Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the chance to read this book prior to publication. The review below is my opinion and was not impacted in any way by receiving an advance reading copy.
1904 Coney Island. The newest amusement park, Dreamland, has opened and the summer tourists are beginning to swarm upon this bright new attraction. But the other side of the island are the forgotten relics of a different era. Part of that bygone era is Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a museum of curiosities and oddities. Home to a mad scientist and a place for the Unusuals to hang out and not be stared at or laughed at for their appearance. Into this scene comes young Kitty Hayward. A young English woman who has come to America with her family and has seemed to lost them along the way and no one will tell her where they are. By luck or chance, she is brought to Magruder’s and its inhabitants take her under their wing as they try to help her find out what has happened to her mother.
The story brings together two sides of the coin in Coney Island. The business owners and politicians who will do anything it takes to keep not only their investments but their own class safe. On the other side you have the everyday people who make these investments profitable, the Unusuals who put on their shows and ply their trades to bring in the tourists. In the wake of a plague going through the island like wildfire, the blame is put on the modest flea circus held at Magruder’s and on those who run the circus and other myriad of features around the island. The tourists flee and those left behind have to struggle to stay alive, keep their way of life intact and solve the mystery of Kitty’s mother.
There are so many characters that sometimes it is hard to keep them all sorted out. But they are all vividly drawn and they each have their own story that lends to the greater narrative. The heroes and villains are sometimes one in the same. There is plenty of action and suspense and there are a few twists and turns along the way that you may not be expecting. I was left wanting more and I haven’t yet decided if that’s good or bad!
While this is a work of fiction, you can tell that the history of Coney Island was well researched and the descriptions of Magruder’s Curiosity Closet remind you of several oddities and curiosities museums all over the world. The more unusual characters were treated with respect and weren’t allowed to become caricatures. I think my favorite would have to be Rosalind and I think he will probably become yours too.