take at times. Kids were separated from their parents; they were hunted, drugged on a daily basis, then caged like animals. They went through unthinkable abuse and all because of an incident that happened in the 80s. It’s called The Reaping. When human children were swapped with cryptids. Ever since then, they’ve been stripped of any rights.
So you can just imagine Delilah’s life after they determined that she’s not human after all. In Menagerie, she’ll have a first-hand account to the extent of maltreatment her kind goes through in the hands of the handlers: malnutrition, sexual and physical abuse in the general sense. But the mental and emotional toll on the cryptids scar deeper above all the other abuse. Imagine a father feeling helpless for his teen daughter. She’s made to dress skimpily day in and day out. And if she doesn’t perform, she’s tortured with a cattle prod. He sees it happen every day but he can’t help her because, he, himself is caged. He hears every whimper and sees every burn marks on her body. But there’s very little he could do but to encourage her not to give up hope – and this from a distance. Theirs is just one example of the struggle I went through while reading this book.
But all hope is not lost. You can say that the appearance of Delilah was determined by fate. She is the one that will help this caravan of freaks to gain their freedom – at least, you would hope. But of course, freedom has a price. And Delilah must first gain their trust. With Gallagher’s help, she hopes to offer them a chance at a life free from oppression.
Menagerie was so different from anything I’ve ever read before. It is as lovely as it is grotesque; tender as it is painful. This book tested my angst threshold and at times, I pushed myself to the limit. But oh, it’s a beautiful discovery and I loved every minute of it – even the painful ones. Delilah is a character who fought tooth and nails not to lose herself despite the cost. For the most part, I admired her. But man, there were times when I wanted her to submit just so she can save herself from the torture.