Note: I was given a free copy of this for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
Spider Circus (Amazon link) (also available from Smashwords) is a YA fantasy novel (the first of a series, though the rest aren’t out yet), following protagonist Lizzie as she is pulled into the world-travelling Spider Circus. While trying to find her feet and her niche within the circus and its folk, she also uncovers a mystery involving ringmaster Jack.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. I loved the world-building; the circus itself and the people in it, the multiple other worlds, and the interaction between the two. Lizzie is a great, sympathetic character, and I was emotionally involved in her various struggles. (She’s also black, and it’s nice to read non-white protagonists, especially when this isn’t made a big part of the story itself.)
Towards the end I did feel that things got a bit rushed. The plot and ending hang together, but the pace seemed to pick up quite abruptly from the earlier settling-in stuff. The reveal of the bad guys (she says, trying to avoid spoilers) was a bit too unexpected. Unexpected is good, but I didn’t feel that as a reader I’d been entirely set up for it. Ideally a plot twist should feel both surprising and, once it has happened, inevitable (“oh, of course!”). This had some of that, in that I did see how it fit in, but I think it could have felt a little more satisfying.
There were also a few stylistic niggles and infelicities here and there. But not many, and I noticed more of these in the first few pages than elsewhere in the book. I suspect this was because I was very quickly sufficiently drawn into the characters and the story that I didn’t mind any more. Personally, I would far rather read a gripping story and well-realised characters with the odd clunk than matchless prose with a dull story and characters I don’t care about.
Despite the ending feeling a little sudden, I finished the book very keen to read the next one (once, that is, it’s out), and I’d happily recommend it to others.
(One minor note which is not about the book but about me – I find the “leaving home without parents knowing” trope (very common IME in YA and especially in fantasy) really quite upsetting now in a way that I never used to. This parenting business does affect your brain.)