Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Wood
It's the early 1900's and Coney Island is at its peak as an entertainment destination. Unusuals, as they call themselves, are those individuals whose lives will never be mainstream due to their bodies, and who are on exhibit everywhere in circuses and sideshows. Entire villages of tribesmen from other cultures have been brought over to America to edify those who come to visit. Every center must have a curiosity cabinet and Coney Island has Magruder's. Inside it's halls, strange and amazing artifacts from all over the world have been collected and are on exhibit.
Kitty Hayward has come to America with her mother to meet her brother who has come ahead of them. The Haywards are a wealthy English family and surely nothing bad can happen to them. But the women arrive to find the brother has died and then they are separated themselves. Kitty finds herself adrift in a park on Coney Island. She is found there by Archie, a con man, and taken to Magruder's.
There she meets the regulars. Zeph is a black man with no legs, cut off in a farming accident. P-Ray is a young Arab boy who can only say one word but is considered family. Doc Timur is an eccentric inventor who lives in his upstairs lab and creates wonders. Rosalind is a gender fluid individual who delights in dressing half-male, half-female and shocking everyone. Spencer is the son of an influential Senator and is not sure why he has come to Magruder's. He brings Nasan who instead of falling in love with Spencer, longs to become part of Magruder's where her burning desire for knowledge and education is not sneered at.
Calamity strikes when the plague strikes Coney Island. Those with power and money decide the best way to treat the outbreak is to quarantine the island, regardless of all those who are now trapped there with no way to make money or get food or medicine. The collection of individuals at Magruder's must work together to survive the outbreak and help each other. Can they survive?
H. P. Wood has written an engaging historical fantasy that mixes true facts with flights of fancy, creating a world that is captivating and interesting. The addition of history facts educates the reader as the book delights one's whimsy. This book is recommended for fantasy readers and those captivated by carnivals and curiosity collections.