Moira wants to be a famous magician, like her father, but girls are supposed to be the magicians' assistants. So she . . . runs off and joins the circus. Literally. Girl in the Shadows is the second book in Gwenda Bond's Cirque American series, after Girl on a Wire, and normally I'd be wary of reviewing a later book in a series, but in this case it's not a direct sequel and, really, you should read both.
Because the primary things I like about both books are the same: They're about young women making a place for themselves in families and a community that is both close-knit and (mostly) loving and mired in traditional gender roles that these girls want to break out of. And the main characters become exceptional in their fields because of their talent but more importantly because of their hard work and determination.
I should add a caveat here: I don't particularly like circus stuff, and I actively dislike clowns. (Please don't make a future book be about a clown girl, Gwenda.) But I'm fascinated by stories that are set in specific communities with their own customs and unconventional ways of life, whether they're religious cults, boarding schools, or, here, a traveling circus. Bond makes this world come to life and feel rich and deep, and I loved inhabiting it while I read the book.
I've barely mentioned the actual plot here, and while it's true that I love these books mostly for the main characters and setting, the plot is nothing to scoff at - there's mystery and magic and romance, all intertwined, with a deep cast of multidimensional characters. The specific mystery of this book is solved in a satisfying way, but things are definitely set up for the future books that I very much hope will follow.
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