*I received free ARCS of these books. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
The Winter Freak Show blurb:
KIDS ARE VANISHING IN VICTORIAN LONDON. ONLY TOBY KNOWS WHY.
CAN HE SAVE THE CITY BEFORE FALLING VICTIM HIMSELF?
After twelve-year-old Toby Carter escapes a brutal workhouse at Christmas, he can’t believe his good fortune. Adopted by a band of travelling performers called The Winter Freak Show who put on spellbinding shows each night, he finally believes he’s found the family he always wanted. Then everything falls apart.
Children are disappearing throughout the city. Pretty soon, all evidence points to those Toby trusted the most and he finds himself caught up in a conspiracy far more sinister than he ever imagined. Defenceless and on the run, he’s confronted with two options: uncover the kidnapper before another child falls victim, or stand by and watch as the shadowy criminal becomes unstoppable.
The fate of Christmas rests in the balance.
Face of a Traitor blurb:
ONE BOY. TWO WORLDS. AN ANCIENT EVIL THAT WANTS THEM BOTH.
It’s been a year since thirteen-year-old Toby Thornton found his long-lost family. But already cracks are appearing in his dream life. Forbidden from seeing his magical friends at The Winter Freak Show, he begins to realise how much he misses adventure. So when he gets word that the elves are in danger, that’s all the excuse he needs to run away from home.
It isn’t long before he discovers that things are worse than he imagined. Nicko has been kidnapped. And without the ringmaster’s guidance, his elves have descended into chaos. A band of shapeshifting enemies lurk among their ranks. Monsters are on the loose. And the secretive mastermind behind it all is trying to resurrect the most frightening evil the elves have ever faced. Only Toby stands in their way.
If he fails, forget Christmas. This time, the human race will fall.
I’m reviewing The Winter Freak Show and its sequel, Face of a Traitor, together, as I read them together.
They are both quite short novels and quick easy reads, classed as children’s books on Amazon. I think they would be perfect for children who enjoy books like the Harry Potter series and Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles. Much like those classic series, we have here a child protagonist cruelly treated by the ‘real world’ and plunging into a magical adventure which gets darker and more adult as their journey progresses.
The tone quickly escalates between the two novels, as The Winter Freak Show is more of a light-hearted romp through an alternative take on Christmas, elves and Saint Nick, introducing Toby as the ‘Chosen One’ and completing a neatly contained story arc within its pages. This could easily be read as a stand alone, as it has a satisfying ending of its own.
Face of a Traitor however does need to really be read after the first book, as we come back to the same characters but the pace is faster and the peril is more disquieting. There is always something creepy and wrong about characters who can morph their appearances (hence the title), as it means the reader can no longer trust in the narrative of the protagonist, knowing that anyone around them could be part of the deception.
There are certainly plenty of twists and turns here to keep the reader guessing, although thanks to J. K. Rowling I was able to spot one of the reveals before it happened!
Overall these are great quick seasonal reads for children of a strong disposition, but similar to both Harry Potter and the Wolves Chronicles can actually be read at any time of year that you fancy a bit of that Dickensian winter atmosphere with a magical twist.
Toby turned around. It was then that he saw why the others had run so fast into the tent. The costumed performers behind him were no longer human.
Something in the music had transformed them. Like monstrous butterflies from a gothic cocoon, their fur coats and colourful masks clung to their skin and faces. Nature and costume merged and it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. The performers no longer wore the costumes – their costumes were their new skin.
Some shimmered like silver, their fur bristling like falling snow. Others became shocking, furry, animal-human abominations with fangs and pointed ears. Startling, yet beautiful. A few had turned into shadows, melting into the ground and flitting from place to place like ghosts. The scene was surreal. The freaks had revealed themselves.
– Daniel Parsons, The Winter Freak Show
Check here for my review of Blott, another Young Adult fantasy novel by Daniel Parsons.