ARC Review: Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H. P. Wood

27015411Title : Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Author : H. P. Wood

Publisher : Sourcebooks Landmark

Release date : June 7th, 2016

Rating : 4.1/5

Synopsis (from Goodreads) :

May 1904. Coney Island’s newest amusement park, Dreamland, has just opened. Its many spectacles are expected to attract crowds by the thousands, paying back investors many times over.

Kitty Hayward and her mother arrive by steamer from South Africa. When Kitty’s mother takes ill, the hotel doctor sends Kitty to Manhattan to fetch some special medicine. But when she returns, Kitty’s mother has vanished. The desk clerk tells Kitty she is at the wrong hotel. The doctor says he’s never seen her although, she notices, he is unable to look her in the eye.

Alone in a strange country, Kitty meets the denizens of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. A relic of a darker, dirtier era, Magruder’s is home to a forlorn flea circus, a handful of disgruntled Unusuals, and a mad Uzbek scientist. Magruder’s Unusuals take Kitty under their wing and resolve to find out what happened to her mother.

But as a plague spreads, Coney Island is placed under quarantine. The gang at Magruder’s finds that a missing mother is the least of their problems, as the once-glamorous resort town is abandoned to the freaks, anarchists, and madmen.

 

Review :

Ok so, you know when you decide to taste a dish, and it tastes completely different from what you expected, but it was still very good, so you end up pleasantly surprised? That’s how I felt about Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet!

From the deep corners of my mind, I managed to find a comparison for Wood’s writing style: you’re watching someone you respect walk away from you, but suddenly, they realize they have a last thing to say, and so they toss behind them the words you’ve been waiting to hear. It’s that kind of careless, yet thoughtful prose that you can expect to find in Magruder’s. At every page, I found myself smiling a little, intrigued and charmed by the wittiness of Wood’s writing! It’s elegant, and polished, like something you’d find in the early 1900s, which is the era in which the novel takes place. Think of the way they speak in Downton Abbey. The early 1900s being the turn of the century, it is a period of wonder over technology, electricity and electronic gadgets. As far as I learnt in my history and economics classes, Magruder’s is historically accurate. Not only in the technology domain, but also about the illness, the locations, and other little things, while still managing to remain in the Fiction section.

The build up to the catastrophic plague is very good; it would be considered slow for some people, but it was well paced for me, and realistic, considering the fact that we follow the lives of freaks and outcasts, who have no quick way to learn anything except by figuring out everything by themselves. However, as my reading progressed, I realized I had yet to read anything truly exciting. If you’re looking for a Night Circus kind of feel, you’ll be disappointed: Magruder’s was a rather depressing story, coated in chocolate. Like in Night Circus, I expected a dreamy, foreign-like, mystical and strange atmosphere, and wonderful descriptions of the Unusuals and their oddities. But nothing really sparked up my imagination or made me dream… which was enormously disappointing. But the ending itself was suspenseful and fast paced, magnificently written. Throughout the book, Wood handled well the themes of gender roles and discrimination. It was direct and powerful, and sent a strong message of solidarity and self-esteem.

In every chapter, points of views alternate between characters, and it creates an intricate and complete painting of the events, from one person to the other. Through the story, you get a real sense of the Unusuals’ closeness and intimacy. There are heart-warming relationships, bonding together enchanting characters, like the gender fluid Rosalind, or the mute boy P-Ray. Each character is quite real, “three-dimensional”. They are complete, down to their background and quirks and way of speaking. Even when a conversation occurs among many characters, everything is said in each and every one’s particular tone. It was an amazing arabesque of personalities. We encounter the strong, the resilient, the lost, the determined, the confused, the selfish, the practical, and many more colorful figures throughout the story. Even though, as I’ve said, it’s a depressing story, they don’t let it get them down, and they bounce back.

In conclusion, Magruder’s was a delightful story, written by a master’s hand, touching many delicate subjects, but managing to make me root for all the characters.

** Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for providing me with an e-copy of this book!

Picture sources : 1, 2

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