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Theatre of Marvels

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Crowds gather at Crillick's Variety Theatre, where curiosity is satisfied with displays of intrigue and fear. They're here for the star of the show - the Great Amazonia warrior. They needn't know this warrior is in fact Zillah, a mixed-race actress from the East End fooling them each night with her thrilling performance. But something is amiss, and when Crillick's new act g Crowds gather at Crillick's Variety Theatre, where curiosity is satisfied with displays of intrigue and fear. They're here for the star of the show - the Great Amazonia warrior. They needn't know this warrior is in fact Zillah, a mixed-race actress from the East End fooling them each night with her thrilling performance. But something is amiss, and when Crillick's new act goes missing Zillah feels compelled to investigate, knowing the fates that can befall women in Victorian London. From the bustle of the West India Docks to the coffee houses of Fleet Street to the parlours of Mayfair, Zillah's journey for answers will find her caught between both sides of her own identity, and between two men: her wealthy white admirer, and an African merchant appalled by her act. Will Zillah be forced to confront the price of her own performance? And in risking everything can she also save herself? Featuring a defiant heroine for our times and a theatrical world of fragile dreams and ruthless ambition, THEATRE OF MARVELS shines a light on the experience of being Black and British in Victorian London through one woman's journey to live her life on her own terms.


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Crowds gather at Crillick's Variety Theatre, where curiosity is satisfied with displays of intrigue and fear. They're here for the star of the show - the Great Amazonia warrior. They needn't know this warrior is in fact Zillah, a mixed-race actress from the East End fooling them each night with her thrilling performance. But something is amiss, and when Crillick's new act g Crowds gather at Crillick's Variety Theatre, where curiosity is satisfied with displays of intrigue and fear. They're here for the star of the show - the Great Amazonia warrior. They needn't know this warrior is in fact Zillah, a mixed-race actress from the East End fooling them each night with her thrilling performance. But something is amiss, and when Crillick's new act goes missing Zillah feels compelled to investigate, knowing the fates that can befall women in Victorian London. From the bustle of the West India Docks to the coffee houses of Fleet Street to the parlours of Mayfair, Zillah's journey for answers will find her caught between both sides of her own identity, and between two men: her wealthy white admirer, and an African merchant appalled by her act. Will Zillah be forced to confront the price of her own performance? And in risking everything can she also save herself? Featuring a defiant heroine for our times and a theatrical world of fragile dreams and ruthless ambition, THEATRE OF MARVELS shines a light on the experience of being Black and British in Victorian London through one woman's journey to live her life on her own terms.

