“The Immortal Circus: Act One” is not your typical story of a young woman who runs away to join the circus. The Cirque des Immortels is run by none other than Mab, as in, Queen Mab of the Winter Court, the same Mab that Shakespeare wrote about as his faerie queen of legend. So what would a circus run by such a legendary creature look like? Pretty incredible actually, as those that flock to her, and perform in her circus, are every manner of fey and paranormal creature, and they all make an appearance on Mab’s stage. So where does Vivienne, our main character, fit into all this? If only Vivienne could remember, then we’d know why Mab of all people, allowed her to join the circus in the first place… I love Shakespeare, I love this world of the faeries (I starred in a Midsummer Night’s Dream once upon a time myself), and I really enjoyed those aspects of the book when they took center stage (see what I did there?), but I was not overly a fan of our leading lady and her persistent amnesia throughout the book.
Kahler is fabulous at capturing the essence of an old school circus tent-esque vibe, which shouldn’t be a surprise given his background, so the parts of his book that really shined were steeped in the allure such a magical place would hold to someone who doesn’t have the talent to learn how to be a competent magician, let alone competing with a sexy magician with, you know, real magic. Kahler is best when he introduces us to his cast of supporting magical beings, those were my favorite instances of the book. But Vivienne can’t remember why she joined the circus to begin with, or what her mysterious contract entails, so when people are murdered in impossible ways, she has no clue how or why that could happen. But it doesn’t matter! Because she’d rather moon over said sexy magician anyway so who cares that immortal creatures are dying?
Most of the book is Vivienne struggling to remember pretty much anything and everything, which is fine to a point, but past that point, I just felt like I was being toyed with. My patience for getting some of the answers was starting to wane once the allure of the otherworldly creatures began to fade. Because honestly, since Vivienne knows nothing, guess who else knows nothing? Yup, the reader.
It makes this review challenging, because I loved the whimsy, I loved the creepy dark faeries, and I loved the way Kahler presents some of these fey creatures, and Mab, Melody, Penelope, and Kingston (at times) are fun to get to know, but because Vivienne barely knows who she is, or why she’s with the troupe, she felt like such a weak leading lady for such an other worldly band of misfits. I know that’s supposed to be the point, figuring out who she is and why she’s there, and why she is, or isn’t, special. But you never really get to know any of that. Which isn’t a spoiler, for how can it be? We are left with only a hint come the end of the book as to how Vivienne fits in with everyone else. Come the end of the book, Kahler is sprinting to tie off a few loose ends so you believe he has a plan for the series, but it felt overly cheap, and didn’t leave me with a great feeling for the book as a whole, which is too bad, because the concept is so captivating otherwise.
I’m generally fine with cliffhangers, I like diving into series and hanging out with characters I enjoy for the long haul, but that’s the problem with Vivienne, I don’t know how much I want to hang out with her when all her experiences are just in long descriptions of light and fire whenever anything remotely magical happens to her. I wanted to know WHAT she was, like all the others in the circus, and the reason provided for why we CAN’T know what she is, felt cheap and left me annoyed that the author was going to force me to read the next book to figure her out.
Don’t get me wrong, I will read the next book, I enjoyed the reimagining’s of these faerie creatures enough for that, but I don’t appreciate feeling forced to read it, and if my one burning question is answered in book two, I’ll probably bid the “Immortal Circus” series farewell at that point unless things change. If you like more adult retellings of these faerie creatures (the language kind of makes it inappropriate for anyone under 13, pesky f-bombs), then I think this is a creative read, and you should give it a chance just for sheer uniqueness, but I can only give this book 3 stars, and we’ll see how book two fairs (I’m done with circus puns now, I promise)!