My must-buy from YALC 2018 that took me a year to read!
Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land are forced to sell their children to a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.
This book is amazing! Set in a not too distant future, this book clearly shows what happens when we let nationalist ideology get to far in Britain. While this book is a reflection of the dangerous path we are walking down, it is also a reflection of the world as it is today. While today we prefer to but our ‘dregs’ across the other side of the world, while we exploit them for our own enjoyment, the similarities are there and are very plain to see.
While the ‘pure’ protagonist of this book does seem blind to the injustices in the world until he meets Hoshio, and it does seem very annoying, I argue that it is actually very realistic. People seem to only see part of the world around them until they have an emotional incentive not to; even then they can never see the full picture. I think the reason that the characters in this book have come under so much scrutiny, is that people don’t want to admit the accuracy of these characters. While they themselves are probably more aware then most, it is impossible to deny the ignorance in this story.
The insta-romance in this story is a little cheesy, however I think it is interesting how it becomes such a powerful political tool. While you probably wouldn’t see the same kind of outright hostility from politicians in the UK today, I could imagine that this would happen in America, and with the UK’s ability to imitate the US’s worst habits, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in our headlines soon.
This story works because Barker acknowledges the fact that people who hold positions of power are more able to influence others when it comes to extreme views. If Ben was anybody else the story wouldn’t happen, and the characters are aware of that, this book is about fighting for change, but is realistic of how hard that can be. It is easier when people who have influence are on your side, and this story reflects that.