P A N T O M I M E
"Who hasn't dreamed of running off and joining the circus? Laura Lam's Micah does just that, discovering a world of clowns and acrobats, conmen and tricksters, corruption and incompetent doctors, and maybe more about himself. I look forward to more from this author."
Brian Katcher, author of
"Welcome to a world of shills and showmen, fading tech and circus freaks, where nothing and no one is what it appears. An absorbing, accomplished debut."
Elspeth Cooper, author of the
"A lyrical, stunningly written debut novel, which set my heart racing with every lift of the trapeze. In Micah we have one of the most original – and likeable – protagonists I've read in a long time. An author to watch, without a doubt."
Amy McCulloch, author of
The Oathbreaker's Shadow
Laura Lam has created a world which will take your breath away, and characters you will never want to leave. Enchanting."
Lou Morgan, author of
Blood and Feathers
"Ancient myths, vintage tech and living wonders abound in the riotous carnival of fancy which is
Lam paints her world with greasepaint and stardust while exploring the notion of the circus 'freak' with subtle brilliance. A spectacular and brave debut!"
Kim Lakin-Smith, author of
who is always there
to catch me when I jump1
"They say magic left the world with the Chimaera and the Alder. Whether they perished or abandoned us for the stars, the magic has leeched from the earth and left us only its scattered remnants. Its Vestige. They say perhaps if the Chimaera and the Alder ever return, magic will as well.
"I do not hold with such frivolity."
A HISTORY OF ELLADA AND ITS COLONIES,
Professor Caed Cedar, Royal
the ringmaster said. "What can you
I swallowed. The clown who had found me eavesdropping tightened his grip on my shirt. "Pardon?" I asked.
He chuckled. "Don't tell me you're simple. What can you do? Are you a fire-eater? An acrobat? A freak?"
I was a freak, but I could not tell him so. I took a breath, smelling hay and sand. "I… I'm good at climbing, sir. Like a squirrel."
He raised his eyebrows and gave an amused look to the mirthful circus folk. "The boy can
ell, I've never come across someone with so rare and useful a skill. I'm afraid we've already got someone to take the glass globes up and down." He waved a hand toward the top of the tent and my eyes rested on the tightrope and the trapeze.
"It wouldn't take much time to turn me into an acrobat that can walk the rope and swing from the… swing." I pointed up at the trapeze, for I did not know what it was called.
"What's your name, boy?" the ringmaster asked, eyeing me up and down. What he thought of me was clear on his face:
"Micah Grey, sir."
"Did Riley and Batheo's Circus of Mundanities send you?" He must have meant Riley & Batheo's Circus of Curiosities, the largest circus in Ellada.
"No, I have never seen Riley and Batheo." I took another breath, which was difficult with the white clown still holding onto the scruff of my neck. "I want to join your circus."
Everyone around me erupted into laughter. The greasepaint on the clowns' faces creased, looking cruel, almost goblin-like. The dwarf tapped the giant on the shin and asked to be put on his shoulder so he could have a better view.
"Well, little Micah, I'm sure you climb very well and all, but I think it's best you run along back to your parents."
I glanced at the two trapeze artists I had seen perform that night. The older man was grinning outright and the girl pressed four fingertips of her hand against her lips. When she saw me looking, she gave me a wink. It was enough.
"I'll prove it to you, sir," I said, and broke away from the clown and dashed toward the ladder to the tightrope. The circus folk jeered and catcalled. Their cries spurred me on. I clambered onto the small wooden platform and my head spun as I looked down, though I had climbed much higher than this in the past. I looked up at the trapeze and began to judge the distance.
"Hey, boy, come on, you've had your laugh, now come down!" the ringmaster called. "I don't feel like peeling your corpse from the ground and having to give your parents a pancake for a son!"
I ignored him and bent my legs.
"Arik! Aenea! Go bring him down before he kills himself." Far below, I saw the female aerialist, Aenea, run toward the rope and begin to climb.
As soon as I had seen the circus, I had known it would come to this. I had nowhere else to run to. The Policiers of the Constabulary were after me. There was no going back now.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Currs and skags! Step into the world as you've never seen it! Discover the skills, the mystery, and the magic of R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic, the best circus in Ellada! There are the fabled felines of Linde and their fearless trainers! Men and women eat fire, stand upon a galloping horse, and contort into knots like rubber! Watch them fly through the air! This is the show you have always been waiting for, so step right up!"