30 review for Theatre of Marvels

  1. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    1.5 stars

  2. 5 out of 5

    Natasha Leighton

    This deliciously detailed, richly atmospheric and empowering tale of identity and morality is utterly unforgettable—Lianne Dillsworth expertly highlights issues of race and class, shedding light on the hardships women faced in 19th C England, particularly women of colour. It’s honestly breathtaking. It centres around Zillah, a young mixed raced actress from the slums of St. Giles, whose stage persona has fooled audiences into believing she’s ‘Amazonia’ (an African Tribal Queen.) It’s an act cont This deliciously detailed, richly atmospheric and empowering tale of identity and morality is utterly unforgettable—Lianne Dillsworth expertly highlights issues of race and class, shedding light on the hardships women faced in 19th C England, particularly women of colour. It’s honestly breathtaking. It centres around Zillah, a young mixed raced actress from the slums of St. Giles, whose stage persona has fooled audiences into believing she’s ‘Amazonia’ (an African Tribal Queen.) It’s an act contrived by her shady employer and one that’s seen her stardom rise—if being gawped at takes her from the slums and into the upper eschelons of society, then it’s a price she’s willing to pay. But when a new stage act disappears, Zillah is haunted by a feeling something’s amiss. Her pursuit of the truth leads her into the underbelly of the city, as she seeks the help of notorious criminals from her past whilst being torn between two wealthy suitors. Caught into a web of dangerous truths, will Zillah face ruin— or take charge of her own fate? This was absolutely incredible! It’s richly detailed, emotionally thought provoking and utterly addictive, I literally sped through most of it in a single evening, a true testament to Dillsworth’s exceptional writing skills. The really enjoyed the Victorian London setting which was spectacularly atmospheric and unapologetically gritty, there’s absolutely no sugar coating the life experiences and prejudices faced by the working classes (particularly women and people of colour) and though I was absolutely immersed in Zillah’s day to day life, I was also brought to tears by the events she has to witness—she may be fictional but Zillah is a far stronger woman than me, I can guarantee that I couldn’t handle even half of what she has to experience. The sheer level of historical accuracy was also really phenomenal and definitely sheds a light on a huge part of British history; involving marginalised groups that society as a whole has all but forgotten (such as The Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme) which was incredibly eye opening. I loved Zillah, she’s a strong, empowering and utterly endearing character whose journey of self discovery was a truly remarkable one. As a mixed raced woman in Victorian England she initially struggles with her own identity but after embracing her heritage, she really grows into her own —full of confidence, compassion and a steely determination to do save lives (even if it leads her into life threatening danger.) In fact, many of the characters are well written and full of depth with exceptionally detailed backstories but Barky, Zillah’s co-worker (and father figure) has possibly the best and most poignant of them all and the way in which it’s revealed was exceptional—I was genuinely surprised but I loved it! As a villain, Crillick was absolutely perfect;he’s an utterly despicable human being and I must confess I found myself physically angered by his words and actions that I spent the majority of the book hoping he’d endure some form of Karma alongside Ellen (Zillah’s supposed friend) who I absolutely disliked from the beginning and thought was just as awful, though still really well written. Overall, this was a phenomenally written and beautifully evocative story that masterfully tackles the themes of slavery, exploitation and racism to create an utterly compelling, unforgettable and unputdownable read—a must read for historical fiction lovers. Also, thanks to Random House UK and Netgalley for the e-arc.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    DNF Unfortunately, I didn’t realise this was YA and I’m definitely not the right audience. It’s pitched way too young for me- simplistic and lightly done in both character and plot. Perhaps one for those that liked Caraval.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    Lianne Dillsworth's Theatre of Marvels is a marvel of a book. Zillah, a free black woman living in Victorian London, has climbed out of poverty playing Great Amazonia—supposedly a wild woman from the heart of Africa—in a variety show. Since she's relatively light-skinned, she has to black up her face and body for the role to become the African her working-class audience expects. Zillah is the mistress of a member of the peerage. She's also beginning to spend time with a freed slave who has risen Lianne Dillsworth's Theatre of Marvels is a marvel of a book. Zillah, a free black woman living in Victorian London, has climbed out of poverty playing Great Amazonia—supposedly a wild woman from the heart of Africa—in a variety show. Since she's relatively light-skinned, she has to black up her face and body for the role to become the African her working-class audience expects. Zillah is the mistress of a member of the peerage. She's also beginning to spend time with a freed slave who has risen to become a merchant and who is active in the movement to establish a colony of free blacks in Sierra Leone. He's appalled by Zillah's act and tells her when she's ready to abandon it to come to him for support. Not surprisingly, Zillah's life is full of questions. She's light skinned, but still still identifiably black, so what hope does she have of rising in British society? What kind of work could she find that would pay a living wage other than the work she's currently doing? What impact does her portrayal of Amazonia have on public ideas about Africa and blacks? When her employer sets up a grisly new "act" involving kidnapped Africans, Zillah's somewhat abstract questions become very specific and very real. Theatre of Marvels follows Zillah's coming to what Paolo Freire would call critical consciousness and the choices she makes along this personal journey. Dillsworth's depiction of Victorian London is detailed and accurate. Her character Zillah brings to the fore a part of Victorian London's population whose lives have been too little represented in historical fiction set in this era. If you're looking for an historical novel that has a gripping plot and simultaneously offers complex questions about identity and justice, Theatre of Marvels will delight you. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via EdelweissPlus; the opinions are my own.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bookread2day

    I absolutely love the cover of this book. Theatre Of Marvels is the debut novel by Lianne Dillsworth. The author is a major new talent, the story is about a mixed race woman in the West End of Victorian London. The audio book was read by Kathryn Drysdale of Bridgerton, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, St Trinian’s and Vanity Fair. If you love going to the theatre to see a play, or a dance performance or watching a pantomime, you will cherish the stage costumes at Crillick’s Variety Thea I absolutely love the cover of this book. Theatre Of Marvels is the debut novel by Lianne Dillsworth. The author is a major new talent, the story is about a mixed race woman in the West End of Victorian London. The audio book was read by Kathryn Drysdale of Bridgerton, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, St Trinian’s and Vanity Fair. If you love going to the theatre to see a play, or a dance performance or watching a pantomime, you will cherish the stage costumes at Crillick’s Variety Theatre. This adorable story of Theatre Of Marvels follows red_headed Ellen and young actress Zillah with wild black curls, who is an orphan from the slums of St Giles. Barky is the stage manager who took his job seriously to look after the performers. In the audience is an African man in a black hat who sits tall and straight, who Zillah is about to meet. Join Zillah on her journey across Victorian London. Behind the curtain there are no lies in theatre, only performances. Theatre Of Marvel shines a light on the experiences of being black and British in Victorian London through one women’s journey to live life on her own terms. This story will be loved by fans of Jessie Barton, Bridget Collins and Stacey Halls. My review is on my website www.bookread2day.wordpress.com

