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Bane of Kings writes a review of Laura Lam’s fantastic young adult debut, Pantomime, published by Strange Chemistry Books, an imprint of Angry Robot.
“Wow. Laura Lam’s debut is unpredictable, engaging and a delight to read, YA fans will love this one.” ~The Founding Fields
I’ve been meaning to check out Strange Chemistry titles ever since the imprint of Angry Robot books was announced, and so when Pantomime became available on NetGalley, I instantly leapt at the opportunity to read it. And when I started reading, I couldn’t help but enjoy it, for the novel does everything that a Young Adult book should do, and is a whole lot smarter than some that I’ve read with plenty of unpredictable twists and turns.
R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
This book has been receiving a lot of praise recently from established authors such as Anne Lyle, Elspeth Cooper and Lou Morgan, and the first reviews have already started to hit the blogsphere for this title. And whilst this novel may not be something that I’d normally read, it certainly took me by surprise and was a lot more than I expected it to be. This stood as a challenger for my “Most Surprising Novel of 2012” award until I discovered that it wasn’t actually released until February 2013, as I was totally blown away by it. If the second book’s as good as the first, Laura Lam could be an author that leaps to the top list of my favourite YA authors, alongside the ranks of Derek Landy (Skullduggery Pleasant), Phillip Pullman (His Dark Materials) and Darren Shan (The Darren Shan Saga).
So why was it so good then? Well, to put it simply, Laura Lam got everything spot on. The novel runs along at a breakneck pace, and the author manages to create a startlingly believable world with a great use of world building. The more you read this novel, the more things you discover – and that was certainly how I felt whilst reading Pantomime. The main characters are Micah and Gene as highlighted above, and they both are explored in great detail (I won’t spoil anything for you here, but the revelation concerning these two characters even took me by surprise – I had to flick back a couple of pages and re-read wondering “Did that really happen?”), and it’s really nice to see how these characters change over the course of the book.
The only really bad thing about this novel was that there wasn’t enough of it, and I just wanted more when I finished, with the ending powerful enough to provide even more twists and add to the great experience that a reader will get from this title. As this is a YA novel, I didn’t expect it to be as dark in tone in some places as it was, which was a welcome relief from some lighter YA books that I read occasionally.
In short, this book is superb. It comes out February 2013, and you should certainly add Laura Lam to your to-read list, and every Strange Chemistry novel that I read from now on will have a high bar to match, as well every YA book that I read from now on. This was brilliant, and I loved every second of it.