City of Circles by Jess Richards

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City of Circles by Jess Richards

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Intelligent themes of growth and grief are blended with a fascinating fantasy world in this compelling read by author Jess Richards.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2017
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473656680

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Danu is a tightrope walker who is mourning her parents, after a disease has ravaged the circus where she grew up. Her mother has entrusted her with a locket that hides a secret. Over the years, Danu pushes away her grief and develops elaborate and successful high-wire acts with Morrie, a charismatic hunchback who wants to marry her. When the circus returns to Danu's birthplace, Matryoshka, Danu is enchanted by the temples, spice mists, and pleasure seekers within the intoxicating outer circle district. Here, she finally gains the courage to open her mother's locket, and discovers the name of a stranger who lives behind the locked gate of the Inner Circle. Fated to remain in Matryoshka, Danu attempts to resolve this mystery. Will she and Morrie ever be reunited, or will something far more unexpected be waiting for her in the mysterious heart of the city?

Jess Richards is a Welsh author – formerly based in Brighton she now lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She's written two novels previously – Snake Ropes which was shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize, Costa First Novel and the Scottish Book Awards, and Cooking with Bones which was published in 2014. I read City of Bones – a rather intriguing read that combined young adult Sci-Fi themes with rather beautiful and evocative descriptions and cleverly built locations.

City of Circles feels a little older in tone than Cooking with Bones – and protagonist Danu reflects that. She's grieving – and her raw emotion seeps out of the page wonderfully, the opening paragraphs instantly putting the readers on Danu's side and conveying her desperation in a few well-crafted words. Travelling around, the prose is intended that the reader focus on Danu rather than her surroundings, and her growing and intriguing relationship with tightrope walker Morrie – a complex situation carefully and skilfully brought to life. It's when the caravans that Danu and Morrie travel in reach the City of Matryoshka that Richards' descriptive skills really come to the fore – the design and myths surrounding the city so elaborate and intelligent that another book could be dedicated solely to them. Splitting the narrative at this point also allows for a little more diversity in terms of viewpoint, and the different perspectives that allows serve the plot well – the distinct viewpoints allowing Richards to explain the concepts at the heart of this book, which become increasingly more complex as it continues.

This feels like a mature work – and as Richard's third novel it's clear that she's learned considerable skill in balancing a book well – everything seems to work well together, characters and plots complementing and moving together in a synchronicity that's impressive, and can only come from years of hard work. It's true that the plot can feel a little bare at times, especially pre-arrival in Matryoshka, but it appears that this is deliberate – and Danu's journey is such that I'd be hard-pressed not to suggest joining her on a voyage of growth, healing and love. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading I recommend All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders - a read that blends Sci-Fi and Fantasy and, much like City of Circles allows the author to address intriguing issues without beating the reader over the head with them, like so many books are prone to do.

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Buy City of Circles by Jess Richards at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy City of Circles by Jess Richards at


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