Now mystical and/or spooky circus is one of my favorite vibes, but it is the language of this book that sets it apart for me, ranging from an East End London lilt to wonderfully baroque proclamations a la P. T. Barnum at his most fulsome.
The plot is based on a feminist twist of the Leda and the swan myth. Fevvers, renowned aerialiste, is recounting her origin story in turn of the century London to a young American journalist. At six two and possessing two tremendous red and purple pinions, pinions large enough, powerful enough to bear up such a big girl as she, she is the marvel of the European capitals. And she and her boon companion and surrogate mother, wizened little Lizzie, are making the most of it. Having witnessed her performance at the Alhambra. in which she had pottered along the invisible gangway between her trapezes with the portly dignity of a Trafalgar Square pigeon flapping from one proffered handful of corn to another, the journalist, Jack, is ready to transcribe her life story, and follow it and her.
And with the most rag-tag troupe of misfits, securing Fevvers as their primary meal ticket, they make their way to St. Petersburg, and eventually Siberia, as one does. The adventures of this lot are wonderfully improbable, but time with Fevvers and Lizzie is never time misspent. And the elephants don’t make it, alas, but the musically inclined tigers do, so there’s that.