I'm a student, so I don't have nearly as much time for leisure reading as I'd like. If I manage to read an entire course book instead of just the assigned chapters, I'll review that here, too.
That was pretty intense.
WARNING: Spoilers below.
There sure were a lot of touchy subjects in here, weren't they? Not just the racism and bigotry or the racism and bigotry being portrayed as the circus folk's way, or the (thankfully admonished) bigotry of Sgt Grossmith. Not even just the fact that there was a very disturbing almost-rape scene, or that that near-death scene in the cage was completely terrifying. It's also not just the way Phryne's polyamory is magically easy for everyone (accept Younger) to accept, or how two scenes would have been rape or molestation scenes if Phryne hadn't opened her arms instead of fighting back. The cartoonish presentation of smalltime gangsters and extreme poverty? Dwarf riding on a giant's shoulders as if this was a good fighting strategy, way too reminiscent of a certain film with a certain dome? Various slurs thrown around by characters whose characterisation could well be argued to call for those slurs? Also noticed that the Romani are never called anything but gypsies, even by the Romani - I can't tell you if this is period accurate or not.
No, you may have guessed it, my major beef - or the thing I'm currently trying to overanalyze into shape enough to have a proper opinion about - was the presentation of Molly Younger.
I was worried about how they'd handle Mr Christopher, but it seemed pretty straightforward - he was an intersex man who performed femininity on occasion, perhaps only for a living. Younger, though! He proclaimed to Phryne in no uncertain terms that he was a trans man. I put the fact that he was referred to as 'she' for the rest of the book down to the fact that he was completely in the closet and accepted that pronoun in public, but I can't quite do it here. The text seemed to say that Christopher and Younger connected because they had both experienced gender dysphoria, but while Christopher seemed to think their relationship solidified his gender identity, how was it that Younger was happy to be a wife instead of a husband? Perhaps they had it worked out better than that between them, and it's not like I can ever fully understand gender dysphoria without having experienced it. Either way, I really, really wish Greenwood had given Younger a more hopeful ending. This kind of pathos may be in keeping with early queer literature, but this book is not early queer literature. I would have wanted to hear at least some kind of a hint that Younger might sort himself out in the future and find love again, instead of the narrative appearing to condemn him to be forever alone, because no-one but an intersex man could ever understand. Hm.
Having said all that, I found the whole set-up, especially the idea of Phryne being out of her depth, scared and trying really hard, to be really compelling. We're used to everything coming so easy for her, but to do a thing even when it's hard and scary is really admirable. It's hard to do a story about running away with the circus and taking clowns and carnies as lovers without it becoming just a little bit fetishistic, but the author clearly put in a lot of work doing her research and trying to convey the feeling of the road, thrills and disappointments, hard work and bruises all.
Also I should mention LIZARD ELSIE. FUCK. ELSIE. New favourite character. Elsie for fucking president.