As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…
She cannot die.
Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.
To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.
If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.
I always enjoy a Victorian London setting, and the description of the Tournament of Freaks sounded like a mashup of The Hunger Games and X-Men. There’s no way I could resist requesting this book from NetGalley.
After the macabre opening scene of this book, I was all in. Adam comes across as a cunning assassin with plenty of closely held secrets. I wanted to know exactly what they were and what his connection to Iris was. While I understood Iris’s need to discover her identity and origin, her character didn’t appeal to me as much – but three of the male characters are completely enamored of her. The love triangle – square? – pops up early in the story, but the competition between her suitors grows tiresome pretty quickly. I’ve never been a fan of that trope, but that’s just me.
I was anxious to get to the Tournament, but it doesn’t make an appearance until around the halfway mark and isn’t as much of a plot element as I’d expected. The clues send the teams on life-endangering searches all over London, and the rules state the winner will be the player still alive within the team left standing. Love the high stakes. And there’s no shortage of creepy characters on these teams. I liked the fact that Iris and her team had plenty of stiff competition, but the disadvantage of that was the sheer number of characters to keep straight. Many times I came across someone I couldn’t remember.
While the world-building and plot are unique and well thought out, the story features a strong female MC, and there are several plot threads to follow, I struggled with the pacing (nearly 500 pages) and skimmed through some sections. Reviews are split on this, and many readers enjoyed the longer length of the novel – it just comes down to personal perference.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.