The Mumbo Jumbo Circus by Jane George – review

Red Willow Publishing, 2011, 336 pages, 978-1936539086, Paperback, $12.50

Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult

It’s a fun coincidence that I finished The Mumbo Jumbo Circus the day before I was scheduled to attend Cirque du Soleil Dralion. Not that Cirque shows and circus shows are anything alike, but it did make me anticipate watching the performances all the more.

But to get right down to it, I loved this book. After reading the first few pages, I was interested in Evan’s situation, and her quick move to the circus life left me anticipating what she would find there. On top of that, I fell in love with the quirky characters and constantly wanted to know more about them. Of course, even though I loved it, I recognize that the book had its rough spots–just one or two issues with pacing, mostly, and nothing that prevented me from understanding what was happening. Minor flaws, in my opinion, for a book that entertained me so well.

Synopsis from the author’s website:

When the enigmatic Ringmaster asks 15-year-old Evanja (Evan) Leane to run away and join the circus, she says yes. Anywhere’s got to be better than foster home Number Eight. Evan learns that this ragtag circus, a haven for throwaway teens, relies on more than spectacle and illusion. This circus is built on magic. Each of the teens possesses a donvrai, a true gift, that manifests only in the presence of the Ringmaster’s mysterious Ju-Ju. Unlike many of the other teens who must wait for their donvrai to emerge, Evan’s gift surfaces on her first night: she can read horses’ minds. This would be totally awesome except she has been deathly afraid of horses since foster home Number Three. But circus is a dying art. If Evan wants to save her beloved new-found home, she must concoct a brilliant horse act that will bring in the crowds. And she’d better get over herself and get on with it fast, because there’s a traitor close to the Ringmaster who will stop at nothing to make sure she doesn’t succeed.

The Mumbo Jumbo Circus is a coming-of-age story with some fantasy flare. Evan, the main character, struggles with her difficult past and her uncertain future. While she’s trying to learn the art of the circus, she’s also learning to deal with boys, a magical talent, and her phobia of horses. Everywhere she looks something crazy is happening, and then there’s the whole issue of the sabotage. . . .

And where am I going with all of this? To tell you that, despite all of these things, she’s not a whiner.

Is that important enough to put in a review, you ask? God, yes. After reading The Hunger Games trilogy, wherein Katniss Everdeen did nothing but act self-pitying for three books in a row, Evanja Leane is like being buoyed up on fluffy clouds in sunshine. She’s had a difficult life being passed from foster home to foster home, and it has taken its toll, but one thing Evan comes to learn about herself is that she’s a take-charge sort of person when given the room to do what she thinks is right. Oh, sure, she has moments where she stumbles, but who can blame her? And, anyway, that’s what coming-of-age stories are all about, right?

I enjoyed reading this book from Evan’s point of view. I found her a pleasant mind to inhabit, and a strong character on top of that. I tend to be particularly critical of young female characters, so I’m happy to report that Evan has more than passed muster.

But what about the other characters? Yes, Evan is important because she’s front and center, but who else did I find notable?

First up, the Ringmaster. Jules Compere is fantastic and enigmatic, and I’m not just saying that because he reminds me of Mephisto Pheles from Blue Exoricst (they’re absolutely nothing alike, character-wise, so I don’t now why I make that connection. Maybe it’s the goatee…). We probably learn the least about Compere over the course of the story, but this is part of his charm. Yes, I want to know more. Would love to know more, but it’s not essential to Evan’s story, and it just makes Compere all the most interesting. Besides, the possibility of finding out something new in the future is supremely enticing. For instance, what exactly are the details of his history? What exactly was his previous relationship with the social worker Felice Everston? A lot of things are implied, but very little is said outright. Add to that his very human aspect and his protectiveness toward the people who work for him, and you’ve got a really stand-out character.

Aside from Evan and Compere, the two characters we see most are Wally and Johnny. They take up a more or less equivalent amount of story time as both become friends with Evan, but they couldn’t be more different in terms of character: Wally the goth versus Johnny the golden boy. Their constant competition is always a little amusing–and sometimes a little frustrating–but it’s well worth watching them grow into an uneasy truce as events force them to work together. They’re both very much like boys I knew when I was Evan’s age, which is something I really like about them. (Random: The weekend after I finished this book, I passed a guy at the mall who I swear looked just like my vision of Wally.)

One of the great things about this story is that, while there is magic happening all over the circus, many of the looming threats come in the form of ordinary reality. Whether it’s bad finances, snoopy social workers, or greedy relatives, all of the things that cause the circus trouble could just as easily be happening to anyone anywhere in the world. The solutions to these problems, however, are frequently found through magical means, which I thought was an interesting juxtaposition.

As for the rough bits, they’re relatively minor and don’t interfere much with the plot, with one exception that led me to figure out a major event much quicker than was probably intended. If anything, I would have liked that to be harder to figure out (no spoilers! I won’t even tell you which bit I’m talking about), but that’s probably the worst thing I have to say, which isn’t so bad at all, really.

The Mumbo Jumbo Circus is fun and exciting with plenty of drama and a cast of characters that will make you want to keep reading. But wait! The fun doesn’t stop here. You can expect more from the Mumbo Jumbo Circus with volume two, The Daring Young Man. More on that when it comes out!

Note: I read an e-book version of this book, but the information that I provided above is for the paperback edition. It is also available for Kindle through

Thank you to Jane George for providing me with a review copy of this novel.



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