Book Review: Finvarra’s Circus by Monica Sanz (DistantDreamer)

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I recently finished reading “Finvarra’s Circus” by Monica Sanz (AKA DistantDreamer), and, my, what a beautiful, haunting read.

This is the second of Monica’s books I’ve read so far, with the first being “A Witchling’s Rites” (first draft and continuing on Wattpad) and I loved it from start to finish. It follows the tale of young Leanna Weston, a girl with heart problems that rendered her disabled – physically and emotionally, the latter as a result of her family’s over-protectiveness – seeking an escape when she is forced into an arranged marriage. She’s heard the wonders of Finvarra’s circus from her mother when she was alive, and coincidentally that circus was coming to town, and was to be Leanna’s salvation.

This story — it left me reeling and breathless. I don’t cry over books (unless it involves dogs, generally — “Marley and Me” remains the only one so far) but finishing this book left me with an ache in the chest that’s both exhilaration and devastation I only ever see in a truly wonderful book.

Contains some spoilers.

A magical tale involving ogres, mechanical hearts, faeries, pixies, and humans that morph into animals, Monica tossed Leanna – and us, the readers – into a thrilling world where there are no impossibilities, where love conquers all (without being too ridiculous), where Leanna is the chosen one (of her own volition), where the love is destined (but actually not that sickly). I’m not one for romance, but Monica wove it into the story as motivation for Leanna, as well as her desire for justice, and it adds strength to her character rather than being the core.

Leanna is a young girl and comes across as incredibly naïve. Although initially a little annoying as she was optimistic and sees the world in stark right or wrong, her empathy and genuine good-heartedness won me over as a reader. She may be the Chosen One, but her actions are hers and hers alone, not manipulated, and true from the heart. She remained within her own limits as a human with no magic, solving issues with her mind and not with some suddenly-awoken power, allowing her to remain relatable throughout the story. Finvarra, the broken brooding man, initially held little allure as he was distant and unpleasant. It was because Leanna was so charmed by him I began to fall for him, too. It was because Leanna ached for his hurtful past and felt his guilt that he repented in my mind; in the end, I was every bit in love with Finvarra as I was with Leanna.

The best thing – or was it the worst? – was how Monica gave Leanna and Finvarra an ultimatum where neither can be happy. They can either be alive and apart forever and the troupe returns home, or dead – and the troupe returns home. It seemed like there was never going to be a compromise that didn’t involve tears. Tears on my part, included. Oh, how my heart ached when I got to that point, for the two lovers.

To be honest, I would have been happy either way, a happy-ever-after ending or a bittersweet one. I don’t want Leanna to go back to the institutionalised her – not that I think she could, now that she had experienced truly living and can stand up for herself. The story had wound up nicely, with the twist – that Finvarra was the one who actually reanimated Aithne – I never saw coming. It was the cherry on the icing that they had the chance to be together forever, in the end, because the ultimatum was just another test for Finvarra, but if they were forever apart and knowing the other was still in love with them, and safe, it was a good ending, too, not unlike the ending to “His Dark Materials”. For me, perhaps that bittersweet ending would have been more fitting; it seems somewhat unfair that Krinard was lost to madness, Inara lost her love, Yelena lost her life, the Westons lost a daughter/sister, Luna lost so many fellow Pixies, Aithne lost her reason to live – and Finvarra and Leanna get to live happily ever after. At the same time, you can argue it’s the last shred of silver lining the characters can have.

Kudos to the writer, she knows how to immerse her readers into the world. I read non-stop for six hours (stopping only when my concentration faltered at 7:30am), entranced by Leanna learning about the circus and its dark past. Monica’s ability to really drown me in Leanna’s world is amazing. I felt part of everything, ached with her when her destiny became known, was awestruck with her in the world of magic, danced with her – the dancing. Nothing truly technical, but every bit heartfelt. It was like feeling the spirits of Leanna dancing rather than seeing the actual waving, stretching, spinning.

Something I would have liked was to see more of Machina. We hear a bit about her, but it’s all hush-hush. She makes an appearance here and there, not truly terrifying, not truly threatening. The threat came more from within Finvarra’s circus itself, where Krinard’s poison threatened Inara’s protection, where circus members are disheartened and disillusioned with Finvarra’s lead. Perhaps the intention of the author was to never truly have a Big Bad, but if Machina was intended to be that, then I wish to see more into her evil and how she is terrifying and understand Finvarra and Leanna’s fight against her.

Verdict: I haven’t read a book as mesmerising as this one in quite some time. Would recommend time and time again.

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