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Saturday, October 17, 2015


Author:  Rachel Vincent  
Plot Type:  Fantasy (definitely for adults, not YA) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  MIRA
      1    Menagerie (9/2015)
      2    Spectacle (5/2017)

This ongoing review post for the MENAGERIE SERIES was revised and updated on 6/13/2017 to include a review of Spectacle, the second novel. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the series world-building and a review of Menagerie.

                             NOVEL 2:  Spectacle                             
     In this riveting sequel to New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent's acclaimed novel Menagerie, Delilah Marlow will discover that there is no crueler cage than the confines of the human mind…

     When their coup of Metzger's Menagerie is discovered, Delilah and her fellow cryptids find their newly won freedom brutally stripped away as they are sold into The Savage Spectacle, a private collection of "exotic wildlife." Specializing in ruthless cryptid cage matches, safari-style creature hunts, and living party favors, the Spectacle's owner, Willem Vandekamp, caters to the forbidden fetishes of the wealthy and powerful. At the Spectacle, any wish can be granted—for the right price.

     But Vandekamp's closely guarded client list isn't the only secret being kept at the Spectacle. Beneath the beauty and brutality of life in the collection lie much darker truths, and no one is more determined than Delilah to strip the masks from the human monsters and drag all dark things into the light.

    WARNING! This review includes spoilers for the first novel, Menagerie.    
     For reasons that are explained deep into this novel, Delilah and the Menagerie cryptids are hunted down and captured after being free for only a brief period of time. This time, their captors are Dr. Willem Vandekamp and his wife, Tabitha, who own the Savage Spectacle, which is a sprawling conglomerate that comprises various activities in which wealthy people (mostly men) spend a great deal of money to watch fight matches between cryptids, hunt down cryptids with various weapons, and/or engage them in a variety of private “entertainments,” which include sexual attacks and sadistic torture. In addition, Dr. Vandekamp works on genetic research on cryptids that he hopes will make him a billionaire and an international power broker.

     Some of the scenes in which cryptids (including Delilah and Gallagher) are abused are hard to read, although, thankfully, much of the violence takes place off the printed page. (Sometimes, though, it’s worse when you have to imagine what happened.) From time to time, as Delilah’s inner beast becomes aware of the evils being perpetrated by Spectacle’s employees, it takes over her body and mind and reverts to the scary furiae form. Vandekamp is desperate to know exactly what type of cryptid Delilah is, particularly when her blood tests human. Here, she tries to explain it to him: I don’t fully understand this myself…But based on the legend and what I’ve pieced together from personal experience, I am an embodiment of wrathful justice. The concept of vengeance given physical form….I have been endowed with the essence of justice. Specifically, I’m supposed to right wrongs where society’s laws and norms have failed.”

     At first, the Menagerie cryptids believe that their new living conditions are much better than the Metzger Menagerie cages. They live in gender-separated dormitories, sleep on padded mats, eat nutritious (if tasteless) meals, have access to showers and grooming supplies, and are not locked behind bars. But there is one ominous addition to their lives: electronic collars that Dr. Vandekamp has developed and perfected to completely control their behavior. Not only do the collars track them everywhere they go, they can also paralyze any and all parts of their bodies with the click of a remote (held by their handlers). The collar commands are so specific that when Dr. Vandekamp wants Delilah to stop talking, he just mutes her by clicking the remote and paralyzing her vocal cords.

     Even though the cryptids’ physical living conditions are relatively comfortable, they are still treated as animals. The collars lend a hopelessness to their lives that goes to a level even darker than in Menagerie because the collars represent total control of both their minds and their bodies. For example, they can’t even discuss escaping because such a discussion raises their heart rates and adrenaline levels, causing the collar to shock them. Taking any kind of prohibited physical actions results in total body paralysis and extreme shocks. At one point, Delilah muses, “I’d only been imprisoned in the menagerie for about a month before our coup, and since then, I’d lost focus on the reality of captivity. I remembered pain and hunger and humiliation. But I’d forgotten about ignorance and dependence, and how they preyed on the mind rather than the body.” She goes on: “After having survived the menagerie, I’d thought I knew what to expect from imprisonment. I understood how to deal with chains and cages and hunger, but this shiny, antiseptic captivity felt like the glittery wrapping on a box full of horrors, just waiting to be unwrapped.”

