A beautiful gel pen drawing of Sansa Stark by Bubug on DeviantArt. Click through to check out more work by this amazing artist!
Imagine a Manhattan with low slung wooden buildings, little to no police force, and a rural farming community and a wild forrest north of 23rd street…. Is this an alternate universe? No, it’s New York circa 1845. I believe my love of historical fiction is a direct result of my love of fantasy/sci-fi because it is just another genre that transports you to another world in another time, and your imagination is required to recreate scenes that don’t exist in our current waking world. Sometimes, the only difference between a historical novel and a fantasy novel is that the setting in the historical novel was real once (although I think some would argue that fantasy settings are just as real to the reader, they just exist in the mind’s eye).
I had the pleasure of meeting author Lyndsay Faye at a publishing event at NYU about a month ago. She is witty, charming, cute, sincere, and endearingly humble about her literary success. Her publisher, Amy Einhorn, of Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Putnam at Penguin Book Group (USA), accompanied her to this event as they bantered back and forth about Lyndsay’s latest book, The Gods of Gotham. I think what piqued my interest in this book the most was the interesting incorporation of period street slang, called Flash, that eventually helped shape some of the modern slang we used today. Anyone interested in the history of the English language would find this both delightful and informative. Furthermore, this story is about the beginning of the NYPD, the copper stars, as they were known (which is where we get the word “cop”, fyi) and what I feel is also the story of the first real NYPD detective, Timothy Wilde.
The story begins at a very interesting confluence of events that will change the political, economic, and physical landscape of New York City forever. First, there’s a fire that burns down a large section of lower Manhattan. Second, Irish immigrants are starting to the flood the city because of the Irish potato famine. Third, an official police force is formed to govern the streets of Manhattan, which stirs up political animosity among those who are staunchly anti-government. Timothy Wilde is a reluctant former bartender whose fate is now reluctantly and irrevocably caught up amidst these events. His problem, though, is that he has become too good at being a copper star, a job he loathes yet must do thanks to circumstance.
The action begins on page one of this book, and we are immediately deeply interested in the fates of the characters as we meet them in the first chapter. The story is being told from Timothy’s point of view, and we meet his very charismatic and political older brother, Valentine, the love interest, Mercy Underhill, and the ten year old “kinchin“, Bird Daly, who we love despite her need to lie about everything. Not only is this novel full of the atmosphere of the time period, but there’s a serial killer on the loose, and it’s up to Timothy Wilde to find him and catch him before more young Irish blood is spilt.
I haven’t finished this novel yet, but I am engrossed. It takes every effort for me to not just spend the entire day languishing in bed reading this book until I know everyone is safe and the murderer is caught. There is definitely an immediacy to how this story unfolds. I feel like I am really there, strolling down the dirty streets of 1845 Manhattan alongside my favorite copper star. I have truly been transported to another world.
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”
Thus begins the magical and haunting tale of a mysterious circus and its enchanting inhabitants. Celia and Marco are our main protagonists, and the reader follows them through a convoluted game played by their respective guardians using the two of them as unwilling pawns. The fates of Celia and Marco become intertwined with both the fate of the circus and of the performers within along with innocent bystanders who become enraptured with the circus itself, dreamers who will follow the circus anywhere it goes.
When I first began this novel, I felt that the start was a little slow, but before you know it, you are entranced along with those dreamers. The magic comes not just from the magicians but also from the lush and inviting prose. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself meandering through the circus tents, slowly discovering the wonders within for yourself. It’s a world in black and white, but beautiful, enchanting, mysterious, and magical. By the end, I felt my heart sing, and I craved more. If this were a movie, I can only hope it’s a better version of Moulin Rouge performed by Cirque de Soleil with effects done by Industrial Light and Magic.
I highly recommend buying a physical copy of this book. The timeline jumps around a bit, and you’ll want to be able to easily flip back and forth between chapters to keep track of the dates. Also, this is a book I guarantee you are going to want to read again and again. I plan to buy more copies so I can be sure my friends get to read this wonderful book as well. Click on the book cover above to purchase from Amazon.
Check out the book trailer here to get a feel for what the book is like. Also check out Erin Morgenstern’s website for more about this wonderful author and her first novel.