The Chaos Circus features two of my favorite tropes, memory loss and parallel worlds, and so seemed like a great place to start with my SPFBO 6 books. Even so, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect—these tropes can just as easily lead to frustrating confusion as to an engaging story. In this case, however, I was delighted that they were both handled well. Tessa’s memory loss adds a mystery to the story that we get to uncover alongside her, without muddling the rest of the plot. The parallel world of the Mirror Lands is a vibrant setting that works perfectly as the backdrop of this tale.
To maintain her sanity, Tessa must pass five trials at the Chaos Circus. At first, I was worried this would turn out to be formulaic and repetitive. Instead, these trials were remarkably unpredictable and furthered the story by inspiring Tessa’s personal growth and self-acceptance. I was never bored by the trials, and I rarely, if ever, solved them before Tessa did.
The Chaos Circus also has a significant focus on romance. It’s a slow burn distrust to friends to lovers that I found pleasing, though a bit cliché. This might be a good time to note that I found all of the characters in this novel to be distinct and memorable even though we only encountered many of them once or twice.
One pet peeve of mine, which The Chaos Circus unfortunately falls into, is a poor representation of mental health institutions. Of course, this is a fictional world, and there’s no reason that the mental asylum Tessa was committed to should be perfect, but it still rubs me the wrong way to see mental health professionals portrayed as the bad guys. However, this is a small complaint, and it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story except perhaps in one scene.
I have the feeling that people are either going to love or hate the ending of The Chaos Circus. For me, it was a bit of both. Regardless of my personal feelings, the ending was obviously very well planned. It doesn’t come out of left field, but it is likely to leave some readers dissatisfied. (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! It’s a great way to make your novel memorable.)
The Chaos Circus was a refreshing read. It’s not the perfect novel, but it is one that arrested my attention and affection. You can tell this is a story that’s personal to Dugan, and I’m happy to have had the pleasure of reading it.