     For the first few chapters, Delilah analyzes her new surroundings and tries to figure out how they can escape. When we come to a chapter told from Gallagher’s point of view, we learn that he was mistaken for a human and was put in jail. But Gallagher has sworn to protect Delilah with his life, so (of course) he finds a way to let his cryptid identity surface so that he gets hauled off to the Spectacle. Gallagher is a redcap. Here, Delilah summarizes Gallagher’s history: “Redcaps are fae soldiers from their birthing cries to their dying breath, but the few who survived their brutal civil war each swore to find an serve a noble cause. To fight a battle worthy of the blood they must spill to survive. Gallagher chose to serve and protect me….Gallagher’s oath to protect me at all costs was the driving force in his life. His oath was unbreakable. His word was his honor.” Unfortunately, Vandekamp and his wife don’t understand the relationship between Delilah and Gallagher, which causes all sorts of complications.

     Just as we’re settling in for a story that seems to be running along the lines of the Menagerie plot, Delilah realizes that somehow she has lost several months of memory. She also discovers that during those months, something has happened to her that will change her life forever. Some reviewers are telling you what that is, but I’m keeping it out of this review because it is such a huge spoiler. The lost months and Delilah’s discovery are the elements that drive the rest of the story. By the end of the book, Vincent has resolved the conflict of several story lines, but not the big one: the cryptids’ ultimate fate in this world that hates them so much yet wants to use them as they see fit. As the inevitable showdown scene approaches, the pace speeds up considerably, and the ending leaves Delilah and the cryptids once again on the run.

     Once again, Vincent tells the story in the third person from multiple perspectives, but she mostly relies on Delilah’s rational, intelligent voice to analyze the situation, describe the new characters, and narrate the action. She divides the book into two nearly equal parts: “Démasqué” (translation: Unmasked) and “Oublié” (translation: Forget). Obviously, the primary theme is survival, and the things that one will (must?) do to save one’s own life and the lives of loved ones.

     Although Spectacle doesn't quite reach the level of Menagerie in terms of originality and suspense, it is a compelling, fast-paced novel that kept me turning the pages deep into the night. In the book’s second section, Vincent adds several amazing plot twists, some of which are resolved in this book, but others that must be dealt with in future books—so I am eagerly awaiting book three. With the addition of this second book, THE MENAGERIE series retains its status as an inventive, fascinating series with strong lead characters, well-developed secondary characters, and fresh story lines that pull the reader into the story.

   Click HERE to go to this novel's page to read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.

     First things first: To be clear, this an adult series. On a page on Vincent's web site, she explains why her new series is not YA and not UF: "Despite how you may have seen it classified on Goodreads, MENAGERIE is not urban fantasy, nor is it romance, nor is it YA. [Note: Goodreads classifications/categories are listed by readers, not by publishers or authors. They are NOT official, and authors cannot change them, which has made it very difficult for me to get the word out.] It’s not that I don’t think teens can read MENAGERIE. I think many older teens can and will. I started reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz in 6th grade, and I never looked back. But the intended audience for this book is adult, and those who don’t realize that will go into the story expecting something they’re not going to get. The cover flap refers to Delilah as an ordinary woman. Not a girl. She’s a twenty-five-year-old college grad with her own apartment, not a high school student. And since it’s not UF or romance, the plot is not driven by action or a love story. Not that the book doesn’t have either. It has both. But neither is the driving force of the narrative (and the love story is not Delilah’s). This is not the breathless adventure of a single kick-ass character or romantic couple." 

