Published: September 29th, 2015 by MIRA
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a richly imagined, provocative new series set in the dark mythology of the Menagerie…
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.
I made the mistake of waiting a very very long time to actually write this review, which is a mistake I haven't made too often, but I'm just gonna tell you to never follow in my footsteps because it makes life very hard. BUT. But. The thing about Menagerie is that it definitely stays with you for awhile. There's so much of it that still sticks out in my mind.
I think a lot of people have put this warning in their reviews, but I'm still going to say it: Menagerie is not YA. I knew that going in, but I've still seen a lot of misconception about it. Menagerie is also not a romance, nor is it really for the faint of heart. It's not gory, but the topics it deals with are hard.
Rachel Vincent does a beautiful job with something that makes you feel really really...gross. A beautiful, incredible job. Delilah has lived a relatively normal, human life. But then she visits Metzger's Menagerie for the first time since she was a little girl, where sirens and oracles and werewolves are put on display for people willing to pay the price of admission. And there, she sees how the crew really get their subjects to perform - with force. With volts of electricity. And it's there that, in front of spectators and her friends that she transforms into something. Something not human. Something that isn't legal in her world. And so she's thrown in jail, poked and prodded as her rights and her dignity are stripped away, and then she's sold to that very same Menagerie.
She lives in a cage. They all do. They're seen as subhuman, and if they don't comply, what's the harm in some electric shocks? Many are forced to breed and then must watch as their children are sold off. For a lot of them, it's all they've ever really known. But Delilah has always had a roof over her head, real food, hot water. A life. And now she doesn't. Her struggle with that feels so, so authentic even while it churns your stomach. Her defiance rarely wavers.
I did feel like it was going a little slow at times, like the plot wasn't progressing. Logically, I knew it was - they were working towards finding out what Delilah really is, introducing us to the Menagerie. But I did find my mind wandering a few times, waiting for something explosive to happen. I think that was just personal preference for me; I think Menagerie is really about showcasing the horror that we all know humanity is capable of. I may have wanted more from it at times, but I know that the way it was written and the events really just stayed true to the story.
The only other complaint I have is that what Delilah actually ends up being and the reveal/reason for it felt a little anticlimactic. Or maybe out of place? I'm not sure how to describe it. It just didn't fit for me personally.
My first Rachel Vincent book was, of course, My Soul to Take. I did eventually move onto one of her adult series, but I can tell you that the writing and the story here far surpassed any of that. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy her previous books, because I did. It's definitely part of why I wanted to read this one. But I'm older now and have a different sort of writing taste, and I think Menagerie really showcases how a writer can grow, even in just a few years.
tl;dr: Vincent really showcases a new and gripping kind of story here with fantastic writing. This is a story that brings you to uncomfortable and dark places, but she does it oh so well. 4 stars.