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ali Bean

    I won an arc of this from a Giveaway and oh my God. This book had me crying and heartbroken and just all around emotional. I can't talk much since well...I am white but this book did not stray from the topics and conversations and thoughts that White Europeans (honestly westerns) had for black people after slavery had ended. It was cruel and disgusting and the fact that these thoughts continue to thrive is well even more disgusting. As for the writing itself. There were parts where it felt clunky I won an arc of this from a Giveaway and oh my God. This book had me crying and heartbroken and just all around emotional. I can't talk much since well...I am white but this book did not stray from the topics and conversations and thoughts that White Europeans (honestly westerns) had for black people after slavery had ended. It was cruel and disgusting and the fact that these thoughts continue to thrive is well even more disgusting. As for the writing itself. There were parts where it felt clunky and off from the rest of the story. The characters while well flushed out had relationships that were either hastily developed or just not there except I will say that the relationship Zillah had with the Leopard Lady and Barky was really well fleshed out and I loved it. I also think the ending was rushed and could have been longer to truly get some messages across. Overall I think this story delves into the world of the West after slavery was demolished in Europe and America and how prejudices and discrimination don't just end when a law is passed and that more needs to be done to fix institutionalized racism. As well as the discombobulated and sometimes painful journey of finding your identity as a mixed race individual.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dan Bassett

    The Great Amazonia! Come and see this mysterious and exotic wonder! Gasp as she devours live flesh to appease her gods! Are you strong enough to face her? Crowds gather at Crillick’s Variety Theatre, a place which could certainly use more than just a lick of paint, where those who can spare their hard-earned coin can come and get their fill of curiosity, intrigue and fear. Zillah is in fact Amazonia but she yearns to be more than a cheap money-spinning act with lofty dreams of much more, yet each The Great Amazonia! Come and see this mysterious and exotic wonder! Gasp as she devours live flesh to appease her gods! Are you strong enough to face her? Crowds gather at Crillick’s Variety Theatre, a place which could certainly use more than just a lick of paint, where those who can spare their hard-earned coin can come and get their fill of curiosity, intrigue and fear. Zillah is in fact Amazonia but she yearns to be more than a cheap money-spinning act with lofty dreams of much more, yet each night she repeats her performance just to get her face out there, for a mixed-race woman to be in the theatre is rare, but to dream for more? Zillah does. A most popular show, Crillick is intent on expanding his marvels and upon the discovery of something even too depraved and sick for Crillick to certainly approve of, Zillah must work against the clock to investigate where this new act is being kept and free them before they fall victim to more than just mere scrutiny of the general public. Caught between two men: one her wealthy white admirer and beau, and an African merchant who is more than disgusted in her act, Zillah must confront who she truly is to really be free and save those who Crillick wishes to exploit but as she dives deeper into this depraved world, just how far dare she go to discover the truth? Showcasing the beautiful tragedy of the world of illusion, sin and the true cost of fame, Theatre of marvels will dazzle you and pull you into an emotional and devastating story.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    Theatre of Marvels from debut author Lianne Dillsworth promises Historical Fiction, Victorian London and a theatrical variety show... what's not to love? Here we meet Zillah, a mixed race actress and the star of Crillick's Entertainment Show performing as The Great Amazonia. Caught between two worlds, this is Zillah's story of self discovery, of cultural heritage, of corruption and ruthless ambition, and the battle to do what's right in a world full of wrongs. While I admire the character developm Theatre of Marvels from debut author Lianne Dillsworth promises Historical Fiction, Victorian London and a theatrical variety show... what's not to love? Here we meet Zillah, a mixed race actress and the star of Crillick's Entertainment Show performing as The Great Amazonia. Caught between two worlds, this is Zillah's story of self discovery, of cultural heritage, of corruption and ruthless ambition, and the battle to do what's right in a world full of wrongs. While I admire the character development here, and it covering some important topics, the plot fell just a little flat for me. The pacing works well, and it does everything it sets out to achieve, I just wish it had aimed a little higher. The writing felt a little too simple for my tastes, but if that's what you're looking for, then this is a solid option. I think this will work for plenty of readers, so if you're looking for a light and quick read then this one comes out next month! Thanks so much to the publisher for sending me a gorgeous proof in exchange for an honest review

