Photo Source: Berkshire Museum
When I reviewed Gwenda Bond’s first novel, Blackwood, in 2012 I began with my standard “I try to read books written by people I know even we just interact online” spiel. Today, I feel like I know Gwenda a bit better having recently read another of her books (The Woken Gods), have continued to interact with her on social media, and even met her in “real life” at a book reading.
Sixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.
Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.
As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.
And in many ways like Blackwood, I enjoyed it despite not really being in the target audience. Most of my YA reading is from the fantasy adventure world whereas GOAW is a blend of mystery and romance (albeit light).
As is typical of Gwenda, the central character, in this case Jules, is once again the strength of the story. Gwenda really takes you inside the circus world and inside a particular family from that world, the Maroni’s. Jules unique perspective (how she sees the world, how she views herself and her family, what she likes and dislikes, her style and personality, what and who she wants to be, etc.) shine and make for a strong character. A girl with ambition and verve but also with doubts and struggles as she seeks to navigate relationships and challenges.
The circus and its history is also a character of sorts. The entertainers and their suspicions, superstitions, habits, culture and traditions provide a great backdrop for a classic tale of family rivalries, forbidden love, revenge and the threat of violence that can lurk behind them.
I also really enjoyed the hint of the supernatural that is an undercurrent in the story. Gwenda lets the characters tell the story and we see the talismans and events of the past through their eyes. Is there magic involved, dark magic, or is it simply someone out for revenge using magic as a cover? Does the coin have real power or is it the owner’s fierce belief in the luck that powers events? These questions never really are definitively answered but rather lurk in the background as the events play out.
The budding romance between Jules and Remy (AKA Romeo and Juliet for those who might have missed the allusion) is well done. Again, I am not a romance reader but I appreciated the way that element was handled. It was not overdone or overly sentimental. The emotions and perspectives surrounding the relationship seemed authentic and natural; and kind of sweet at times.
If there is a weakness it is that the farther you move away from Jules the less defined and filled in the characters become. Jules and her family are well done and developed as is the relationship with Remy. The secondary characters are less well-developed and so pack less punch when they are brought into a scene.
But all in all, it was a well done and enjoyable story with a unique setting and background. The mystery builds its tension nicely and there are a couple of plot twists to add excitement. Jules is a strong female protagonist with personality and character. And the circus is a unique enough setting to make it that much more enjoyable.
If you enjoy YA literature and are looking for a fun, unique and well done female lead character definitely check out Girl On A Wire.