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The Carnivale of Curiosities Review – An Excellent Dark Journey

Review: The Carnivale of Curiosities is a strong debut novel featuring mystery, magic, and horror with great characters in 1887 London.

Every one of us has fantasized about being able to make a wish and have it come true. Maybe you have wished you could find a genie in a bottle, and some have probably even been willing to make a deal with the devil. In The Carnivale of Curiosities by Amiee Gibbs, we join a troupe of oddities in late 19th century London. They’re the best at what they do, but what happens behind the curtain is even more fascinating. Those brave enough to ask tend to have even their most dangerous wishes granted by the troupe’s leader, but their happiness comes at a price.

The Carnivale of Curiosities has horror, mystery, and thriller elements, but it’s ultimately a story of found family. Amiee Gibbs tells a compelling tale of a group of people seen as “others” by the privileged and elite and how their bonds and connections make them stronger in the face of those who try to exploit them. Weaved into it all is a story of star-crossed lovers whose romance helps them discover much about themselves.

A Struggle for Power

Throughout history, the actions of wealthy and powerful men have had long-lasting and sometimes devastating repercussions for everyone around them. The battle between two powerful men is at the core of The Carnivale of Curiosities. The whirlwind of that struggle affects those around them, both in current events and in discovering things that have happened in the past. Aurelius Ashe is the leader of the Carnivale of Curiosities and has provided a home and sanctuary for various oddities on his traveling show. He can also make people’s most extreme wishes come true, if they’re willing to pay.

Enter Odilon Rose. He’s a powerful man in London who seeks out Aurelius Ashe to help him save Charlotte, his ward. Charlotte is battling leukemia, and Rose has exhausted all options to save her except for one. Odilon’s need for power delivers him to Ashe’s office, agreeing to a steep price for Charlotte’s survival. A battle ensues between the two men, each trying to stay one step ahead. At the same time, they try to shield those closest to them from their past actions.

Star-Crossed Lovers

Amiee Gibbs weaves a tale of star-crossed lovers into The Carnivale of Curiosities, but it’s ultimately the weakest portion of an intense debut novel. Aurelius’ son Luce and Charlotte each have fascinating stories and backgrounds filled with tragedy and pain. Each of their journeys of self-discovery and finding a place in the world is among the best parts of the novel. When they are each on their own path, the story flourishes. When they intersect in a forced love story, The Carnivale of Curiosities slogs along a bit.

Luce stands out as the best in a book filled with great characters. He is perhaps the most outstanding example of his father’s ability to make magic real. Aurelius brought Luce back from the dead at a young age, rebuilding him with an entirely created mechanism that serves as Luce’s heart. Now an adult, Luce can control and manipulate fire. As such, he is the star of the show and the attraction the audience raves about most. Luce’s past weighs on him throughout The Carnivale of Curiosities, and the clash between Odilon and Aurelius sets Luce on a path to learn some previously hidden secrets.

Charlotte is Odilon’s ward, but she is treated as more of a possession than a companion. When she arrives at Aurelius’ theater in an attempt to save her life, Charlotte has never known freedom. The abuse and manipulation she suffers at the hands of Odilon are real, and readers who will be triggered by forced sex and psychological manipulation and torture should think twice before reading The Carnivale of Curiosities. Once she arrives at the theater, Charlotte’s story is one of found family and learning that she isn’t alone.

Each of these stories on their own shines far more than the love story between Luce and Charlotte.

A Dark But Wonderful Cast and Setting

Amiee Gibbs paints a very dark picture when describing Southwark in 1887 London. The docks are a dangerous place, and the area is filled with crime, poverty, and desperation. Aurelius Ashe’s troupe calls Southwark’s Athenaeum Theater home in a vital distinction Gibbs makes about class and race that resonates even today. Southwark is separated from the nicer parts of London. It’s where the troupe of oddities feels most at home and where they call home.

Despite being based in a part of London that is separate from where those of money and power reside, the elites in London are happy to use the oddities for their amusement and gain. They travel into Southwark to the theater to take in the wonders of Ashe’s production and marvel at the magic they see on stage. Afterward, they return home to their mansions and comfort. In some cases, they are happy to use Ashe and his troupe for even more sinister and selfish ends. Gibbs does an excellent job capturing the superiority the audience feels, even when they are asking Ashe for help.

The rest of the troupe is a delight in the story. Every character is a fiercely loyal part of their created family. This is best seen in the book’s middle section when Georgie experiences hate in action. The rest of the troupe rallies around him to nurture and protect him. You will be drawn to the motherly actions of Dita and intrigued by the secrets Ashe holds close. Every character in Gibbs’ world has a purpose and adds more to the story.

The Review Verdict on The Carnivale of Curiosities

Amiee Gibbs’ debut novel is a mysterious and explosive journey into the dark corners of our world. The Carnivale of Curiosities shines most when focusing on Lucien and Charlotte’s journeys of self-discovery. It does drag a bit with a love story that feels forced and inauthentic, but the battle of wits — and powers — between Aurelius Ashe and Odilon Rose is gripping and keeps the pages turning. If you enjoy mysteries, magic, and a bit of horror, The Carnivale of Curiosities should be added to your reading list this year.

A review copy of The Carnivale of Curiosities was provided by the publisher. It is on sale July 11.

About the author

Tyler Erickson
Contributor at The Escapist and has been writing about games and entertainment for over 10 years. I love FPS games, action/adventure, and sports games. In entertainment, I write about everything Star Wars, comics, action and horror movies, and fantasy and horror books. I have also written for GameRant, TheXboxHub, and Strangely Awesome Games. Podcaster and streamer, and always happy to talk games or entertainment, so follow me on socials!