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Seventeen-year-old orphan Gracie Hart has just committed a murder. Now she needs to get out of Albany before anyone finds the body. She plans on traveling to Chicago to find the aunt and uncle who supposedly live there, but she’s pickpocketed at the train station before accidentally ending up stowing away on a locomotive going the wrong direction. It’s not just any locomotive either. The train carries Vincenzio’s Circus Troupe and Menagerie, and it’s on its way to Montreal. When Gracie is discovered, Vincenzio makes an unexpected job offer. “You’ll be the new assistant for my magician,” he says, “and it’s so easy a monkey could do it. But the costume looks much nicer on a young woman—and it helps that you’re about the same size as our last girl.” The magician is Jack, with whom Gracie has already clashed due to his identical appearance to the man who pickpocketed her. If that isn’t enough, Jack is also the troupe’s knife thrower, and his last assistant ended up with a dagger between her eyes. It quickly becomes apparent that there are strange goings-on at the circus—happenings that mere stage tricks can’t account for—and if Gracie can’t figure them out, she may soon suffer the fate of the magician’s previous assistant! Turley’s prose elegantly embodies the glam and drama of the circus: “Gracie raised her arms high over her head, elbows bent to form a diamond. The flames in the kerosene lights shivered with the motion of air. The crowd inhaled as Jack raised his first knife past his ear. Gracie’s breath caught and she couldn’t bear to keep her eyes open.” Gracie is an immediately engaging protagonist, a surprisingly relatable “guttersnipe” who guides the reader into the carnivalesque world of the traveling circus. There are some aspects of the plot that don’t quite coalesce, but like a good sideshow performance, the book manages to delight and confound.

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