A dark and twisty story that encapsulates the best that urban fantasy has to offer, Menagerie by Rachel Vincent is supremely satisfying. In the back of my mind, I heard dark, discordant calliope music while reading (creepy and foreboding). A crazy alternate reality of paranoid humans seeking to cage the monsters that exist alongside them, Menagerie sets the stage for many adventures to come.
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.
Wowza! Imagine believing that you are human your whole life, until one moment around your 25th birthday when the shit hits the fan, and you realize that you’re not human AND you’re now considered property. A thing. A monster. This is exactly what happens to Delilah. Facing such change in circumstance, Delilah doesn’t allow herself to fold under pressure. She’s strong of heart, determined in spirit, and gentle in soul. Rather than succumbing to a new way of life, Delilah needs help to get out of her bind. She finds that help in all manner of unlikely places.
Delilah is the show-stopper. She’s the main character and driving force of most climactic events. That said, there are so many enchanting cryptids (specifically defined non-humans) introduced that I want to know more about. I’d love to gush over some of my favorite cryptids (Genni, Rommily) and humans, alike, but I don’t want to give away some of the surprise reveals that are integral to the plot.
The rich world building and incredible supporting characters propelled Menagerie into a category all its own. One of my favorite books of the year, Menagerie plays on themes of paranoia, superiority, governmental panic and interment. With equal measures of hope and desperation, the story both pulls at your heartstrings and incites outrage. I could hear the calliope and carnival barkers, smell the greasy food and the stink of hot mistreated animals. Sights and sounds came alive through the writing and drew me deep into the story. Slowly and steadily, characters reveal more of their personal histories and non-human abilities.
I truly enjoyed Menagerie. Rachel Vincent hits it out of the ballpark with this new series. Her writing is generally fantastic (I’m a huge fan of her backlist), but Menagerie felt darker and more mysterious. If you’re in the market for an urban fantasy adventure with strong characters and an interesting alternate history, pick up Menagerie. You won’t regret it!