     This world looks much like our real world with one big exception: the existence of cryptidsanimals who appear in myths and folktales, but for which there is no scientific evidence of existence. (Click HERE for a comprehensive list of cryptids worldwide.) The series heroine, Delilah Marlow, has an undergraduate degree in cryptobiology, which—as it turns out—is quite ironic, given her true heritage.

     At intervals throughout the first book, Vincent inserts brief quotations from this world's mass media explaining why cryptids, who had been completely free under the Sanctuary Act, are now kept in captivity, either in private collections, traveling freak shows (like the Menagerie), on poorly supervised state-run reservations, on hunting preserves (as prey), or in unregulated laboratories (as subjects of horrific experiments). 

     Here's what happened: In August 1986, over a million children died overnight, most reportedly killed in their sleep by their parents, all of whom had been hypnotized in some way by their one surviving child. After the mass massacre, authorities discovered that each surviving child was born in March 1980. When blood tests were run on the survivors, the shocking results showed that not a single one was human. The government called these changeling children "surrogates," and this tragedy became known as "the reaping." People still use the mantra "Remember the Reaping" as "a warning not to let history repeat itself. A reminder for humanity not to let its guard down. 'Remember the Reaping' was an American way of life." 

     More than 300,000 of the surrogates were rounded up to be studied in secret laboratories, but some escaped notice. They are now thirty-five years old and are presumed to be hiding within the human population. In search of a scapegoat, the government focused on the cryptid community, which denied all knowledge of the surrogates. Within months, and under pressure from the human population, skeptical officials began sending cryptids to secure detention camps, "to protect the human community from the threat of further attack." Soon Congress stripped the protection of the U.S. Constitution from all cryptids, meaning that they were no longer citizens, could not purchase property or sign contracts, could not hold jobs or receive free education, had absolutely no civil rights, and could be bought and sold as property. The human population views the cryptids with both fear and fascinationa perfect combination of emotions for a traveling carnival to exploit. Even though the cryptids are now caged, people still remember the reaping. After all, "if monsters could look like humans, and humans could look like monsters, how could anyone ever really be sure that the right people stood on the outside of all those cages?"

     The titular menagerie is Metzger's Menagerie, a traveling carnival that features the usual games and deep-fried food choices along with a freak show of cryptids. The owner of the Menagerie, Rudolph Metzger, cuts expenses to the bone by providing near-starvation nutrition for the cryptids and by treating them as if they were circus animals. "Bathing" for many of them means a wash-down from a high-power hose. Living quarters are filthy circus cars that are closed up and hauled around the country by trucks. Handlers are frequently sadistic sociopaths who abuse the cryptids physically, sexually, and emotionally every chance they get, withholding food as punishment and beating the cryptids for every misstep, no matter how small.

     One final note: The manner in which the cryptids are treated reminds me of the wolves in Jennifer Ashley's SHIFTERS UNBOUND series. Those wolves also have no civil rights and are forced to live in "reservations" called Shiftertowns. Click HERE to read my review of that series. Seanan McGuire also writes a terrific series featuring cryptids: INCRYPTID series. Click HERE for my review of that series.

                             NOVEL 1:  Menagerie                             
    When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town. 

     But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons, and kelpiesare strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed. 


     On her web site, Vincent describes Menagerie as being "a story about humanity, and how we define that concept, both good and bad. It is, in various places, beautiful and horrific." At one point, a character tries to comfort the heroine, "Most people have something horrible hidden inside. A beast. A secret. A sin. What makes you and the other exhibits different is that your inner monster can't be explained by the laws of physics and biology as we know them. What people don't understand, they fear. What they fear, they lock up, so they can come see whatever scares them behind steel bars or glass walls and call themselves brave. But that only tells you who they are, not who you are."

