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 Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
An intersex teen, Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, raised as the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. After being left with little choice, Gene runs away from home and assumes the new identity of Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets. Micah joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Published: February 2013 by Strange Chemistry
Source: My bookshelf
*Updated 2017 Note:
Gene takes on the name Micah and adjusts to the harsh life of the circus while searching for a place to belong in Pantomime. I really admired Micah’s daring and perseverance, as the circus is filled with all sorts of personalities. Some of the circus workers are cruel. (There is one particular violent character that comes to mind, so content warnings for alcoholism and a domestic violence related death).
Micah carves a well-earned space among the kind and grounded circus performers. Micah is probably one of my favourite characters ever.
This particular circus is not an ethereal haven but a work-place where marginalised misfits work hard to earn little for the arts/performances of their dreams. I could relate to Micah’s weighing of two paths in regards to dreams and future work. I also loved following Micah’s journey of self-acceptance.
Micah struggles with gender roles while exploring their own dreams and intersex identity. I was so invested in Micah’s character development but I wished that some of Micah’s later flashbacks had been placed a bit earlier in the narrative to improve the pacing of the present narrative.
I loved the layered worldbuilding. For example, one of Micah’s friends notes that gender specific pronouns did not exist in one of the older cultural languages of their world. I am reminded of how early on in the English language, many 18th century writers used ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ as a gender neutral pronoun. Micah is drawn to masculine activities and appearances but Micah also realistically explores the gender-fluid boundaries of a self, which does not settle on either side of the male/female divide. I liked hearing Micah’s thoughts in first person, which escapes gender-specific pronouns.
On a different world-building note, I can understand why some readers are wary of the possible link between Micah’s intersex identity and the mythological aspects of this world. I interpreted it as a positive identity link for Micah but I’ll need to read the sequel to explore that connection. I enjoyed exploring the mythologies of the different cultures that Micah learns about through the travelling circus.
Pantomime is one of the few stories I’ve read where the protagonist Micah’s attraction to both genders is dived into. Romance is not the main focus of the novel but I liked Micah’s interactions with both Aenea and Drystan. I’m really curious to see where the sequel will take Micah.
Thanks to Nafiza and Yash for helping me push Pantomime up the TBR!