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Twelve Circus Novels for the End of Ringling Bros.

After 146 years of wowing audiences with rare animals and aerial stunts, “The Greatest Show on Earth” will hold its final performances this May. Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey retired their elephants in May 2016 after an intense legal battle with activists, which led to a decrease in ticket sales. As they dazzle crowds in Rhode Island and New York for the last time, they will also concentrate on finding good homes for their animals and placing their employees in new jobs.

Lucky for circus fans, we have plenty of novels available to us—and no animals were harmed in the process! If you miss being entertained by acrobats, lions, and bearded ladies, devour this spectacular list below.

Blood and CircusesBlood and Circuses, by Kerry Greenwood

In flapper-era Australia, the infallible Phryne Fisher, always up for a strange and exciting adventure, goes undercover in Farrells Circus to solve who poisoned the animals, sabotaged the ropes, and murdered Mr. Christopher.





The Carnivorous CarnivalCarnivorous Carnival, by Lemony Snicket

A Series of an Unfortunate Events hits a turning point as the Baudelaire orphans, tired of outrunning the loathsome Count Olaf, take their fate in their own hands—a phrase which here means, “disguise themselves as carnival freaks in order to investigate a suspicious fortune teller.”



A Curious BeginningA Curious Beginning, by Deanna Raybourne

In Victorian London, butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell and taxidermist Stoker pose as a husband-and-wife duo in the circus to escape a false murder accusation and to bide time as they deduce who’s trying to kill Veronica.





The Final Confession of Mabel StarkThe Final Confession of Mabel Stark, by Robert Hough

Drawing from Stark’s real-life journals and letters, Hough retells the dangerous triumphs of Barnum and Bailey’s first female tiger trainer.




Geek LoveGeek Love,
by Katherine Dunn

The Binewskis use drugs to breed genetically altered children that can perform in their traveling show, including Arturo the Aquaboy,  Iphy and Elly the Siamese twins, and Chick the telepath.





JoylandJoyland, by Stephen King

As he works at an amusement park, 21-year-old Devin teams up with a 10-year-old physic to discover what happened to the ghost haunting the Horror House.





Magruder's Curiosity CabinetMagruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, by H. P. Wood

In Coney Island 1904, a misfit group of carny folk work together to contain a plague before it runs rampant in New York.






The Museum of Extraordinary ThingsStar The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman

In Coney Island 1911, Coralie Sardie, an exceptional swimmer with webbed fingers, performs as a mermaid and falls for Eddie Cohen, an immigrant who photographs the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Night CircusStar Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Saturated in whimsical prose and stunning creativity, Night Circus follows two young illusionists as they outdo each other’s magical feats. Read this and then recommend it to everyone you know.





Nights at the CircusNights at the Circus, by Angela Carter

Journalist Jack Walser joins the circus to discover whether or not Sophi Fevvers, an aerialist he’s enamored with, is truly part swan.





Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Mr. Dark, a manipulative carnival owner, uses his carousel and mirror maze to grant wishes that are better left untouched. 13-year-olds Jim Nightshade and William Halloway (as well as Will’s father) must put a stop to his fiendish ways.





Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

As he works with Rosie the Elephant, Jacob Jankowski also falls for equestrian star Marlena, despite her marriage to an abusive animal trainer.





EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that Ringling Bros. lost a lawsuit waged by animal-rights activists and was forced to retire its elephants. In fact, Ringling Bros. won $16 million in legal fees. We’ve updated the post to reflect that the negative publicity surrounding the lawsuit caused Ringling Bros. to retire their elephants. 



About the Author:

Biz Hyzy works as an editorial assistant for Booklist's Adult Books department, where she pilfers the most appealing ARCs before anyone else gets the chance. Besides reading, she enjoys swing dancing and ninja training (though, in her case, both include a lot of bumbling around).

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