Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

Published: 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Pan Macmillan 3. Roll up! Roll up! by Sue Cro [CC BY-NC 2.0] Filter applied; cropped 4. Circus tent [Public Domain] via Pxfuel

Nell lives with her father and brother in village on the coast of England in 1865. The travelling circus of “human curiosities” arrives in town, and Nell’s father sees an opportunity for fame. She has birthmarks that speckle her skin. He sells her to the circus owner Jasper who is looking for a special act that will make his circus famous. As Nell settles into the circus life, she makes friends with Jasper’s quiet brother Toby who, with has a terrible secret that he shares with Jasper.

“Have a long look, why don’t you?’’ 

Glanceabook: “The author has brought the characters vividly to life, and deals sensitively with the theme of physical disfigurement, bringing the reader into the characters’ thoughts and feelings so that we have an insight into how they feel.”

  • The Guardian: “An egotistical ringmaster gives his “monsters” a chance to shine in this glittering follow-up to The Doll Factory. That Jasper is not a villain, Nell no heroine, and Toby entirely unsuited to the role of Romeo, is a mark of Macneal’s subtlety and originality.”
  • The Scotsman: “There is life here in Circus of Wonders, but much of the time it is a still-life… She (Elizabeth Macneal) is a talented writer with enviable gifts, but there are too many pages where the scene-painting cloys.


“She was Nellie Moon. He had seen her soaring beneath the basket, heard the chants thrown from the grandstand, read the frothing articles about her in every broadsheet. All of London wanted her; who was he to have her?

He has given all these people a home, pay, board, pay. He has given them a platform a means to raise themselves from a life of ridicule and exclusion. He has taught them skills so they don’t just rot on podiums as mere spectacles.”

Author: Elizabeth Macneal


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