New York, 1895. Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler cleaning out the privies behind the tenement houses, finds an abandoned newborn baby in the muck. An orphan himself, Sylvan rescues the child, determined to find where she belongs.
Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. Now Belle, the family’s star, has vanished into the bowels of Manhattan, leaving Odile alone and desperate to find her.
A young woman named Alphie awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum—sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile, overbearing mother. On the ward she meets another young woman of ethereal beauty who does not speak, a girl with an extraordinary talent that might save them both.
As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger. In magnetic, luminous prose, Leslie Parry offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past in a narrative of astonishing beauty, full of wondrous enchantments-a marvelous debut that will leave readers breathless.
Part of me wants to ramble on and on about what a wonderful piece of literature this is. Every miniature aspect of the novel is crafted with the detail and care of a genius creating her most phenomenal masterpiece, and the end result is extraordinary. I was constantly caught between an urgent need to devour every morsel of the story, and an overwhelming desire to savor every twist and turn of the plot, committing to memory each character so that I could revisit their stories in my mind over and over again.
The other part of me wants to throw myself off a building, because Parry’s plot twists are toxic. My nerves are fried, and I have exhausted my body’s capacity for emotional attachment to anything. I cannot count the number of times I had to close the book, put it aside (very carefully) and take a long, long walk just to catch my breath and calm down. My heart was racing that fast.
I can’t bring myself to say anything more, because I might collapse into a puddle of tears about the sheer depth of my love and hatred for this novel. Love because it changed my life, and hatred because it destroyed it, too.
Recommended to: fans of The Night Circus, The Palace of Curiosities, Frog Music.
The Last Word
Just to put it all in perspective, Church of Marvels makes me want to change all my other five-star ratings four stars.