  9. 5 out of 5

    June Walters

    I had no idea that this was a YA novel, but wasn’t phased at all, as I have read and thoroughly enjoyed YA books in the past. However, whilst this book may be a useful tool for an educator, for me it missed the mark. The writing was definitely dumbed down for the younger market, so much so that the language and experiences used were totally out of keeping for the period. The narrative was slow and the repetition spoilt the flow of the story. When such important issues are the main focus of a story I had no idea that this was a YA novel, but wasn’t phased at all, as I have read and thoroughly enjoyed YA books in the past. However, whilst this book may be a useful tool for an educator, for me it missed the mark. The writing was definitely dumbed down for the younger market, so much so that the language and experiences used were totally out of keeping for the period. The narrative was slow and the repetition spoilt the flow of the story. When such important issues are the main focus of a story, it is important to be true to the era. Not one for me I’m afraid. From reading other reviews it does appear that I am in the minority, so maybe it was my expectations at fault, my apologies to the author if this is so. Thank you NetGalley.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    Theatre Of Marvels is the debut novel by Lianne Dillsworth. The story is about a mixed race woman, Zillah, from the West End of Victorian London. She is an orphan and an actress trying to survive and this takes her to Crillick, and his Variety Theatre. Each night she puts on makeup and costumes to become "The Amazonian". She dances, chants and performs acts that delight the audience, quickly becoming the star of the show. She is in a relationship with a wealthy white admirer, a Lord, who she ima Theatre Of Marvels is the debut novel by Lianne Dillsworth. The story is about a mixed race woman, Zillah, from the West End of Victorian London. She is an orphan and an actress trying to survive and this takes her to Crillick, and his Variety Theatre. Each night she puts on makeup and costumes to become "The Amazonian". She dances, chants and performs acts that delight the audience, quickly becoming the star of the show. She is in a relationship with a wealthy white admirer, a Lord, who she imagines spending her life with. Enter a handsome, African merchant, who makes her look at her act through different eyes, as well as forcing her to really look at her relationship. When she works at a party for Crillick and sees his new act, she knows she can no longer portray The Amazonian, nor turn a blind eye to what Crillick is doing. To right wrongs, Zillah risks everything, including coming into contact with undesirable and criminal characters from the life in the slums of her childhood that she has worked hard to leave behind. Theatre of Marvels was not what I was expecting when I originally picked this book up. This is historical fiction, but also coming of age, racism, women's issues and finding your place in the world. The character development varied throughout the book, but Zillah was a woman we get to know and relate to. She is a mixed race woman, a daughter of a freed slave. An orphan, she needs to support herself. She is smart, talented and loyal, but does what she needs to do in her job and relationship with a weak aristocrat. Crillick is the villain in this story. He was a cruel, greedy, manipulative business man that was racist and didn't hesitate to use the prejudices of the time to line his pockets. The other character I really liked was Barky. He's the stage manager who took his job seriously and looked after the performers. He befriended Zillah and helped her figure out what she really wanted. He also has secrets and connections that come out later in the story. There were some twists, some danger and many thought provoking moments in the story. It was well paced to keep the attention of the reader. This is a YA story, that will appeal to many with its topics of race and class, the hardships women faced in Victorian England, especially women of colour, the world of illusion, exploitation and the cost of fame. Overall, I enjoyed this story, but found some parts drawn out, then the ending wrapping up way too quickly. The audiobook narrated by Kathryn Drysdale, who added much to the story. She uses her expressive voice to give Zillah and the others distinctive voice. I enjoyed the audiobook very much and recommend this format.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Thebooktrail

    Discover the locations in Theatre of Marvels An apt, one word review for now: Marvellous! Discover the locations in Theatre of Marvels An apt, one word review for now: Marvellous!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    I really enjoyed this historical fiction about Zillah, a young black woman who works in a rather seedy theatre in Victorian London where she appears regularly in a headlining dance act. She never quite feels as though she fits in despite being courted by a member of the aristocracy. When she discovers a terrible scandal going on practically under her nose, she is appalled and determined to stop it continuing, but this puts her own life under scrutiny and brigs her into contact with undesirable a I really enjoyed this historical fiction about Zillah, a young black woman who works in a rather seedy theatre in Victorian London where she appears regularly in a headlining dance act. She never quite feels as though she fits in despite being courted by a member of the aristocracy. When she discovers a terrible scandal going on practically under her nose, she is appalled and determined to stop it continuing, but this puts her own life under scrutiny and brigs her into contact with undesirable and criminal characters from the life in the slums of her childhood she has worked hard to escape from. This unusual and twisty and thought provoking novel, entertained me and tugged at my heart. Zillah is a great heroine and her story makes for fascinating reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    An engaging and beautifully written story, Zillah is a wonderful character, and the historical scene setting, and plot are amazing. Lianne Dillsworth is definitely a new author to follow. Can’t wait for book two.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wendy(Wendyreadsbooks) Robey

    A wonderful tale of knowing who we are and our place in the world we live in. Zillah is a brave woman, fighting for her place in a world where women and especially black women are disregarded as having no place in society. Her character as Amazonia is her journey out of the poverty, but she isn’t happy with the price she has to pay. I really enjoyed some of the secondary characters in this story, Barky and Elvira with Ethel are great additions to Zillah’s world and provide huge comfort to her in A wonderful tale of knowing who we are and our place in the world we live in. Zillah is a brave woman, fighting for her place in a world where women and especially black women are disregarded as having no place in society. Her character as Amazonia is her journey out of the poverty, but she isn’t happy with the price she has to pay. I really enjoyed some of the secondary characters in this story, Barky and Elvira with Ethel are great additions to Zillah’s world and provide huge comfort to her in times of need. A wonderful mix of historical fiction and tale of morality.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jacey

