Opening in 1940 as the war is approaching Paris, 20-year-old Michel Bonnet is convinced by his close friend Bertrand that it would be best for him to leave the city. It’s not as easy as it seems though, but eventually he manages to stowaway on a train. It’s not just any train though. It happens to belong to Le Cirque Neumann – a circus owned by prickly, cantankerous Werner Neumann. After a rocky start, he’s permitted to remain with the shoddy little circus troupe, taking care of the horses, on one condition: he is not to mix with the performers at all! He’s not to speak to them or go anywhere near them. He agrees, after all, he hasn’t any other options available!
It’s not as easy as it seems though as he’s drawn to the beautiful, enigmatic Frieda, and is toyed with by the coquettish Odelie. But Michel does his best to do as he’s told, keeping to himself and his horses and staying in the shadows. He’s not quite sure he understands the dynamics of this group that he’s traveling with. It’s wartime and everyone is skittish, from this makeshift circus family, to the village folk who are willing to offer them fields to stay in for a night or two here and there.
But more and more, Michel realises that there are secrets hiding in those shadows that he flits between, and that he’s not the only one who’s keeping to the shadows. He’s not sure he understands why though and he knows that no information will be forthcoming from his traveling companions. Who are these people who have given him a shelter of sorts? Would he have been safer to try and go it alone? Will he discover the answers if he remains with Neumann’s circus? More importantly, will he be safe?
This book is a very different sort of war story to the ones that are so often told. The perspective and perception is from a completely different angle to what readers might be used to. It’s clever in that it’s not as glaringly obvious as most war books tend to be. It’s much more obscure and I think that many might struggle with this. I enjoyed that there always seemed to be something hidden … just out of our reach … just behind a veil if we only chose to lift it at the right moment. There’s an ‘other worldliness’ about the way the story is told that captured my imagination and held my attention.
So, while this might not be what many readers are expecting, it’s a beautiful 4-star read about people who are caught in a time and space that they have very little control over, but trying to make the most of; trying to create a little bit of magic for themselves and others.
Thank you to Bookouture for inviting me to tour with them once again. It’s always a pleasure! Take a look at what other bloggers are saying about The Ringmaster’s Daughter …
Carly Schabowski worked as a journalist in both North Cyprus and Australia before returning to Oxford, where she studied for an MA and then a PhD in creative writing at Oxford Brookes University. Carly now teaches at Oxford Brookes University as an associate lecturer in Creative Writing for first and second-year English literature students.