After reading the synopsis of Menagerie by Rachel Vincent, I was incredibly curious to find out more. I was fortunate to be sent an ARC of the book by the publisher Harlequin for an honest review and couldn’t wait to jump in once it arrived. In a world after a great tragedy where fear reins over reasoning, a menagerie filled with “attractions” in the form of gryphons, mermaids, minotaur, werewolves, other shape shifters, and more, where the sentient creatures, also known as cryptids, are kept in cages, sedated, malnourished, abused and then paraded out as spectacles in Metzger’s Menagerie.
Delilah Marrow, the heroine of the story, has the shock of her life as she is unexpectedly exposed as a cryptid, in public, in the worst possible place, Metzger’s Menagerie. It’s not only the crowd of people that are surprised by the fact that she is able to shift into a creature with sharp claws, hair that floats, white eyes, and a thirst for vengeance, Delilah is just as shocked. If that’s not enough, Lilah soon learns that that her mother has kept the truth, a secret hidden away all these years, about where Delilah actually came from. Stripped of everything from her possessions and rights to her dignity, Delilah is assigned a handler by the name of Gallagher and locked in a cage among her fellow menagerie.
I finished this book in three days; it’s been a while since that happened with an over 400 page novel. I couldn’t devour it fast enough. The only thing slowing me down was the blurred vision, elevated heartbeat, and boiling blood from the utter cruelty and injustice perpetrated on the various characters in this strange and intriguing tale. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect was that I was not at all surprised at the level that some of the human monsters were willing to stoop in regards to the imprisoned cryptids that make up the menagerie.
It is Delilah’s character that really holds things together for me. She is intelligent, witty, sarcastic, and even after being knocked out with a mallet to the head, waking up in a cell completely naked, and then being told that her legal status was the equivalent of a vicious dog accused of attacking a person, Delilah still refuses to surrender to hopelessness. In fact, her fear makes her almost more defiant; it certainly makes her more determined about not being an “attraction” to be goggled at, and moreso, to escape captivity and the hellish change her life has taken. I think one of the aspects of the book that made some of the worst injustices “bearable” really was Delilah’s character, her attitude. She wasn’t fearless, but she doesn’t accept the circumstances handed to her, whine, or shrink away from what she is able to do, including keeping her mind clear and finding a focus. A strong, female character, even when all of her supposed freedom and power have been taken from her.
Something I do wish I’d seen a little more of in Menagerie were deeper descriptions of possibly lesser known cryptids. Almost anyone could describe a werewolf (or similar beings), in either form as well as probably give you one or two variations on the mythos that goes along with werewolves, mainly because they’re pretty common in recent fiction. However, some of the lesser known creatures described in Menagerie sometimes left me feeling absurdly curious about them and was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t some sort of backstory or information, especially since Delilah has been fascinated by them all their life. One such example that comes to mind is Adira, the marid, also called one of the djinn. I have vague ideas of some of the mythos that accompanies the djinn, but there are various kinds and I am not familiar enough to remember them, their histories, or beyond characteristics alluded to or mentioned in the book. I halted for some googling for references and images to add to my imagination, but would have liked to hear more from the world itself about the creatures in it. Perhaps more will be revealed in the remaining books in the series. (As a side note, I think it’d be pretty awesome if Rachel Vincent released a collection of images depicting specific cryptids, or collected fan art created from inspiration from the cryptids of the book. I’d LOVE to see that.)
The only real criticism I have for this book concerns the ending. A lot of big, shocking, and plan altering things happen in rather short succession in the last handful of chapters. I couldn’t escape the feeling that the last five or so chapters were typed out at break neck speed with a basic outline of things that needed to happen. There is barely time to register what all has happened before you realize you’ve turned the last page.
Menagerie was difficult to put down, my curiosity often winning out over the logic of sleeping or attending to the other necessities of life and living. The characters seemed to call to me through the night leaving me with the strong desire to return to them; the cryptids’ plight is harrowing and with each turn of the page I eagerly anticipated what might happen next and vied for their release from their cruel captivity.
I’d recommend this book to those with a love of the strange, stories that involve fantastical creatures in a “real world” setting, and if you enjoy strong female characters. I would however tag this book as a possible trigger warning for those that may have experienced various assaults, abuse, or any form of captivity or where liberty has been withheld. As a survivor myself, I will say that some aspects of the book I found particularly disturbing and difficult, but that has less to do with any graphic description or detail in the book and more to do with my own imagination and horror.
The downside of receiving a book before it’s been released (as was this case) and finishing it within a couple of days is the inevitable and excruciating wait for the sequel. I now have at least a year if not longer to while away before returning to the menagerie after the intense and uncertain close to the first novel in the trilogy.
It is going to be a long wait. Hoping I’ll somehow be able to snag an ARC of the next two…so the wait won’t be *as* long.