    Set in Victorian London, Zillah, a black British performer, has become the headline act at Crillick's Variety Theatre, performing each night as a wild woman, playing into the stereotypes of the colour of her skin. She thinks she's doing well; she's come from the slums of St Giles into the theatre and the warm and luxurious bed of an aristocrat. But something horrible is going on. Crillick is experimenting on captured Africans and Zillah is determined to free them. Her world begins to crumble and Set in Victorian London, Zillah, a black British performer, has become the headline act at Crillick's Variety Theatre, performing each night as a wild woman, playing into the stereotypes of the colour of her skin. She thinks she's doing well; she's come from the slums of St Giles into the theatre and the warm and luxurious bed of an aristocrat. But something horrible is going on. Crillick is experimenting on captured Africans and Zillah is determined to free them. Her world begins to crumble and she must confront her own part in promoting stereotypes. She realises that she can't rely on her lover and she's increasingly swayed towards another admirer, but in the end who can she trust? This book is about identity, class and colour in the underbelly of Victorian London.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    This dramatic, pacy glimpse into the backstage lives of small-theatre performers in Victorian London shines a light on issues of race, class, identity and the importance of action. It centres on Zillah, a mixed-race actress who, at the request of her sketchy employer, has been fooling audiences into thinking she is 'The Great Amazonia', a tribal African queen. Her act is a gross distortion of the African culture, and yet she is led to believe it is merely entertainment, harming no one. Zillah is This dramatic, pacy glimpse into the backstage lives of small-theatre performers in Victorian London shines a light on issues of race, class, identity and the importance of action. It centres on Zillah, a mixed-race actress who, at the request of her sketchy employer, has been fooling audiences into thinking she is 'The Great Amazonia', a tribal African queen. Her act is a gross distortion of the African culture, and yet she is led to believe it is merely entertainment, harming no one. Zillah is strong willed and defiant, yet her ambition has driven her straight into the arms of the society's elite, who exploit her differences and turn a blind eye when she voices her discomfort. It takes bumping into Lucien Winters, an ex-slave who now runs his own business and spends his time helping other, less fortunate people, for Zillah to begin to learn more about her heritage and form her own opinions. I enjoyed Zillah's character development as she faced numerous shocks and realisations, and I liked that the characters had to actively work to understand each other if they had any hope of moving forward. The narrative voice is chatty and engaging, and the Victorian setting is also well-researched, highlighting the stark differences between classes and races at that time. All in all, this is a quick, powerful read with a strong message and memorable characters.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Connie

    Set amid the bustle of Victorian London, an irresistible story of an ambitious young Black actress, an orphan from the slums who has finally achieved a dubious stardom as “The Great Amazonia, a savage African queen”—but everything she has fought for depends on hiding the secret of her own identity. This is a poignant story of Zillah, a young free woman and her will to survive. I enjoyed this, it's not an easy read at times, due to the cruelty that these people had to endure but still a good story Set amid the bustle of Victorian London, an irresistible story of an ambitious young Black actress, an orphan from the slums who has finally achieved a dubious stardom as “The Great Amazonia, a savage African queen”—but everything she has fought for depends on hiding the secret of her own identity. This is a poignant story of Zillah, a young free woman and her will to survive. I enjoyed this, it's not an easy read at times, due to the cruelty that these people had to endure but still a good story none the less. Thanks to Netgalley and Publisher for the ARC.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm Blogger

    I’d like to thank NetGalley and Random House UK for approving me for an ARC of this book. I generally found this story to be an easy read filled with many unusual characters. Set in Victorian London we follow Zillah’s story. Born and bred in London she has always known a life of struggling to make ends meet. This is how she finds herself working for Crillick and fooling the Londoners into thinking she is an Amazonian woman. Crillick was a nasty piece of work and was extremely greedy. How he parade I’d like to thank NetGalley and Random House UK for approving me for an ARC of this book. I generally found this story to be an easy read filled with many unusual characters. Set in Victorian London we follow Zillah’s story. Born and bred in London she has always known a life of struggling to make ends meet. This is how she finds herself working for Crillick and fooling the Londoners into thinking she is an Amazonian woman. Crillick was a nasty piece of work and was extremely greedy. How he paraded his performers was despicable and in the case of the leopard lady, made me feel sick to the stomach. From the moment the leopard lady entered the story I felt a shift in the pace and found the read more enjoyable from here as Zillah started to plan her escape. Zillah was certainly the star of this story and her determination was not only admirable but very brave. I was pleased with how her story turned out and the independence she gained but I also felt sorry for the love she had lost on more than one occasion. Barky was my favourite character, the protective nature in him and how he helped Zillah just melted my heart. Lianne Dillsworth has created a dark and atmospheric read that shows the gritty side of Victorian London but also teaches us a lot about different cultures and morality.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Edmunds

    A very different book to the usual Victorian time literature you would read. Very empowering and such a strong female main character, carving her own destiny even in the face of difficulty. A couple of typos/missing words in my ARC but overall an enjoyable read. Interesting plot twist at the end but (without spoiling the plot) I was left a bit confused how the logistics of it work with Zillah remaining in London with everything considered.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Grace

    Theatre of Marvels is a YA debut novel with a fairly simple plot, but richly (and with nuance) tackles the intersection between race and class in Victorian London. I feel that further developed characters could have helped the overall magic, adventure and atmosphere of the novel, however the storytelling in general kept me enthralled. I am too old for the target reading audience, and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the darker side of Victorian London society. Thank you Waterstones for the ARC

