Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: Menagerie by Rachel Vincent


(Menagerie #1)
Rachel Vincent
Release: September 29. 2015
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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.
Menagerie takes place in an alternate, but largely recognizable, world where creatures from myth and legend roamed freely all over the Earth. The ones that could pass for human, like sirens or shifters, had jobs and families just like everyone else. But in 1986, an attack known as The Reaping killed millions of humans. After months of investigation, human-looking creatures called surrogates were blamed. In the aftermath, cryptids, creatures that are not fully human or fully animal, were stripped of their rights and rounded up in camps or prisons and eventually sold like livestock. News clips reveal details about The Reaping throughout the book, but by the end we still don't know the full story. I'm really curious to see if Vincent ever reveals the mastermind and how it all ties in.

In the present day, Delilah has mixed feelings about visiting the menagerie. She's studied cryptids and wants to see them up close, but she hates seeing them in cages. The mistreatment of one of those cryptids is what brings out Delilah's "beast" and exposes her as something other than human. Joining them in the menagerie lets her experience both the monsters' humanity and the humans' monstrosities firsthand. I enjoyed seeing creatures that I read about all the time like werewolves living alongside mythological beasts like a minotaur. The story includes many of their points of view, though it's primarily told by Delilah.

There is magic in the world as well, like compulsion and glamour, but science is really the focus. It's biology that determines whether something is human or cryptid. At least until Delilah comes along and confuses everything. There are no creatures that were formerly human, like vampires or zombies - I wonder what the legislation would make of them. So despite all the magical creatures, this doesn't really feel like a paranormal story. It's more like a twisted prison story, like dystopian OITNB.

I keep wanting to look for a message in the menagerie about racism or human rights. You could certainly draw comparisons between the cryptids in this world and Japanese Americans during World War II. But in the end, I don't think it's that political, or even that specific. It's a story about Justice and Honor and the fact that humans are the biggest monsters of all.

Menagerie was not exactly what I expected but I could not put it down. It's dark and violent, but fascinating and ultimately, hopeful. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series and the opportunity get to know more of these characters.

Recommended for fans of: Anne Bishop's The Others series

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley


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