Title: The Circus Of The Damned
Series/Universe: A Deal With A Devil, #2
Author: Cornelia Grey
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Publication date: November 3rd 2014
Page Count: 322 pages
Age Rating: Adult (explicit sexual scenes, language, violence)
How I got my hot little hands on it: Received an ARC to review
Publisher’s page: The Circus Of The Damned
Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival.
But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.
Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due.
The Circus Of The Damned is set in a shadowy Victorian-esque world sprinkled with a few steampunk elements (I pictured it with kind of a Tim Burton goes to the circus kind of vibe) and populated with a cast of unique circus performers with unusual abilities, highly organized street thugs, and one frustratingly debonair devil.
Gilbert Blake is a magician – a real one. Abandoned at a young age, Gilbert grew up on the streets and learned to use his amazing ability to swindle people out of money, a practice that leads to him running down dirty alleys with a mob out for his blood. Luckily, he finds shelter with a traveling circus. Unluckily, he doesn’t realize that once you join the Circus of the Damned, you’re kind of, well, damned. Due to a deal made with a handsome devil, the circus offers outsiders like Gilbert, those labeled as “freaks” for being born different, a safe haven, but the price is pretty hefty – your soul.
Although the book is wonderfully descriptive and the imagery is vivid, whimsical, and fantastic, for me the best part of The Circus Of The Damned was the characters – especially those within the circus. They were different, some a little weird and creepy (I’m looking at you Todd the living ventriloquism dummy), but they were a family and it was sweet the way the interacted with each other. Gilbert, who never really belonged anywhere and whose only friend is a mouse, gets quickly assimilated into that makeshift family and he learns to love it there. The fact that the fiery red-haired ringmaster, Jesse, was smoking hot didn’t hurt either (pun totally intended, Jesse can conjure fire and do astonishing things with it).
And this is where my enjoyment of the book began to wane.
Gilbert is totally into Jesse. Like head-over-heals, everything-he-does-is-magic enchanted by him. And Jesse seems… fond of Gilbert. He obviously likes his company and enjoys his body and the encounters the two share, but it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t share Gilbert’s level of affection. Jesse is one half of a star-crossed lovers pairing – and Gilbert is not the other half. Jesse can’t be with the man he loves (or loved? It’s not really clear, although what is clear is that both still have intense feelings for each other) and Gilbert is more like a consolation prize. That didn’t feel fair to Gilbert and this put me off in the end and stopped me from enjoying the book as much as I would have otherwise. But that’s just personal taste – I’m a romantic purist that way. However, I do think it showed great character development that Gilbert starts out as a solitary, I-don’t-need-anybody, magic-wielding rogue but ends up with a place to call home in the Circus of the Damned and selflessly gives his heart to Jesse, without any demand of reciprocation.
Personal romantic tastes aside, I would still recommend this book, especially if you enjoy gothic circuses, steampunk, shadowy Victorian settings, or anything by Tim Burton.
p.s. – If you get a chance, stop by the pinterest page the author made for The Circus Of The Damned. It’s got great inspiration pics of how the author pictures the characters (Gilbert is hot) and gives a good feel for the overall tone of the book.
Since over the course of The Circus Of The Damned, Gilbert comments at least seven different times that Jesse, the fire-conjuring ringmaster of the circus, smells of smoke, I figured Bean Devil Coffee Oblivion would be a perfect companion to the book – it’s a deep, dark roast with a great bold smoky flavor.