Monday, October 2, 2023

Review: The Family Fortuna by Lindsay Eagar

I've never really been a fan of circuses, real or imagined. I definitely don't search them out in my reading but so many people love books about them that I keep trying them despite knowing that they are likely to be a miss for me. Unfortunately, that is the case here. I found Lindsay Eagar's The Family Fortuna slightly off-kilter, slightly disturbing, and honestly, slightly boring.

The Family Fortuna is a traveling circus that travels the West. Arturo Fortuna is the patriarch of the family and ringmaster but youngest daughter, Avita, is the headliner and star of the entire spectacle. She is a monstrous, feathered and beaked girl whose snarling, chicken slaughtering show terrifies and thrills and rakes in money. She delights in being able to inspire fear, horror, and nightmares until she sees a young man who does not gasp at her theatrics. He is an artist and he might just see her inner person, beyond the freak of circus hype, so she helps him get a commission to paint new posters for the show. She is convinced he will expose the truth of her humanity. What he shows her is other people's perception of her, which pushes her to find a way to become the person she wants to be, all while there are crises, large and small, financial and personal, brewing in the circus as a whole.

This YA novel is incredibly character driven, to the point that it is almost plotless. Avita and her search for freedom and an authentic sense of self are the main focus. There are occasional shifts to other characters, emotionally abusive, narcissistic father Arturo; long-suffering, superstitious and religious Mama; older sister Luna, who is the silvery, stunning goddess who rules over the kootchy girl tent; and older brother Ren, who is a little person (non-performing) and the circus' frugal accountant. The chapters from the other characters are so few in number that they seem like interruptions to the story and don't truly serve to fully flesh those characters out. There is an antique feel to the whole story, and a feeling that the reader shouldn't look beyond the illusions or too closely at the peeling paint in the shadows here. The writing is filled with florid descriptions, similes, and metaphors in the way that a circus barker or ringmaster might exaggerate in their patter but it comes off as slightly ridiculous and strange on the page. Those who enjoy circus-set stories might like this overly long novel far better than I did; I just wasn't drawn into the grotesquerie.

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