  21. 4 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    I really wanted to like this one as from the blurb it felt right up my street, but I couldn't get with it at all. Set in Victorian London, Zillah a half caste performs as the great Amazonia on stage at Crillicks theatre. When a well to do black man Mr Winters turns up accusing her of faking it and offering to save her, and a new act is touted Zillah's life is upended. Disappointed. I really wanted to like this one as from the blurb it felt right up my street, but I couldn't get with it at all. Set in Victorian London, Zillah a half caste performs as the great Amazonia on stage at Crillicks theatre. When a well to do black man Mr Winters turns up accusing her of faking it and offering to save her, and a new act is touted Zillah's life is upended. Disappointed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Moorhouse

    Theatre of Marvels is a tantalising dip into the world of variety acts,deception and illicit 'freak' shows, deep in the heart of Victorian London. A fresh new perspective on a popular topic, Dillsworth's novel explores the perspective of a young mixed race performer as she navigates accepting her identity and place in society, and gives a much needed voice to those who were mistreated or whose stories have been erased from the collective English history. Theatre of Marvels was absolutely compell Theatre of Marvels is a tantalising dip into the world of variety acts,deception and illicit 'freak' shows, deep in the heart of Victorian London. A fresh new perspective on a popular topic, Dillsworth's novel explores the perspective of a young mixed race performer as she navigates accepting her identity and place in society, and gives a much needed voice to those who were mistreated or whose stories have been erased from the collective English history. Theatre of Marvels was absolutely compelling and a refreshing and exciting perspective: I can't wait for more from this author. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Laure

    Theatre Of Marvels is a captivating story set in Victorian London about identity and belonging. Refreshing to read a story set in that era with a POC as the main character - Zillah is such a great heroine, nuanced yet strong willed. Lianne Dillsworth really shows her knowledge of the era and I felt immersed in Victorian London without ever feeling like she was piling on the details. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lena Maria Boar

    Honestly loved this book ! it's fantastic, the main character shes so fiercely strong through out story she is growing in person and learning who she is and what she believes in. The story incapsulates you and your turning the pages faster to find out what nexts ! Zihhah what a powerful woman 🙌🏽. Honestly loved this book ! it's fantastic, the main character shes so fiercely strong through out story she is growing in person and learning who she is and what she believes in. The story incapsulates you and your turning the pages faster to find out what nexts ! Zihhah what a powerful woman 🙌🏽.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    When the audience take their seats at Crillick’s Variety Theatre looking forward to an evening of entertainment featuring the Great Amazonia, a ‘savage queen’ captured in Africa, little do they know the act is a fraud. The ‘Great Amazonia’ is actually Zillah, a young mixed-race Londoner who has never been to Africa in her life. Zillah can see nothing wrong with what she is doing; she enjoys being the headline act, she’s being paid for her work and she’s making some powerful new friends, among th When the audience take their seats at Crillick’s Variety Theatre looking forward to an evening of entertainment featuring the Great Amazonia, a ‘savage queen’ captured in Africa, little do they know the act is a fraud. The ‘Great Amazonia’ is actually Zillah, a young mixed-race Londoner who has never been to Africa in her life. Zillah can see nothing wrong with what she is doing; she enjoys being the headline act, she’s being paid for her work and she’s making some powerful new friends, among them Vincent, Viscount Woodward, who is setting her up as his mistress. It’s not until she meets Lucien Winters, an African merchant and former slave, that she begins to question her actions and wonder whether there is a better life she could be leading. Then, her manager Marcus Crillick unveils a new act - the 'Leopard Lady' - and Zillah's eyes are opened to the full extent of Crillick's cruelty and the way she and others are being exploited for financial gain. When the Leopard Lady goes missing, Zillah becomes convinced that she is being held captive somewhere and sets out to search for her - a search that will take her across Victorian London, from the bustling dockyards to the slums of St Giles and the elegant parlours of the upper classes. Meanwhile Zillah must choose between Vincent and Lucien and decide how she wants her future to unfold. I enjoyed Theatre of Marvels, although it did seem very similiar at first to Elizabeth Macneal’s Circus of Wonders, another novel about the exploitation of ‘circus attractions’. However, this one is written from a very different perspective, allowing Lianne Dillsworth to explore different themes such as racial and class inequality and slavery. The thousands of black and mixed-race people who lived in Victorian London are often ignored in fiction set in that period, but Dillsworth gives them a voice here through the characters of Zillah, Lucien and others. Zillah is a particularly interesting heroine as she is clearly struggling with her identity throughout the novel, feeling that she doesn’t truly fit in with one community or the other and trying to decide who she is and what she wants. Although I felt that some of the characters, particularly the villain Marcus Crillick and Zillah’s friend and rival Ellen, were too thinly drawn, there were others I found much more interesting. I was intrigued by Vincent Woodward, as there were times when I thought he must genuinely care about Zillah, but I doubted from the beginning that he would have the courage to defy convention and commit to a future with her. I could only see their relationship ending unhappily. On the other hand, Lucien seemed to have a deeper understanding of Zillah and much more personal integrity, yet I never really managed to warm to him. However, I thought I had predicted how the story would end and was taken by surprise because it wasn’t quite what I’d expected! While I would have liked to have seen more of the Leopard Lady and to have heard some of her story from her own point of view, I did enjoy getting to know Zillah. This was an absorbing and surprisingly quick read and I’ll be looking out for more books from Lianne Dillsworth.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    An original story set in cosmopolitan London in the 19th century. For those who perhaps associate slavery, and it’s long lasting effects, around sugar and cotton plantations in America, this will be quite eye-opening. Britain was well and truly at the centre too. The theme of the novel is identity and Zillah learning more about her cultural heritage. The depiction of how she does not feel she fits into one society or the other draws genuine pathos. She’s a great character and one who draws much An original story set in cosmopolitan London in the 19th century. For those who perhaps associate slavery, and it’s long lasting effects, around sugar and cotton plantations in America, this will be quite eye-opening. Britain was well and truly at the centre too. The theme of the novel is identity and Zillah learning more about her cultural heritage. The depiction of how she does not feel she fits into one society or the other draws genuine pathos. She’s a great character and one who draws much sympathy. I regretted that having had the story centre so much around the rescue of the Leopard Lady, that we then no longer hear a single word about her. It would’ve been good to have had some sort of resolution to what happened next to her. Like others, I’m not also sure about the tacked on 8 Years Later epilogue, although I realise there would have been complaints about the story ending abruptly if there had not been anything. For all the drama at the dock, nothing else subsequently seems to have happened, this was slightly anticlimactic. I guess it was a good device to end the story and illustrated if you’ve got a wealthy and influential protector, then you’re somewhat shielded from threats. For a debut novel it is a solid read, although I think sometimes the writing and characterisation was quite simplistic. But I am sure these skills will be developed in future books. Lianne Dillsworth has done a solid job. It was a good read. I would say 3 1/2 out of five stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Annabel

