Read: July 10 - 12 Verdict: 4 Stars
Blanche Beunon is an ex-Parisian circus performer, now living in San Francisco with her beau and his best friend. It's 1876, the smallpox epidemic is at large and Blanche is supporting her small family by working as a burlesque dancer in an established bar.
Little does Blanche know, but the night she bumps (literally) into Jenny Bonnet, a cross-dressing frog catcher who rides a large unicycle, is the night that changes the course of the rest of her life. Jenny's questions end up making Blanche reconsider choices she has made, and eventually, somehow, ends up with Jenny lying dead in an Irishman's bar.
I really enjoyed this book. I felt it extremely fresh and exotic. It was something I had never read about before and it really kept me on my toes. The story flashes back and forth from the night and the days following Jenny;s murder to the night Blanche originally met Jenny and the weeks that followed that meeting.
Blanche is a flawed character who, despite throwbacks, does try to do her best. She has led a life being sheltered and manipulated almost by the men in her life and it's interesting to see her character development into not only a mother but a woman who can stand up for herself, and stand on her own two feet. Jenny was a character that was so full of life but also full of secrets and it both thrilled and frustrated me that by the end of the novel we still only got a half-painted picture of who she really was. I would actually love some kind of short story in Jenny;s POV as I found her truly fascinating. I suppose she could be called a feminist before people even knew what the word meant.
The backdrop of the story, San Francisco during an epidemic was full of atmosphere, and dripping with history. Blanche's home is in the middle of the street where a number of emigrants lived and her daily life was full of the French, Irish and Chinese. I really loved this. I also loved that all the characters in this book were actually real people!
I think, from reading reviews on Goodreads, people need to go into this book with fresh eyes and not compare it to any other books from the same author. It is a delicious, atmospheric piece of historical writing, and it will have you dancing on stage with Blanche and riding around San Fran on a unicycle with a bag of hopping frogs with Jenny. Enjoy the ride!