I am delighted to share my review today for Theatre of Marvels by Lianne Dillsworth. This is a wonderful historical fiction story about a Black Actress in London, that has its Publication Day today.
My huge thanks to Penguin Random House for my e-copy of this book via NetGalley.
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.
Zillah is a young woman of mixed race. Her mother has given her the best chance in life she can, as a free person, not a slave. This is set in the Victorian era of London and the author has created a vivid picture of what life may have been like for someone like Zillah.
Working as an actress, she isn’t happy that her role is to play a warrior from the Amazon, especially when she has never left London. Zillah was born in the slums of St Giles and a job is a job. She does however start to realise that maybe her painting herself up, dancing and chanting on stage may not be right.
This story is about how a young girl is discovering more about herself and the world she lives in. In some ways, she does live a sheltered life, she has a job, and a place to live and while she has worries she does have the basics. It is when she starts to see other people and listen to their opinions and what they are fighting for that sZillah herself wants to make her own contribution.
This is a time of exploitation, slavery and manipulation. The world is changing and not everyone wants to keep up or change with it. The author does such a great job with descriptions of sights sounds and smells that this did become a very immersive story. I genuinely cared about what Zillah was faced with and what decisions she had to make.
Trying to do the right thing isn’t easy, but when you are still struggling to understand what is going on it makes it hard. But the thing about Zillah is her determination, it is something that grows with her and it was great to read of her finding the courage to join the campaign for better laws and freedoms.
This is a historical fiction story, I did think it had more of a Young Adult feel to it as the story does focus on Zillah, her realisation that there are things in the world that are not right, it is her journey of self-discovery and empowerment. It is a story that does have some serious themes, but the author doesn’t go into too much detail which was rather nice from a reader’s point of view. It is an interesting and evocative read and one that I would recommend reading.
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