*I received a free copy of Menagerie from Harlequin MIRA via Netgalley. This has in no way influenced my voluntary review, which is honest and unbiased *|
When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.
But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions"—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.
On the surface, Menagerie is the story of creatures that are not completely human, living in a sort of traveling zoo. However, if we scratch even lightly, right underneath that surface is a tale about morals, ethics, respect and justice.
My Menagerie review:
Menagerie started out as a cute story, complete with a class of fifth-graders visiting a traveling menagerie for a field-trip. Delilah was a little uneasy with some of the creatures of the exhibit, especially one in which there were three young girls sitting on the ground in a cage in the petting zoo. Fast forward to Delilah’s 25th birthday, and she’s back in the same menagerie, with her best friend and both of their boyfriends. And this is when Delilah’s life will change forever.
The world is quite bleak in Menagerie, where hybrids and cryptids exist alongside humans. And because of the ‘reaping’ in the 80s, everything that isn’t completely human or animal is looked at only with fear, which is why the cryptids can easily be kept in cages and in chains, only to be shown off to the paying public. When Delilah and her friends were visiting the menagerie, Delilah was shocked by the way one of the handlers treated a young werewolf girl, making her stand half naked in front of them to show off her human body. Something snapped inside her, and she became something more, extracting revenge on the handler, but ended up labeled a cryptid herself, which lead to her being bought into the same menagerie to be shown off as the new sensational hybrid nobody knew exactly what was yet.
For Delilah, seeing life as she knew it disappear, and realize that she now had less rights than a cat or a dog made no sense at all. She had grown up with human parents, always thinking she was human, even if she had always felt uneasy with the way cryptids were treated like monsters who had to be caged. Living in a cage, having to rely on handlers to get food, and not being able to say ‘no’ to anything asked of her while they were trying to break her in made her see things differently. The contempt of the people who used to be her friends, as well as the utter loneliness and helplessness she felt touched me very deeply.
The other cryptids in the cages around Delilah were sentient beings as well, and some of them could speak in English, remembering how it had been to be free, with their family, and not living in captivity. Menagerie was dark because it showed how deeply some human beings will stoop in order to have some sort of power over others. Just because they can make a decision doesn’t necessarily mean they should, and I have to admit my feelings were all over the place while reading this tale.
Written in third person point of view, past tense, the perspective was mostly Delilah’s, however there were glimpses into other thoughts as well, which made even the cryptids who couldn’t talk more complex and realistic. If you are up for a story that deals with the depravity of captive animals in cages, but where there is still hope and a possible future as well, you should pick up Menagerie at your earliest convenience.
Some of my favorite Menagerie quotes:
There was also a young giant – a three-foot-tall toddler wearing a folded tablecloth as a diaper. The giant’s forehead protruded grotesquely and his legs were knobby and twisted.
“In the menagerie we all have may duties. But in general, I oversee the handlers and make sure the livestock i s lcean and healthy enough for work – both manual labor and exhibition. You are a special assignment. We need to uncover your species and draw it out for the public to see.”
I had the power to piss him off, but not the power to calm him down.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: