Novel Approach: 'The Ladies of the Secret Circus' misses the mark

“Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.” —Erin Morgenstern

There’s something about the circus that captures our fantasy, the whimsical and elaborate embellishments of circus performances have captured the imagination of audiences and authors for years. Our latest read takes us to an unusual circus in 1920’s Paris.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Written from the perspectives of Cecile and Lara, Constance Sayers crafts a winding tale of fantasy and intrigue about one family’s puzzling tie to the circus. Sayers’ novel tells the story of Cecile, a circus worker living in 1920s Paris and her descendent Lara, a radio employee living in Virginia in the early 2000s.

Readers meet Lara, a young woman with a bit of family magic as she prepares to get ready for her wedding day, only to find herself down a groom when her fiancé disappears. When her fiance’s car is found abandoned a day later, police are left scratching their heads to figure out what happened to the missing man. As months go by without any news on her lost fiancé, Lara finds herself wrapped up in another mystery, after she receives her great grandmother Cecile’s journal while visiting a traveling circus and a visitation from a man who may or may not be a demon. This mystery leads Lara to Paris to unravel her great grandmother’s past life at the Secret Circus and how the events from the 20s could be tied to her fiance’s disappearance. The story explores familial sacrifice, love, magic and betrayal, as Lara and Cecile’s stories become increasingly intertwined.

While the premise of the story itself is particularly compelling, the writing feels stilted and occasionally inconsistent. “The Ladies of the Secret Circus” offers captivating scenes about life at the Secret Circus and the oddities contained there, but the writing doesn’t go deeper than surface emotions, as Sayers attempts to blend her fantasy novel with a crime drama.

From the book jacket…

Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder—a world where women weave illusions of magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. Bound to her family's circus, it's the only world Cecile Cabot knows until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate affair that could cost her everything.

Virginia, 2004: Lara Barnes is on top of the world, until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. When her desperate search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother’s journals, Lara is swept into a story of a dark circus and ill-fated love.

Soon secrets about Lara’s family history begin to come to light, revealing a curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations. A curse that might be tied to her fiancé’s mysterious disappearance.

If you enjoy…

For readers looking for a fantasy read that involves the entertaining flair of the circus, consider reading Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” Her novel tells the story of two magicians who find themselves falling into a forbidden love at the circus.