Book Review: Church of Marvels

church of marvelsTitle: Church of Marvels
Author: Leslie Parry
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Rating: 3.5/5

Church of Marvels is a turn-of-the-century novel that unites four unlikely characters after a shocking discovery. Sylvan Threadgill is a night soiler in Manhattan who finds an abandoned infant in the privies in the middle of the night. Despite what others tell him, he rescues the child and brings her to a safe place, determined to find out who abandoned her. Odile Church was a part of an act with her sister, Isabelle, at the Church of Marvels, the Coney Island sideshow that their mother built. A tragic fire destroys the Church of Marvels and kills Odile’s mother and a few other members of the show. Isabelle disappears shortly after the fire and Odile fears something might have happened to her in the gritty city of Manhattan. Alphie worked on the docks before she fell in love with Anthony, the local undertaker. Despite the disapproval of Anthony’s mother, the two married and Alphie has been desperate to impress her. After a violent evening that is all but a blur, Alphie ends up in the lunatic asylum, where she meets an unusual girl without a tongue. The paths of these characters soon collide as they all attempt to solve the mysteries that have been presented to them.

This novel is told from the points of view of Sylvan, Odile, and Alphie. Each of the characters had a very intriguing story and I enjoyed learning about them. I thought that the stereotypes that Sylvan faced were authentic to the era and I found myself hoping that he could find acceptance. Odile is desperate to find her sister and although she always felt inferior to her, I loved her dedication to Isabelle. Alphie lives in a world that doesn’t quite understand her and she spends the novel attempting figure out how she ended up in the lunatic asylum and how she can escape. Alphie’s character is nice and genuine but as she discovers how she ended up in the asylum, I couldn’t help but sympathize with her.

Although I did enjoy learning the different stories of these characters, I thought that there was almost too much background information in the first half of the novel. Since we must learn the stories of these three characters, the book seems to drag out and it doesn’t really pick up speed until the last half of the book. It was obvious that Parry spent a lot of time developing these characters, but there were almost too many details that slowed down the action.

I think my favorite thing about this novel was the incredibly rich and detailed setting. Parry does an excellent job of building an authentic 1895 Manhattan and I could easily picture everything throughout the story. Parry adds small details throughout the novel that add to the authenticity of the era and I really appreciated it. The amount of research that was done for the setting is apparent and the world was incredibly vivid.

I thought that the ending of the novel was well written. I really liked Alphie’s ending and she seemed to finally be at peace by the end of the novel. I felt like Sylvan found the acceptance that he needed. I think that Odile’s ending was a little disappointing after all that she went through, but it did make sense. The epilogue was a little long, but I enjoyed reading from a perspective that Parry did not explore during the novel.

I would have enjoyed this novel more if it hadn’t been so slow in the beginning. The characters were all interesting and the setting was fantastic, but I just felt like the story didn’t pick up until the ending. I will caution any potential readers and say that Church of Marvels is a dark novel and deals with many mature themes, such as illicit drug use and gender identity. I would recommend this novel to a more adult audience who can properly appreciate these topics.

If you have read Church of Marvels, I would love to hear your thoughts as well. To view Church of Marvels on Amazon, please click here.

I received a free copy of Church of Marvels courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


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