Church of Marvels – Book Review

Church of Marvels

 

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Release date (UK): 2nd June 2015

I was so excited to get my hands on this book, and it really did not disappoint. It has everything; the vibrance of a spectacular Coney Island circus show, the darkness of an isolated women’s asylum and more, tied together in a tangled web of mystery which the talented Leslie Parry gradually unravels.

Set in 1885, Church of Marvels introduces us to three seemingly disparate individuals. There’s Sylvan, a struggling night-soiler and sometimes boxer living in New York City, who finds an abandoned baby in a local privy and impulsively takes her in. Then Odile, a circus performer on Coney Island who has recently lost her mother in a theatre fire and is searching for her twin sister Belle who moved away soon after. And Alphie, trapped in an asylum on Roosevelt Island for no clear reason which the reader can see.

This book is a slow burner. As Parry gradually introduces the characters, the first half of the story offers up more questions than answers and it’s almost impossible to see how the seemingly disconnected storyline will tie together. But as it progresses, the writer leads the reader through a labyrinth of New York’s back alleys, brothels, opium dens, and apothecaries as the interconnecting backstories behind the characters are revealed.

The scene-setting in this novel is fantastic; New York at the turn-of-the-century is beautifully imagined and Parry’s evocative writing perfectly captures the atmosphere of the time and the vibrancy of the big city, while also exposing a dark and seedy side to century New York. “I’ve found that here in this city, the lights burn even brighter, but they cast the darkest shadows I know.” The quirky circus life of Coney Island and the stifling atmosphere of the island asylum are also brought to life through Parry’s visceral writing.

But more than that, the plot is incredibly strong, with twists and turns I never expected. Near the beginning of the novel, Parry writes; “We can be a weary, cynical lot—we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by.” This concept is true for this entire book; nothing is as it seems and you can’t take anything for granted.

The book does jump between character point-of-views a lot, and I think because of this coupled with the sharp changes in plot, I did feel I didn’t get to know some of the characters as well as I would have liked, and I struggled to emphasise at times as a result. There are some parts of the novel I would have liked explored in more depth–particularly a twist focusing on one of the central three characters which is thrown in near the end, and the new viewpoint which is only introduced in the epilogue.

But these foibles didn’t detract too much from the book for me; the richly imagined world was a beautiful place to explore, and the plot was so strong, I just wanted to keep reading. This is yet another impressive debut to look out for in 2015, and it only just missed five stars from me.

Check out Church of Marvels and give it a read.

 

 

Guest post contributed by The Book Brief. This blogger goes to lengths to produce detailed book reviews that balance the positives and negatives. Commentary may be colored by road trips, wine, and cooking.

Would you like two free audio books? Begin your 30-day free trial at Audible.com and receive two free audio books and 30% off additional audiobook purchases. You keep your two free books even if you later cancel.

 

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Church of Marvels – Book Review”

  1. I’ve wanted to check this book out for a while now! Looking forward to it being out. I loved this: “We can be a weary, cynical lot—we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by.”

    Like

  2. Consider it added to my list (I’m afraid it is an extremely long list). My children always said I needed a second house just for books. However, I wouldn’t want to be that far away from them… 😉

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s