science fiction and fantasy book reviewsGirl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond fantasy book reviews YAGirl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond has a real gift for writing believable, interesting teenaged protagonists, and puts that gift to use in Girl in the Shadows (2016), the second installment in her CIRQUE AMERICAN series and a companion to the first novel, Girl on a Wire. Though not a true sequel, many primary characters from Girl on a Wire return as supporting characters in Girl in the Shadows, and key events from the first book have a definite effect on the second. While it’s not necessary to read them in order, enough hints are dropped regarding previous mysterious and tragic events that new readers are sure to be interested in the entire series.

Moira Mitchell wants nothing more than to be a stage magician, following in the footsteps of lesser-known female magicians throughout history like Adelaide Herrmann, Lulu Hurst, and Annie Abbott. She’s quite skilled, and has even devised a number of ingenious illusions and unique sleight-of-hand tricks, but it’s difficult for her to get a break in the male-dominated world of stage magic. Her father, a famous Las Vegas magician, refuses to even let her assist with a simple card trick, and insists that she needs to go to college instead. When an invitation to the traveling Cirque American accidentally falls into Moira’s hands, she takes off for the Florida Everglades, where she charms her way into auditioning for the circus owner and organizers. Her intended routine goes wildly awry, however, and to everyone’s surprise, she appears to perform actual magic. Thurston Meyer, the owner, and Nan Maroni, the well-respected matriarch of a famous performing family, agree that Moira can join the Cirque American: Thurston because he thinks she’ll bring in customers, and Nan because she has a connection to real magic and wants to know what Moira is capable of.

As Moira travels the southern U.S. with the Cirque American crew, she practices both kinds of magic, plumbing the depths of her skills and learning unexpected secrets about herself and the safe, comfortable world she thought she knew. She becomes better acquainted with fellow performers like trapeze artists Dita Garcia and her brother Remy, Remy’s girlfriend Jules Maroni (the famous Girl on a Wire), and Dez, an accomplished knife-thrower with tightly-guarded secrets of his own. The romance element of Girl in the Shadows is a little predictable, but the friendships Moira develops are convincing and authentically written, especially in moments when Moira and Dita support one another through realistic emotional crises. Moira begins as a sheltered, privileged, ambitious young woman, and her development into a more mature person is as central to the plot as her efforts to discover what role magic plays in her life.

One of the best aspects of Girl in the Shadows is Moira’s stage patter; she opens each performance by talking about a real-life female magician who was well-known in her own time but may have been largely overlooked by history. Bond incorporates these historical figures and the details of their lives into concise, natural-sounding monologues; it’s obvious she put a lot of time and research into this subject, and her passion for it is evident. Additionally, her research into magic as a performance is equally obvious, and while Bond doesn’t go into every detail of Moira’s illusions (a magician never reveals her secrets), Bond includes scenes showing how hard Moira works to make her stage shows seem effortless to her audience. And there’s even a scene set in The Magic Castle, which is the closest many of us will get to ever experiencing true magic!

Girl in the Shadows is a quick, enjoyable read, filled with an equal mix of grand flourishes and quiet moments. Some darker themes are addressed as Moira discovers more about the true world of magic, but it’s nothing too explicit or gruesome, and her determination and courage in the face of adversity is admirable. Recommended for YA readers, both young and not-so-young, particularly those with a love of magic.

Published July 5, 2016. Eighteen-year-old Moira Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Vegas’s stage lights while her father’s career as a magician soared. More than anything, Moira wants to be a magician too, but her father is dead set against her pursuing magic. When an invitation to join the Cirque American mistakenly falls into Moira’s possession, she takes action. Instead of giving the highly coveted invitation to its intended recipient, Raleigh, her father’s handsome and worldly former apprentice, Moira takes off to join the Cirque. If she can perform alongside its world-famous acts, she knows she’ll be able to convince her dad that magic is her future. But when Moira arrives, things take on an intensity she can’t control as her stage magic suddenly feels like…real magic. To further distract her, Raleigh shows up none too pleased at Moira’s presence, all while the Cirque’s cocky and intriguing knife thrower, Dez, seems to have it out for her. As tensions mount and Moira’s abilities come into question, she must decide what’s real and what’s an illusion. If she doesn’t sort it out in time, she may forever remain a girl in the shadows.


  • Jana Nyman

    JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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