Three and a half stars is what I rate this book. Basically, it is a retelling of The Inferno set in a traveling circus. The nine circles are represented by the nine states the circus travels through, starting in Boston, Massachusetts where Daniel, the young runaway, joins and is mentored/guided by the Ringmaster and completing its journey in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Daniel initially runs away because his domestic home life is a kind of hell dominated by his cruel brother and emotionally distant father. Even though he is under the Ringmaster’s protection, Daniel is initially greeted with violence and hostility by many of the performers. To that end there is quite a bit of violence perpetrated against Daniel.
In each state, Daniel is given opportunities to learn about different performers. Each of these individuals is in the process of experiencing or running away from their own particular brands of hell. Each story unfolds and as Daniel becomes a witness and participant to each performers story, he slowly becomes more accepted by the troupe.
By the end of the story, Daniel has garnered a level of respect and care from many members of the troupe. It is all put to the test because unknown by the Ringmaster, a traitor has been operating in their midst attempting to take down the circus. At each of the nine stops, misfortune dogs the show until in New Orleans, it all comes undone in two nights of violence and terror. The descriptions here are not for the squeamish as animals turn on performers and it is very graphically written.
In the end, Daniel will be returned to his life. We won’t know what he has learned from his experiences or how he will apply it to his life but we do know that he has experienced a level of darkness and a getting of wisdom. The circus is always a great backdrop to a story because it seems to evoke in readers the joy of childhood; the mystery of travelers who come to a place for a brief time, impact the people they touch and then disappear just as mysteriously; and the darkness of the carnie life as it is populated by outsiders and people who need or want to live outside the long arm of the law.
This is not a long book – 212 pages on an e-reader. The chapters are labeled as Cantos just like The Inferno. For those that have read The Inferno there will be the added layer of comparing the two but it’s certainly not a prerequisite for enjoying the story which stands alone quite well without it. A wonderful experience. I highly recommend it!!