    3.5-4 stars. A simple, quick-paced read about race, class, and identity. To Zillah, London is home, even though it shoves people like her onto the streets. She wishes to make something of herself and took pride in her role as the headlining act of Crillick's Variety Theatre... until a supposed "new" act unsettles her and makes her seek justice. While novels set in Victorian London typically don't interest me, having Zillah, a mixed-race actress, be the protagonist allows the novel to explore othe 3.5-4 stars. A simple, quick-paced read about race, class, and identity. To Zillah, London is home, even though it shoves people like her onto the streets. She wishes to make something of herself and took pride in her role as the headlining act of Crillick's Variety Theatre... until a supposed "new" act unsettles her and makes her seek justice. While novels set in Victorian London typically don't interest me, having Zillah, a mixed-race actress, be the protagonist allows the novel to explore other themes that made London grimy and gruelling. Zillah's determination had her venture into various sections of the city's weathered, shadowy underbelly to search for answers, adding a sense of danger. This book swiftly carries you from one chapter to the next, sweeping you up into Zillah's story as she fleets from place to place trying to collect answers, and the next thing you know, you're already halfway through the book. So, kudos to Dillsworth for her pacing! I’m a little surprised but pleasantly so with the way the romantic subplot is wrapped up. It makes sense to end it the way it did as it doesn’t detract from Zillah’s arc. However, I kinda hate the choices her lovers made in the end but I'm also not mad because it fits with their motivations. On a similar but also different note, it's a smart choice to have one suitor be white and the other be black as it symbolically conveys how Zillah's coming to terms with her identity through who she chooses to be with. Overall, it's an enjoyable read! Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK for providing me with the e-ARC.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    A reasonably entertaining young adult book. Set in Victorian London, Zillah works on the stage as an exotic. In real life she is a poor mixed race girl from St Giles, trying to escape poverty, on the stage she is a proud and vicious African queen. Her life changes when she meets Lucien Winters who encourages her to question her identity and the role she is playing. From then on she begins to feel guilty for the lie she is performing each evening on the stage. As well as freedom and identity, the A reasonably entertaining young adult book. Set in Victorian London, Zillah works on the stage as an exotic. In real life she is a poor mixed race girl from St Giles, trying to escape poverty, on the stage she is a proud and vicious African queen. Her life changes when she meets Lucien Winters who encourages her to question her identity and the role she is playing. From then on she begins to feel guilty for the lie she is performing each evening on the stage. As well as freedom and identity, the story deals with race and exploitation. I must admit that the synopsis given by the publisher led me to believe that this story would be more action packed than it was. I found the narrative, particularly in the first half of the book, to be very slow. Indeed, it is not until after the halfway point that anything of significance happens. As this is a young adult book it felt rather lightweight. A lot of the issues were given very little depth and I didn't feel that the characters were fully-drawn. Nevertheless this is an easy to read story and Zillah's journey of self-discovery was worth reading. I received a free review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest and unedited review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    V

