“Olympia Knife” by Alysia Constantine

I got this book from NetGalley a few months ago, but I’ve been terrible about staying on top of reviewing ARCs. Even when I actually read them on time, I keep writing “review to come” and then never writing it. One of my goals for 2018 is to actually review stuff straight away, so I’m trying to start as I mean to go on. This was my first book of the year, and tada! I wrote a review!

olympia knife

Publication date: November 2nd, 2017

This was a strange, compelling book, but ultimately a tiny bit disappointing.

I’ll start with the strangeness, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s set in a travelling circus, which I enjoy as a setting. The cast is mostly focused on the sideshow ‘freaks’; as outsiders they’re both sympathetic and interesting characters. Their talents and oddities aren’t where the strangeness comes in, though; while bearded ladies and contortionists may be unusual enough to find themselves in a circus, they’re not inherently supernatural.

Olympia, the titular character, starts out as an aerialist, who just happens to turn invisible sometimes — but her invisibility isn’t her talent or act. It’s just A Thing That Happens, without the author or other characters particularly feeling the need to explain why. If it were her act, this would be a relatively conventional fantasy circus. The fact that it’s merely a quirk of her nature makes this book different, and more interesting because of it, if also more frustrating.

The strangeness, then, was there from the beginning, and things start to get stranger when members of the circus begin to disappear one by one in impossible ways.

This is where the word “compelling” comes in. I started this book quite late at night, with a bad headache, planning just to read a little bit to switch off my brain’s dissertation mode that would inevitably keep me up if I didn’t. Instead I ended up reading more than half the book. With each disappearance I became more and more interested in knowing WHY and HOW these characters were disappearing. Would the circus survive? Would they come back? The more I read, the more questions I had, and it was only reluctantly that I put it down to go to sleep.

However, it was in the resolution of this narrative that the disappointment arrived. I won’t give too many details, as I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I had a lot of questions and was given very few answers. Indeed, some of the hints that I was given confused me even further. I think I can see what the MEANING of the disappearances was, if that makes sense, but not how they happened. Like Olympia’s invisibility, they weren’t explained; however, while her invisibility wasn’t the crux of the tension and mystery of the book, they were, and I felt there needed to be slightly more explanation, especially as I’d been so intrigued to know what was happening.

Other things I enjoyed about the book include the fact it centres on a f/f relationship, as well as featuring other characters from diverse backgrounds. I also liked the glimpses of each character’s backstory that came periodically. At first they threw me off, but I settled into it and enjoyed the insight they offered into what had brought each character to the circus. The writing style, too, was enjoyable enough, although didn’t blow me away (I measure that by how often I highlight phrases on Kindle just because I like them; I only highlighted a few bits of dialogue in this one).

It was probably shaping up to be a four star read, but the ending did disappoint me somewhat, as I really wanted some more concrete resolution, so I’m only going to give it three — a little sad, since it was the first book I read this year, but hopefully not an omen for the rest of my reading in 2018.

Rating: ***

Buy ‘Olympia Knife’ on Amazon (UK)
Buy ‘Olympia Knife’ on Amazon (US)

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