The Circus Rose, Betsy Cornwell – Book Review

Hello Humans! Are we here for another circus book? Has there been enough of a gap since the last one? Probably!

The Circus Rose


Goodreads Summary:

A queer retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red” in which teenage twins battle evil religious extremists to save their loves and their circus family.

Twins Rosie and Ivory have grown up at their ringmaster mother’s knee, and after years on the road, they’re returning to Port End, the closest place to home they know. Yet something has changed in the bustling city: fundamentalist flyers paper the walls and preachers fill the squares, warning of shadows falling over the land. The circus prepares a triumphant homecoming show, full of lights and spectacle that could chase away even the darkest shadow. But during Rosie’s tightrope act, disaster strikes.

In this lush, sensuous novel interwoven with themes of social justice and found family, it’s up to Ivory and her magician love—with the help of a dancing bear—to track down an evil priest and save their circus family before it’s too late.

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If there’s one thing I love more than a retelling it’s a queer retelling – and having had some misses with queer fiction in the recent months I was trepidatious going into this book. I was expecting there to be a background F/F relationship and not much else.

Boy was I wrong.

I’m going to start with the one thing that really bothered me about this book  – and yes it is the fae. Now those who’ve been around for a while know I tend to not enjoy the fae in books – in this instance it wasn’t the presentation of the Fae that bothered me. In this case, it was the fact that it took a good amount of the book for it to become apparent that the fae existed, were an understood aspect of society and had real magic. I was reminded of how I felt about Sanctuary and how it takes a while to get the point across that magic is real and understood in normal life. It’s a small worldbuilding detail in the grand scheme of things – but I feel it’s something you should know from right at the start of the book – not something you should suddenly discover several chapters in. It’s possible that is on me – maybe I missed a reference earlier in the book but that was the one little ‘hm’ moment I had.

Other than that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s worth saying, I can’t speak to the representation of Rose as neuro-atypical – it didn’t hit any red flags for me but it’ll be interesting to hear some own voices reviews of this book. Rose’s perspectives in the book are written in verse, which I found an interesting way of representing the character, it also moves the plot along in a surprisingly effective way.

I won’t lie, this book made me cry. And not just once. This book went to emotional places I genuinely wouldn’t have expected – the ending is beautiful and I would say maybe just read it for the ending alone?

But the rest of the book is good too! I liked that the book explored the Fae as non-binary, using Fe, Fae, Fem pronouns – which is consistent throughout the book. It felt like this book was written with intersectional intent and I appreciated that.

This isn’t just the simple circus book I had thought it would be – there’s a lot of nuance and….I don’t have the words – there’s a lot more to this book than I ever would have thought and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it (waiting on ownvoices reviews obviously).

My rating: 4/5 stars

I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

The Circus Rose publishes June 16th

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What say you? Have you read this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


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