Barker's cry of R.H. RAGONA'S CIRCUS OF MAGIC
Several hours earlier:
I spent my last few coins to get into the circus, counting the coppers in my palm. I knew it was stupid to do so, but I needed an escape from the real world. I also felt like I owed it to my brother. We had planned to sneak out of the apartments to see the circus when it was next in town or, even better, to see Riley & Batheo's Circus of Curiosities in the hippodrome in Imachara. Even Mother had once considered going when she heard that the Princess Royal had attended a show with the Two Child Queens of Byssia.
But my brother would not be here. Mother and Father would take out my disappearance on him, confining him to his rooms except for his lessons and visits to the courts with Father. He would not climb down scaffolding and come halfway across the city. He liked mischief as much as the next boy, but in the end he was a good sort. Unlike me.
I pushed past the men in bowler hats and the women in shawls to get a good seat near the front. The tent smelled of human sweat, old popping corn, and manure. Tinny music from a large gramophone lent the empty tent a festive air.
The tent had been constructed on a wide, flat slab of stone topped with sand and sawdust, with one large ring drawn onto the stage with white chalk. Above the audience rose a canopy of faded red and blue canvas, and a rope ladder led to the tightrope and the long, thin swings of the trapeze. Tiny glass globe lights dotted the ceiling like stars. I was surprised – the Vestige artefacts were not cheap and getting rarer each year. But I supposed they were cheaper than a fire in a circus tent.
People trickled in. Grubby little children grinned and pointed at the rings in the center of the stage. Courting and married pairs strolled, the men with their cravats and the ladies in their bonnets and bustles. Hawkers wasted no time and circled and weaved through the rows, calling out their wares.
"Peanuts! Popping corn! Sugar floss!" they cried. Most were young, fairly attractive women wearing skirts short enough to show their ankles. I desperately wanted to try some of the sugar floss that looked like clouds, but it cost nearly as much as the ticket. I settled into my seat, my stomach rumbling.
As I turned to watch the entering people, two Policiers came into the tent, their polished badges gleaming. They took off their helmets and tucked them under their elbows. I twisted toward the ring and slouched lower in my seat, forcing my breath to stay even. I hazarded another glance, my eyes following them as they made their way to the seats only three rows behind me. They were here for their own merriment – perhaps they had just gotten off a shift, and felt like seeing the circus on their way home. But they might have had my description. I tucked as much of my auburn hair as I could under my cap and pulled it lower over my forehead.
With a pang, I wished my brother was sitting next to me so I could poke him in the ribs with my elbow and share a grin. The large smelly man beside me would not have appreciated it, I was sure.
A man strolled out to the ring and the music faded. He was tall and burly, but had cultivated a paunch that threatened to burst his gold waistcoat. The quintessential ringmaster wore a crimson overcoat, a top hat, and sported a moustache waxed into curled points. He brandished a shiny teak cane.
"Welcome," he said, his voice booming, "to the greatest circus in Ellada, R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic!" The audience applauded. He swept a bow, flourishing his white gloved hands and waving his cane.
"You are in for a treat tonight, my friends," Mr Ragona beamed. His voice had the lilt of some foreign country. I leaned forward in my seat.
"You are not in a canvas tent." He said, pausing for a few confused titters. "You are in a palace of magic. Men and women from every corner of the Archipelago have brought their secrets and powers to show you. Men and women fly through the air, and animals bow to their will. Here, nothing is impossible!" Cheers erupted again.
"We also offer more magic and more excitement than any other circus in Ellada. After the show, there is also a fun fair where you can see the animals close up – if you dare – or view our collection of human curiosities!" He beamed again. His teeth were very white.
"The show never ends with R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic," he called. "But first, we must let it begin!" He threw up his hands and cane.
Fog rolled across the stage from each side of the ring. It filled the circus with the sweet scents of pine smoke and dried rose petals. The music faded into a silence that pressed against my skin. The crowd sat in a dark grey cloud, and not a cough or rustle could be heard.