The summary of this book ticked all my boxes — steampunk, m/m romance, set in a circus! And written by an author who’s from the same corner of the world as me. I was very curious to read this, and happily it did not disappoint. The Circus of the Damned is about magician Gilbert Blake, who has to skip town in a hurry after he’s caught using his magic to cheat at cards. He joins the titular circus to have a place to hide, but he realizes too late that all the performers are cursed never to leave the circus, not even after death.
I flip-flopped for a long while on the rating, because while I did enjoy the story a lot there were also some parts that made me roll my eyes. I even made a list of pros and cons. The pros were that it was a quick read, despite the 300+ pages I finished it in two days. I liked the minor characters (Humphreys!) and the setting was great, I loved the atmosphere of the circus. The reveal about the devil Farfarello was completely unexpected and I enjoyed that very much. Also, that sex scene with magic.
The pacing was mostly good: the book started off in the middle of Gilbert trying to cheat some guy at cards and then things kept happening one after the other. Unfortunately that made it even more noticeable when the action lulled. I felt like a couple of chapters could have been skipped entirely because nothing at all happened and they felt like padding. Some of the minor characters also felt like padding, there were so many people in the circus that I couldn’t keep all of them straight in my head. Is the bear Mildred or Matilda? And who the hell is Ramona again?
The cons were that I’m not completely sold on the two leads, there was a bit too much instalove and I much prefer UST and pining. For being as old as he is, Jesse acted like a fucking teenager who didn’t consider the (obvious) consequences of his actions. Also, I expected a little more out of the ending; after all the build-up to the final confrontation, everything was tied up too neatly. Gilbert’s mouse was completely useless: she’s mentioned often in the beginning, and then less and less, until I kept forgetting she was even around. I didn’t get the point of the mouse. Also, there was some weird phrasing here and there. My biggest pet peeve is that I have no idea where the story is set. The only city mentioned by name is Shadowsea so I’m thinking fictional universe with magic. But then the author mentions Italy and Asia, so… I got nothing.
Overall, though, I think this book is better than the sum of its parts. There are books where after a week I remember only the bad bits, while with this book what I remember most is that it was fun! So, four full teacups, and I’d definitely read a sequel or another story set in the same world, wherever that may be!