Theatre of Marvels

Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780358627913. $27.
DEBUT Dillsworth’s debut is an entertaining tale of Victorian London, incorporating issues of class, race, and gender. Zillah, an orphan from the slums, is pleased to be Crillick’s theater headliner, the Great Amazonia, even if she must dupe the audience into believing that she is a “Black savage” from Africa. Her act is a chance to escape poverty and the limited opportunities afforded young Black women in Victorian society, as is her romance with Vincent, Viscount Woodward. Her life changes the night she meets Lucien Winters, a free African merchant, who encourages Zillah to question her role as Amazonia and her identity as a Black woman in England. When the Leopard Lady, featured in the unscrupulous Crillick’s proposed “freak” act, disappears, Zillah plans to find her, straining her relationship with Vincent and drawing her to Lucien and the Sierra Leone resettlement project. Zillah’s courageous rescue scheme ultimately leads her to self-realization; she is wholly herself, not just her race, sex, or class.
VERDICT Thoroughly researched details of life in Victorian London and Zillah’s chatty narration create very appealing historical fiction. Purchase for readers who love Victorian settings and independent, feisty women characters.
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