    I picked Theatre of Marvels up because I love most things set in or based on the Victorian period. There’s something about the era that fascinates me, perhaps partly because it’s the era where a lot of our modern ideas originated. The 19th century saw monumental shifts in the way we live and work, and a lot of the debates that began then are still happening now. Theatre of Marvels centres on a black actress called Zillah, who is trying to escape the poverty she grew up in. She’s made it so far, b I picked Theatre of Marvels up because I love most things set in or based on the Victorian period. There’s something about the era that fascinates me, perhaps partly because it’s the era where a lot of our modern ideas originated. The 19th century saw monumental shifts in the way we live and work, and a lot of the debates that began then are still happening now. Theatre of Marvels centres on a black actress called Zillah, who is trying to escape the poverty she grew up in. She’s made it so far, but only through using her ‘novelty’ status as a black actress to her advantage. She’s a sympathetic character, and as Dillsworth tells the story in first person perspective, exclusively from her point of view, we get to know her quite well. It’s easy to see her character developing throughout the book, and I liked the slow way she had realisations. Dillsworth did a really good job of showing Zillah’s understanding of the world around her grow. Though I, as a reader from the 21st century, could see what was wrong, and what Zillah needed to understand, it was still fulfilling to see Zillah come to those realisations and understandings. The other characters in the novel felt realistic, and I enjoyed the friendships played out in the book. I suppose because Theatre of Marvels is set in the underbelly of the Victorian world, rather than ‘proper’ society, as we see in a lot of novels set in this time period, the relationships between characters are quite free (in the sense that they don’t worry so much about their reputation or what society will think of them for having sex outside of marriage). This side of Victorian society feels much closer to our own. Yes, there are concerns about pregnancy, but this is something the central character feels confident she can prevent. As a result, the relationships are messy, and feel quite contemporary. Thematically, the book is most obviously about race. But it’s also about class too. In a promotional video on Twitter the author says that she hopes people come away from reading Theatre of marvels with a better understanding of the black population in London in the Victorian period. As she says, most people aren’t aware that there was a black population in Britain at that time, and I will admit that I know little of that part of Victorian history. And this is why I love historical fiction: it can teach you something that you otherwise might not have even been aware that you don’t know. Dillsworth sets Theatre of Marvels at the time when the UK government were trying to encourage the ‘Black poor’ to leave Britain for Sierra Leone to start a new life there. So there is this undercurrent of political tension running through the narrative. Zillah differentiates herself from the ‘Black poor’ as she prides herself on having been ‘born free.’ Whereas her mother was a slave, she was born outside of that system. This serves as a stark reminder that slavery didn’t just end in a clean, easy way. There were many ex-slaves left without homes, without incomes, without any means of gaining those things. As Zillah finds in her life, getting work as a black person was extremely difficult due to the extreme (and legal) prejudices that existed against non-white people. These ideas all tie into the central question the novel asks about identity: who are we really? And what creates and defines that identity? As for class, Theatre of Marvels deals with that alongside race, in a way that I really appreciated. For me, Dillsworth suggests that the two things are interlinked. Zillah cannot escape either – though one is obviously harder to hide than the other. Zillah attempts to fit into upper-class society, and finds she struggles. She never seems to feel at home in the big house with the fancy clothes. Yet she doesn’t feel at home in the slums anymore either. She is caught between two worlds. And that resonated a lot with me. I have two main criticisms of Theatre of Marvels. The first is about the relationship that Zillah develops with another character throughout the book. For me, there just something missing in the development of her feelings for this person. I felt like Dillsworth could have shown Zillah’s feelings a little more, and really helped me, as the reader, to understand how Zillah’s feelings were developing. Instead, I felt like, towards the end, that I’d missed something. I felt disconnected from that side of the story. The second criticism regards a secondary character and the way Dillsworth represented them.. This character felt, to me, queer-coded. But Dillsworth never explicitly gave an answer to the question she had asked for the entire story: is this person queer? For a story written in contemporary times, I feel a bit let down that authors still do this. I understand that in Victorian society queer relationships weren’t at all acceptable and were in fact illegal. But for a contemporary reader, there is no reason to never explicitly say one way or the other. For a story that otherwise concludes in quite a satisfying way, this one thing bothered me. Overall, I really enjoyed reading Theatre of Marvels. It was a refreshing take on an historical fiction novel set in the Victorian period, and I really liked reading about characters who weren’t part of upper-class society. I also enjoyed learning about an aspect of history that I don’t know much about, and it has inspired me to do more research and learn more. Theatre of Marvels is well-written, with engaging characters, and a storyline that kept me intrigued all the way through. I hope to read more from Dillsworth in the future.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Saara El-Arifi

    5 stars! Such a poignant look into the life of a mixed raced woman in Victorian London. A book that doesn't erase the Blackness of that period, but celebrates it while tackling themes of identity and morality. 5 stars! Such a poignant look into the life of a mixed raced woman in Victorian London. A book that doesn't erase the Blackness of that period, but celebrates it while tackling themes of identity and morality.

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