Reviewed by Rhonda
TITLE: The Circus of the Damned (A Deal with a Devil Book 2)
AUTHOR: Cornelia Grey
PUBLISHER: Riptide Publishing
LENGTH: 322 pages
Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival. But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need. Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due.
FREAK!! Gilbert Blake didn’t consider himself one of those, what an insult! He considered himself a master manipulator and gambler extraordinaire, with a twist of course. He had actual magical powers that allowed him to disappear into thin air and manipulate cards, dice and smoke in incredible ways. Just ask Jesse, the ringmaster of the Circus of the Damned. Gilbert meets Jesse after causing a minor riot at a pub after being accused of being a card cheat and in the ensuing chaos makes a man cough up a chicken, yes, an actual chicken, thus causing a mob to beat him to a bloody pulp. The chances of him living through it was looking a bit sketchy when he met Jesse, the ringmaster of The Circus of the Damned. Jesse who some 200 years ago made a deal with the devil to have the biggest, best, most astonishing circus ever seen. The type of place that kings and queens flock to in order to see the magnificence that only he can show them. Pride always goes before the fall doesn’t it? He made a deal with the devil to get what he wanted, unfortunately it didn’t turn out the way he wanted because he was also made responsible for the other souls in his care at the circus who had made their own deals. After a few decades he realizes that being the ringmaster isn’t all it is cracked up to be. He meets Gilbert while on a hunt for a new performer. When a performer at the circus dies, Jesse must replace him or her with 24 hours or all the souls connected with the circus go to hell…no pressure there! As luck would have it, Jesse stumbles upon Gilbert in the midst of his being chased and threatened with imminent death and makes his deal with him. Sell his soul to the devil and perform with the circus in exchange for getting him out of his sticky situation. Of course Gilbert agrees thinking he can get out of it simply by running away which he does as soon as the circus stopped its travel the very same day he makes the deal. Foolish Gilbert runs from Jesse and the Circus of the Damned as soon as he can get away and jumps on a train where he meets a man named Farferello. As luck would have it, the man is actually the same devil Jesse met up with all those years ago. Farferello knows full well who Gilbert is and what the particulars are of the deal struck that Gilbert was trying to break. The devil Farferello lets Gilbert know that there is no escape and proves it as soon Gilbert falls asleep, only to awaken in the circus. When he finds himself back where he started, he gets up and runs away again and again but no matter what, as soon as he falls asleep he is back where he started, in a caravan at the circus. He eventually stops running because it just isn’t getting him anywhere and he must face the deal he made and face it like a man. Or go insane.
He meets the other performers, including Ethel and Bobby the conjoined twins, Constance the acrobat, Humphreys the octopus man and the inventor of Herbert the mechanical elephant, Dora the ancient fortune teller, as well as others and takes his place amongst them. It is not as bad as he thought it was and Gilbert sets eyes on Jesse. They start the age old dance around each other while moving from place to place, making enough money to get through the approaching winter and as bad luck would have it, trying to replace Dora who passes away one night. On your mark, get set, GO!! They have 24 hours to find another new performer. They do find a girl who looks ideal, But Jesse won’t force her to make the deal and they go home empty handed. On the way they find out that a nasty character from Gilbert’s past, Count Reuben, is not only still looking for Gilbert but now also is setting his sights on collecting freaks anyway he can and locking them in his lair for the purposes of creating an army of freaks to have at his command.
Things just aren’t going their way when the timer goes off. Not only did they not get a new performer, but now they have Count Reuben and his minions chasing after them. Farferello appears and Jesse goes to throw himself at his mercy and to hopefully get the devil to just take him and leave Gilbert and the others free. I have always thought the devil doesn’t get a fair shake and the author Cornelia Grey writes him with an actual moral code and feelings. He has wants and needs of his own that he is willing to stretch as much as possible to give Jesse and Gilbert the chance that eluded him with Jesse all those years ago when the original deal was struck. Yes, there is a side story there that is a game changer for these men. Farferello actually extends their time and helps them as much as he can and gives them the information and pushes that they need to win the day.
I am going to read the other books in the series now that I am hooked on these characters. The vivid descriptions provided by Ms. Grey of the performances and action going on does makes you want more. Please, may I have some more? I recommend this book!