Fantastic and absorbing, filled with macabre details, hair-raising twists and heartbreaking turns, and a showdown so unexpected and wonderful that I had to read it twice.
Why I love it
Church of Marvels is a Coney Island ride of a book, providing nonstop thrills and a finish that left me gasping. The novel bursts with imagination and daring as it depicts the rough and tumble world of turn-of-the-century New York City. But the fantastic, fantabulous plot is not just there to entertain us. Leslie Parry also gives us keen insight into what it takes to live by your wits and tackle the challenges of life lived on the periphery.
The book begins as distinct stories told by three poor, young inhabitants of 1895 New York City. Sylvan is a scrappy survivor who works as a privy cleaner and earns extra bucks as a bare-knuckle boxer; Odile is the twisted twin of a missing sister; and Alphie is a vulnerable waif who earns a living fixing up the faces of late night partiers. Each character is hiding some important aspect of their identity as they narrate their stories but when we look closer, all we see are mysteries spiraling out in a multitude of directions.
Those mysteries begin to come together when Sylvan discovers a baby in the privy he is cleaning. His quest to find the baby's mother sets in motion a Dickens-worthy plot of intrigue and deception, fear and heroism, love and forgiveness. Populated with fascinating and endearing secondary characters, the resulting adventure is fantastic and absorbing, filled with macabre details, hair-raising twists and heartbreaking turns, and a showdown so unexpected and wonderful that I had to read it twice.
Church of Marvels is a book of marvels, offering as main attraction a fantastic story of lost souls and found loves, along with plenty of wondrous side shows involving unforgettable characters and eerie landscapes, and delivering a powerful and exciting conclusion. Parry's readers are left satisfied and even more, enriched, by her profound observations on the eternal questions of identity, fate, and self-determination.