     As the book opens, Delilah Marlow is a typical young woman: a bank teller with a nice apartment, a somewhat boring boyfriend, and a best friend from childhood. But that all changes one night when she and her friends visit Metzger's Menagerie and take a look at the cryptid humanoid and hybrid exhibits. When one of the handlers viciously uses a cattle prod on a young werewolf girl, Delilah erupts in rage. All of a sudden, her voice becomes deep and growly; her fingernails become long, sharp claws; and her hair takes on a mind of its ownswirling around her head as if it were alive. When she puts her hands around the handler's head, he begins to use the cattle prod on himself. At that point, another handler knocks Delilah out and when she wakes up, she is in jail, where a deputy breaks the bad news to her that she is a cryptid and that her life as a human is over. "They're not gonna give you a lawyer, Delilah. Cryptids aren't citizens. You have no rights in the U.S. of A., in Franklin County, or in the incorporated township of Franklin. You are now the property of the state of Oklahoma."

     Faced with the loss of everything, Delilah is in deep despair, especially when the sheriff sells her to Rudolph Metzger, who plans to put her on exhibit. But first, he has to find out what kind of cryptid she is and one of Metzger's handlers has to break Delilah to his will. That handler is Gallagher, a behemoth of a man whostrangelytreats Delilah with much more kindness and patience than anyone else does.

     Vincent tells the story mostly in the third-person voice from multiple points of view, but Delilah's chapters are written in her intelligent, defiant first-person voice. Delilah is a smart woman who takes note of every detail of her awful new life. She talks back to her handlers, makes friends with the other cryptids, and waits for her chance to escape. During her early days in the Menagerie, Delilah mourns the fact that "I no longer owned anything but thoughts and memories, and with each minute that passed, I volleyed between outrage and grief over my loss." 

     The book is divided into three parts: "Éxposé," "Confiné," and "Emancipé." In those subtitles, Vincent presents the plot pattern for the bookDelilah's dreadful journey from exposure to incarceration to liberation. 

     For my own benefit (and yours, too, if you want to use it), I am including an annotated list of the supporting characters. (When I read the second novel a year from now, this will help me remember who's who.) Vincent writes a chapter or more from each of these characters' point of view.

