One evening backstage at the Empress Opera House, “Ferret” Skerritt, ventriloquist and letter-writer-for-hire from the former frontier town’s rough neighborhoods, sees Cecily, a lovely actress with eyes the “color of candied ginger,” and falls hard for her. Ferret is nothing if not persistent, and after she returns his affections, they—along with the precious bundle Cecily carries in a carpetbag—become an improvised family. But as the summer ends, their sweet romance gets disrupted by a lonely entrepreneur whose money can buy him almost everything.
Audiences will be lured in by the offbeat personalities and carried along by the unexpected plot developments, but the real showstopper is the exuberant Gilded Age setting, imagined in elaborate detail. With so many wondrous attractions, this finely spun world feels almost dreamlike, yet Schaffert also takes a sharp look at what’s most important in life. A distinctive choice for literary- and historical-fiction readers, as well as steampunk fans wanting to cast their minds back to that genre’s origins.
The Swan Gondola will be published on February 6th by Riverhead ($27.95, hardcover, 464pp). I wrote this starred review for Booklist's January issue.
Some additional comments:
- Although I don't usually go for novels about circuses and fairs and things of that sort (maybe stemming from a fear of clowns I had as a child... but I digress), I absolutely loved this one.
- The cover design is a great match for what's inside, plus it's seriously cool.
- There are links to The Wizard of Oz to be found within, but background knowledge (or even enjoyment) of the book or film isn't necessary in order to appreciate Swan Gondola.
- I think this is my favorite novel of 2014 so far; it will make my top 10 for the year for sure.