I’m about to tell you a story about what happens when one doesn’t read titles carefully. I was browsing NetGalley one day looking for something to read (it’s a rare occasion that I go hunting for books in this manner, as they usually find me, but I was in a reading lull.) Anywho. I ran across a book called Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by HP Wood. However, seeing as I had Harry Potter on the brain at the time, I read “Magruder’s” as “Marauder’s.” It sounded a bit circus-y, so I was down for it, even once I realized I’d misread the title.
Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is set in 1904 Coney Island. Kitty Hayward is a British girl visiting the attractions in Coney Island with her mother when her mother comes down with a mysterious illness. The hotel staff send her off on a fool’s errand for some medicine, and upon her return she’s treated as though she and her mother were never at the hotel. She’s left marooned on a strange island in a strange country. She’s penniless and frightened, not to mention terrified for her mother’s well-being. The residents of Coney Island are largely “Unusuals,” or the sideshow entertainers. It’s an eclectic bunch of strongmen, flea wranglers, lion tamers, and con men that Kitty encounters, but the Unusuals quickly embrace their suddenly impoverished foreign guest. Plagues make for strange bedfellows, after all, because that mysterious illness Kitty’s mother contracted? It’s spreading.
I must admit I was rather disappointed to discover that there was no actual reported outbreak of plague in Coney Island during this time period. I like my historical fiction best when the overarching situations are rooted in fact. I also adore a motley crew of misfits, so I was on board with the Unusuals and their fascinating little society. Unfortunately, I found the execution just a bit clunky. It got to a point where it seemed like every cool or quirky concept the author brainstormed while writing was thrown in for the sake of not wasting an idea rather than making sure it worked well in the narrative. In the end, I was left wanting more backstory for certain characters and fewer extraneous asides. Still, I think it’s a book worth reading- it’s certainly a fun and bizarre ride. If you’re in the mood for something different and dig the whole circus/sideshow thing, you should totally check out Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet.
Talk to me, Bookworms! Have any of y’all been to Coney Island? What’s it like? Is it one of those places that just seems to breathe with old timey creeptasticness?
*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*