Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

Title: Menagerie
Series: Menagerie #1
Written by: Rachel Vincent
Published: September 29, 2015 by Harlequin
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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 received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ****

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me talking about how I was thinking about picking up a book I had DNF'd a few months back. That book is Menagerie. I have this policy on categorizing a book as DNF. I put it down for a few days then if I want to pick it back up I do, otherwise DNF. With Menagerie I did that but then down the line I started to regret that decision. I wanted to read it again. So I picked it back up and I'm glad I did because I ended up enjoying the second half.

Part of what made me put it down was the pacing. It is really slow in the beginning. It is the start of a new adult fantasy series so I understand that the first part of the book needs to be exposition. But it wasn't the first 100 pages here, it was the first 250. And that is honestly too much set up for. As a plot-driven reader, the lack of a story kept me from fully engaging in the book and slowed the pacing down even further for me. I felt like I was really dragging to get to the next page. But then in the second half things really picked up. I'm not entirely sure when the shift happened but as Delilah finally became involved with the Menagerie as an act, that's when the plot started to pick up. As we learned more about who she was and less about the larger world that's when things got interesting and I couldn't put it down. At that point there were twists, mystery, and plot development that made the book engaging.

Part of what made me regret putting it down however was that world the author created. What Vincent does here is what I always love with my epic fantasy and put it in more of an Urban Fantasy/Low Fantasy setting. She takes political intrigue and poor treatment of "magical" people and incorporates mythology and mythical creatures. There were so many fantastic and deep things about society and humanity that she addressed in this book. There's a backstory here too. An event in history that led to fear and persecution of cryptids or mythical creatures which are now circus acts who are treated very poorly. And while you don't agree with that treatment you can see how people would have responded in that way. Then there is the actual cryptids. Throughout the book we meet all kinds of different and interesting creatures that had influences from mythology and fantasy. It made for a really interesting world within the book.

It also made for really interesting characters. Our main character Delilah is the kind of strong female protagonist that I can get behind. She's not particularly strong physically, but she is strong mentally and emotionally. In fact she takes it further and is often stubborn and obstinate throughout the book. She doesn't beat around the bush and speaks her mind which often gets her into a lot of trouble. But she also has a really strong sense of justice and fairness. Despite that fact that you don't want her to continue to put herself in these bad situations you are also glad to see her as an advocate for herself and others. And of course there are the secondary characters who work and are imprisoned at the menagerie which are really interesting. The book includes different perspectives throughout so you can get in the head of some of the other characters and meet them on different levels. Some of my favorites were the Minotaur who doesn't speak but understands a lot more than people realize, a werewolf family just trying to stay together, two dolphin shifters who have a very cool and dangerous power, and the very sweet makeup artists. There is also a lot of characters that you love to hate. So many of the handlers were vile human beings. All the characters really added to the dark and mysterious nature of the book.

So be warned, this is a tough book to read. It's extremely dark and if you have triggers for torture and violence then I would maybe avoid it. There's a lot of really uncomfortable scenes that are brutal to read and definitely had me cringing. However that brutality made for a dark an atmospheric read which I kind of liked. Because it was more atmospheric and slower paced, I ended up listening to the audio for the second half and that was a great choice. It worked so well in that format. The narrator did a great job of making the book dark and dramatic. Her narration made the slower moments seem more purposeful and honestly the fact that I did listen to the second half is probably one of the main reasons why I ended up finishing it. So if you are looking to read this book I would suggest it in that format.

I'm glad I took the time to finish this book. And I am now more invested in the story. I may actually pick up the sequel now and continue on with the series.

I give Menagerie by Rachel Vincent 7.5 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. If you are looking for a dark fantasy series with crazy mythical creatures and a dark violent world with themes of oppression then probably this book is for you. Like I said before if this sounds interesting to you and like audiobooks I recommend that format.

Have you read Menagerie? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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