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Pantomime by Laura Lam

Pantomime by Laura Lam
Book Name: Pantomime
Author: Laura Lam
Publisher(s): Strange Chemistry
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: February 5, 2013 (US) February 7, 2013 (UK)

Pantomime is the debut young adult fantasy novel from Laura Lam, a wonderful book that is so much more than it first seems to be. Set in a Victorian-inspired world, in the nation of Ellada and its colonies, it feels just a little steampunky, which suits the mood of the circus perfectly, and at the same time a bit quirky and different.

There’s a rich mythology that builds throughout the book, of the magic and the beings that used to populate the land. Now magic has all-but disappeared, except in the strange artefacts that have been left behind, called the Vestige, that are becoming rarer and more expensive with every passing year. The people have built cities around the impenetrable domes of Penglass, a mysterious substance that’s another remnant of the powerful civilisation that once lived here. Interesting little bits of history and politics enliven the plot, as well as the strange blend of magic and technology that will obviously become more important as the series progresses. Ellada feels like a land on the edge – of decline, war, or perhaps renewal – and I found it a fascinating place to read about.

On a side note, the setting of this book is an archipelago, with a vast sea beyond that no-one has ever ventured into and returned from. In this, in the semi-mythical history, and in the slight feel of a world tottering on the brink of declining or re-awakening magic, it reminded me a little of Earthsea, a favourite fantasy land of mine. It’s also the second fantasy archipelago I’ve read about recently; I wonder if they’re coming back in?

As with many young adult books, Pantomime is a coming of age and self-discovery story. It features a character who has run away from a life of privilege (which is also a life of crushing restrictions and expectations) to join the circus. If this sounds like many stories you’ve read or seen before, think again. It might, in fact, be better to ignore the book’s synopsis, as it is a little misleading; this isn’t the book you might be expecting. Micah is one of the most sympathetic, well-realised and bravest characters I’ve read about in a long time, and the story, while following some expected plot points, also twists the readers’ expectations in interesting ways. Nothing in this world is really quite what it seems, the main character obviously, but also the circus itself, the other characters, the nobility and empire of Ellada, and much more. The story does actually feature a pantomime, but in fact the whole book is a pantomime, as everyone and everything in it puts on its own performance to the world, hiding the truth to various degrees.

There is also a clue in the title as to what the main character’s own secret may be, but talking about the plot is a little hard without giving this away, and while I don’t believe it to be spoilery, others may find it so. The story itself mainly deals with the circus and with Micah’s attempt to find a place in the world, while also exploring issues of identity, gender, sexuality, class, and more, in a sensitive and intelligent way. I really liked these aspects, particularly the theme of acceptance and the author’s writing of the main character. Laura Lam writes confidently, with a natural, easy style, and the book is always a pleasure to read.

The story is fairly slow-paced and character driven, with chapters alternating between flashback and present day, though I actually found it an incredibly quick read. It’s a little dark in places, but fun and playful in others, sometimes sad and sometimes tense; the shifts in tone are done well and keep the book flowing nicely. I was excited by events in both timelines, and never found that any parts dragged.

Having said that, I do wish there had been a little more development of events in the circus before the rather sudden ending. The last few chapters rush like a whirlwind before some pretty big cliffhangers. In some ways this is a little frustrating after the more slow-building, character-focussed book, and I was left longing to find out what happens next. This is not a book that will give many answers to the questions it sets up, but it takes the reader on a fantastic journey while it does introduce its world and characters.

Well-written and intelligent fantasy with characters I loved and a wonderful protagonist, in a fascinating world. I really enjoyed Pantomime and I can’t wait to re-enter Ellada and continue to unravel its secrets.



  1. Avatar Bibliotropic says:

    This is one that I keep meaning to read, because hear it’s simply amazing. And from hearing you and other people mention explorations of gender and sexuality in the book, it makes me want to read it even more, because I love seeing that stuff taken seriously in YA fiction. Excellent review!

  2. Avatar A.E. Marling says:

    Thank you for writing the review. Circuses are magical places. Between the scents of caramel and desperate dreams, there’s always something mysterious and otherworldly in a place where bears ride bicycles and men walk across ropes.

  3. […] lastly, Pantomime had another lovely review on the site Fantasy Faction: “Micah is one of the most sympathetic, well-realised and bravest characters I’ve read […]

  4. […] imprint Strange Chemistry would be folding. Authors such as Laura Lam, who had written books like Pantomime that scored 9 & 10 out of 10 scores, were left out of contract. Equally hard to swallow was […]

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