Review: Pantomime by Laura Lam

PantomimeSeries: Pantomime #1
Published by: Strange Chemistry
ISBN: 190884437X
ISBN 13: 9781908844378
Published: February 2013
Pages: 392
Format reviewed: NetGalley supplied mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Lists: FavouritesRecommended
Related Review: Shadowplay (Pantomime #2)

‘Pantomime’ by Laura Lam is a young adult fantasy-steampunk with slight elements of magic, which may grow into a main theme in the next book. Yes, there shall be a sequel according to Lam’s blog – in October 2012 that she was almost finished the first draft – which is good, considering how the ending leaves the poor unsuspecting reader.

Split between the present and the past, Lam entices us into Gene’s life, a girl who feels more like a boy and is determined to be known as Gene rather than her official name of Iphigenia, and later takes on the name Micah in an effort to hide when she runs away from her family. We start the novel as she joins a circus with hopes of someday performing on the trapeze, but for now must act as a simple roustabout while she’s in training. Or should I say ‘he’, as she’s ditched the dresses as she’s always wanted to, bound her chest and cut her hair.

Once in the circus he’s lucky to be taken on by the current aerialists who guide him on how to cope through the general hazing the other members of the circus throw at him. With steampunk elements thrown in, we are introduced along with Micah as to how the circus uses items known as ‘Vestige’, elements from an ancient civilisation that are now few as they run out of residual power that can’t be replaced.

As if hazing and a tough training and work regime aren’t enough, Micah also has to deal with secrets he’s left behind, and secrets he reveals in the circus life. Life doesn’t seem ideal for anyone, and all he meet have a dark past to reveal.

The chapters are artfully constructed, first remaining mostly in his past whilst occasionally showing the present life in the circus, until the circus chapters overtake and only show his past in chapters few and far between. We see why he’s on the run, and why he identifies with being male so strongly, as well as elements that make us wonder if there isn’t something about Micah that could unlock so much about the vestige that could change Ellada itself.

Laura Lam has a wonderful way with words, and manages to capture circus life in a way that reveals both the beauty and the grim at once. While the dark backstories of nearly each and every character could be a little depressing, she somehow weaves hope within, as the characters are still making a future for themselves, or escape one way or another.

Micah is a character like none other I’ve read before. Lam manages to capture gender issues perfectly, with the character unsure of what they want in life and who they want it with, yet finding a home within a circus where others with the same questions and answers have also found themselves.

The plot is hard to describe, as it somehow manages to flow back and forth between present and past timelines, remaining simple yet complex – possibly hard to describe simply because it’s written so well that Lam conveys everything that happens and is felt easily, yet descriptive and emotional.

The biggest draw in this novel is that things such as the Vestige and the mysterious Penglass – a substance that a few buildings in each city is made of – and the mysteriously missing Chimera are only hinted at, or briefly seen. The world is incredibly deep – speaking of wars and people past, with poems and mythos revealed at the start of each chapter – and you know that Lam must have many notebooks of worldbuilding ready and waiting to be revealed.

For now we can only sit and wait for more in this series. It’s not going to be easy.

Thank you to Angry Robot and Net Galley for this ARC.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 17th November 2012.

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