Charity Marlow: Delilah's mother, who once wished that her constantly crying baby would be exchanged for a well-behaved one. She learned a hard lesson that day: Be careful what you wish for.
Rudolph Metzger: Owner of the Menagerie, which has been in his family for 112 years. He mostly leaves the operations of the carnival to his staff, but he is brutally pragmatic about keeping his costs low, his profit margins wide, and his security system tight. He pays little or no attention to the cruelties inflicted by the handlers unless, that is, they have a negative effect to the cryptids' public performances. "He could tell at a glance which werewolf pup was the hardiest of the litter and which centaurs could subsist on oats and water without compromising their stamina. Rudolph knew just how to coax the livestock [i.e., the cryptids] into breeding, and exactly when to sell which offspring to supplement income during the rough winter months." 
Gallagher: A tall, broad, solid man who always wears a red baseball hat. Metzger assigns him to be Delilah's handler with instructions to break her. Delilah describes him as being "like a puzzle put together all wrong. The pieces shouldn't have fit, yet there he stood, made of equal parts compromise and rigidity. Compassion and mercenary determination to protect his paycheck." Gallagher seeks to gain Delilah's trust by proclaiming that "my word is my honor." But is Gallagher what he seems? Why is he relatively kind to Delilah and the other cryptids? What's his game? 
Rommily: An emotionally damaged oracle who is imprisoned alongside her two sisters, Mirela and Lala. No one knows exactly who or what caused Rommily's psychotic break several months ago, but since that time she has lost touch with the real world and simply calls out words and phrases that always come true in future events. Now twenty years old, she was sold to the Menagerie when she was six. When Rommily first sees Delilah, she mumbles a chilling prophecy, "She won't serve her dish cold…and two graves won't be near enough…" 
Nalah: A smoldering, fiery ifrit (djinn) who has the hots for Gallagher. She serves as handmaiden to Princess Adira, a royal djinnmerid.
Clyde, Wallace, and Ruyle: three of the cruelest of the handlers. They have it in for Delilah from the beginning because she knows just how to push their sociopathic buttons. 
Claudio and Genveviève (Genni): father and daughter French werewolves. Clyde's torture of Genni is the catalyst for Delilah's first cryptid episode.
Eryx: a seven-foot-tall minotaur who has a bull's nose and a long tail and stands "on two powerful legs, neither fully bovine nor human, but some combination that merged huge hooves and shaggy brown hair with a mostly upright skeletal structure...His chest and arms were human, enormously muscled, and deeply tanned…Above and behind a drooping set of cow ears grew a pair of curved, whitish horns…" Ruyle describes Eryx as "the perfect menagerie freak. He works hard, brings in customers, and never talks back. Or at all, for that matter," because his bull's muzzle is not suited to human speech. But that doesn't mean that he has a bovine brain. Eryx is alert, smart, and crazy about Rommily.
Alyrose: the human make-up artist/wardrobe mistress/inventory supervisor/art director for the Menagerie. She is the only one (besides Gallagher) who treats Delilah like a real person.
Abraxas: Although he doesn't smile or chat with the cryptids, this young handler isn't cruel like so many of the others. He is just eighteen and has been with the Menagerie only three months.
Kevin: A handler who appears to be having an affair with Lenore, a siren.
      Be aware that this book includes many dark, violent scenes, such as this one, in which Clyde gets revenge on Delilah for getting sarcastic with him. Clyde threatens Delilah with a cattle prod until he gets her to handcuff herself to the bars of her cage. Then, "he cuffed my ankles to opposite wheels of the cart…And just like that, I was bound, spread eagle, to the front of my cage." Then Clyde slices off her dress with a knife. "Clyde stared. He looked simultaneously ravenous and satisfied. I wanted to cover myself, but the cuffs held me in place, exposed and vulnerable, wearing nothing but the shredded remains of my dignity." Clyde grabs Delilah by the hair and sneers, "Do you want to know what you're worth, beast?…You are worth nothing…You will never be worth what it costs to feed and clothe you, no matter how little you eat and wear." Yeah, it's hard to read scenes like this. 

     This is a terrific start to a fresh and inventive new series. Delilah is a great heroinesmart, strong, and sassy. The supporting charactersthe ones who live through to the end of the book, that iswill make for fascinating reading in future books. Gallagher is a hero who is driven by honor and tradition, not by carnal desires, so his reactions to people and events are very different than any UF hero you have ever met. In other words, Delilah and Gallagher aren't one of those leather-wearing, sword-brandishing hero/heroine couples that are obligatory in urban fantasy novels. I can't wait to see where the Menagerie travels in the next book. Vincent says that the series will have a love interest, but that it won't be Delilah and Gallagher. So…Rommily and Eryx? Gallagher and Nalah?We'll see.

    Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Menagerie on the novel's page by clicking on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.

     Just one tiny proof-reading nitpick, the exact same one I found in another book last week: the incorrect use of "ring" instead of the correct "wring": "...a collector who'll ring every dime he can out of you…" It's that pesky old electronic bugaboo, auto-correction, again. It seems to have replaced traditional, accurate eyes-on-the-page proofreading. 


  1. In the book they keep referring to a crytid called an ottleet oddleet (sp?) I've googled over and over trying to find out what it is. It said its violent and the book says of course violent cryptids like the ottleet can't be let loose. Have you had any luck with this character???

  2. Sorry to take so long in answering your question: The creature that you are referring to is an adlet, which the author describes on page 50 of the hardcover book as "the wolf version of a satyr, stuck in an in-between state with both canine and human features. They were also cannibalistic, highly aggressive, and one of the most effective arguments in favor of keeping cryptids locked up. You can find a discussion of the adlet on Wikipedia at this URL: