With dual story lines, The Ringmaster’s Wife, gives a fictional account of historical characters, John and Mable Ringling . Right before the start of the twentieth century, young Armilda leaves her small Ohio home to pursue dreams she cannot even articulate. Soon she has renamed herself Mable and meets Mr. Ringling at the Chicago State Fair. In Chicago she makes a friend who will inspire her to be courageous and kind enough, not just to pursue her own dreams, but to encourage others to pursue theirs. This friendship, though brief, plays an important part in helping the reader to understand Mable’s motivations going forth and is the foundation for all that is to come.
A second story line set during the last half of the Roaring Twenties, introduces us to Lady Rosemund Easling, who is still grieving the loss of her beloved brother. She also feels constrained by all the expectations placed on her shoulders by her aristocratic parents. Rose meets Colin Keary, a manager for the Ringling Circus who has come to buy her beloved horse. Colin knows talent when he sees it and ends up recruiting Rose as well. Rose’s connection with her horse, Ingenue, and her talent for bareback and trick riding earn her a place with the circus. But not everyone is happy about a new star joining their family. It will take grit, courage and grace for Rose to find where she truly belongs.
This novel goes back and forth between these two separate stories, eventually weaving them together in a touching and beautiful way.
From the first page, The Ringmaster’s Wife held my attention, transporting me to a world I never would have experienced otherwise. Having attended a few circuses myself in my younger years, I can attest that they put on quite a show. But in today’s modern world where exotic animals are easily seen at zoos, and yet to be seen marvels are easily displayed worldwide on television, movie and computer screens, circuses are well past their heyday.
But this is the gift of a Kristy Cambron novel. It’s not so much the story contained within its’ pages, although she is a master story teller. It is the way she creates a world so alive and vividly described. LIke Alice and the looking glass, the reader is drawn in through a portal to live in a fantasy.
I could smell the popcorn and cotton candy as I wandered around the circus tents and animal cars. Excitement hung in the air as performers and others prepared for the grand spectacle. I saw the dust of thousands of human and animal feet swirling around me. And I experienced the joy, wonder and thrill of the high wire act and the bareback riders.
I recently read a book with a circus setting which turned out to be a favorite last year. So, even knowing the quality of the author’s work, I was hesitant to read another circus themed book. Boy, was I wrong.
I have read and loved the author’s previous two books. Like this one, they contained dual story lines. However the subject matter, being set during WWII, was by nature much more somber and serious. The Ringmaster’s Wife is a lighter story which focuses on discovering the joy and magic of living a life which fulfills your purpose.
The dual story lines’ emphasis on courage and forgiveness is interesting and well done. But it is the “world within a world” that Cambron creates, of both the circus and of the Ringling’s winter home, Ca d’ Zan, and the family that lives within the walls of both, that is truly the magic of this book.
“We only see what we want to see -in people, in love and in life. What we see is a choice, as is what we offer the world in return. And it’s only behind the costumes and the masks that we can be who we truly are.”
The Ringmaster’s Wife is Kristy Cambron’s love letter not only to the Ringlings, but the world they create and nurture, the magic of wonder and beauty that is the circus.
For images which inspired this novel, check out the author’s Pinterest page.