Solid with Flashes of Brilliance
The Ringmaster’s Wife centres around two couples: the fictional Colin Keary and Lady Rosamund Easling, and the real-life John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers circus, which even I’ve heard of) and his wife, Mable (of which nothing much is known except the odd spelling of her name). John is definitely the minor character of the four, but his circus isn’t—the ever-moving, ever-changing circus.
The four main characters meant I did find The Ringmaster’s Wife a little difficult to get into. It started in 1929, then moved back to 1926, then to when Mable was twelve, then to when she was in her late teens (and had changed her name, so I did have to flick backwards and forwards a bit to confirm Armilda was Mable. Because, you know, that didn’t exactly jump out as being obvious. At least not to me. Overall, it wasn’t so much split timeline (as were Kirsty Cambron’s previous novels) as it was all over the place.
My other problem was with some of the writing. Don’t get me wrong: some of the writing was brilliant, lines like:
But time had wingsor
“How do you even know I’ll fit in?”But some of the writing was lacklusture at best, and goes against every modern writing rule at worst (well, goes against all James Scott Bell and Margie Lawson’s writing rules, with dialogue tags like he noted, he stated, he reasoned, she questioned, she tossed out. I almost tossed the dummy at that one, to break another writing ‘rule’ and use a cliché. I’m not sure whether they would have bothered a reader who wasn’t also a freelance fiction editor, but they certainly bothered me).
“You could never fit in, Rose. You were made to stand out.”
The other thing which bothered me was describing Lady Rosamund’s mother as a courtesan aka high-class prostitute. I think the implication was meant to be that she sold herself to the highest bidder in marriage. But that wasn’t how it read to me—and I suspect that’s how other non-American readers or readers of British historical fiction or Regency romance will read it as I did. Words have meaning, and it's important to use the right word.
But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Ringmaster’s Wife. I did. I enjoyed this historical detail, especially in regard to the circus—even though the circus was very un-politically correct from today’s standards in that it had animals and (horror!) dancing bears. But I also saw what a big deal the circus would have been for people in small-town 1920’s America, people who didn’t have television or the movies, people who would otherwise never see an elephant or a bear or a lion (although I don’t really see the attraction of the bearded lady or the tattooed man). And it was good to see that—it was original, and it was well done.
The underlying theme of The Ringmaster’s Wife was going behind the mask in the search for self (or perhaps the search for the person God meant us to be). This was mostly played out by the character of Lady Rosamund aka The English Rose, but it was also important for Mabel and for Colin. It’s a timeless theme, one that resonates as much today as in 1929.
Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kristy Cambron at her website, and you can read the introduction to The Ringmaster's Wife below: