Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry ~Goodreads~
Published by Two Roads 2015
Hardback edition 320 pages ~The Book Depository~
First of all many thanks to Two Roads for sending me this book, you’ve never given me a book I haven’t enjoyed- so thank you very much!
New York, 1895. It’s late on a warm city night when Sylvan Threadgill, a young night soiler who cleans out the privies behind the tenement houses, pulls a terrible secret out from the filthy hollows: an abandoned newborn baby. An orphan himself, Sylvan was raised by a kindly Italian family and can’t bring himself to leave the baby in the slop. He tucks her into his chest, resolving to find out where she belongs.
Odile Church is the girl-on-the-wheel, a second-fiddle act in a show that has long since lost its magic. Odile and her sister Belle were raised in the curtained halls of their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow: The Church of Marvels. Belle was always the star-the sword swallower-light, nimble, a true human marvel. But now the sideshow has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in the ashes, and Belle has escaped to the city.
Alphie wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum. The last thing she remembers is a dark stain on the floor, her mother-in-law screaming. She had once walked the streets as an escort and a penny-Rembrandt, cleaning up men after their drunken brawls. Now she is married; a lady in a reputable home. She is sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile mother. But then a young woman is committed alongside her, and when she coughs up a pair of scissors from the depths of her agile throat, Alphie knows she harbors a dangerous secret that will alter the course of both of their lives…
One single night, these strangers’ lives will become irrevocably entwined, as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle for acceptance.
I find it refreshing to pick up a book that’s set in a very different era and in a completely different location to my own. This novel brings out the seedy side of New York City, much different to how I have perceived it to have been during this time. The glitz and the glamour are not present in this novel, and you know what I’m fine with that it’s nice to see a different side to places projected as a place full of hope and prospect. It’s great to bring out the realism of a location of how different people lived, and this book share with us the broken and alone people in one of the world’s favourite cities.
Three different characters with varying backgrounds. I enjoy when strangers come together and make it seem that it’s a small world after all. This a slow burner of a book, I was waiting for each of these characters to meet and anticipating the situations they would be in when they did. I confess this is the reason why it took me a while to get into this book, I enjoyed the mystery aspect of it all as it kept me reading and if you’re like me and need things fast paced then you may find it difficult at first too. But trust me, this book comes to life and it doesn’t disappoint!
We have the twin sisters Belle and Odile, raised on Coney Island where their late mother ran The Church of Marvels before the fire. Now Belle has gone missing, Odile sets out for Manhattan in search of her sister and soon the family secrets begin to spill.
Sylvan a privies cleaner and part time night fighter, has just himself and a flutter of women in his life until he finds an abandoned baby girl at work.
Lastly we have Alphie, whom I felt for most. Disowned by her family at fourteen and living on the streets, cleaning up after men when the nights on the town are over. Then she falls in love with Anthony.
Flicking through flashbacks of their past, it isn’t until very near the end that this story concludes and all is revealed.
What I most loved with this book is the setting of New York city during this trying time, poverty and hopelessness to those on the streets searching, begging to build a life for themselves. The different jobs there were, and the growing gap between the rich and poor- truly fascinating.
Like with many books I can’t give the whole book away as it will spoil a great story and of course I wouldn’t want that! I recommend anyone who loves a book full of mystery and hope, that concludes so overwhelmingly! Well done to Leslie for a wonderful first novel, I can’t wait to read more.