Over the years since I started pushing the Book Trolley, many avid readers have urged me to get into the books of Annette Curtis Klause, a British-born, Maryland-based children’s librarian and sometime author perhaps best known for her romantic teen-werewolf novel Blood and Chocolate. I can give no excuse except “Twilight Saga burnout” for the fact that I didn’t read one of her books until now, and not the werewolf one either. Based on reading this book and synopses of the others (including Alien Secrets and The Silver Kiss), I think I can safely recommend this author to anyone who wishes there were more “Twilight” novels.
Meanwhile, I must also put out an “Adult Content Advisory,” in view of this book’s very frank portrayal of the romantic yearnings of a teenage boy who is, ahem, ready to become a man. The young man in question is Abel Dandy. If you haven’t figured out that romance joins fantasy and adventure in the makings of this novel, let your imagination run with that name for a bit. Hello? Are you still there? Good, on with the review then.
Abel’s parents are attractions in a permanent freak-show: one without arms, the other without legs. His uncle is a knife-thrower with an extra pair of legs growing out of his chest. Most of his friends are either tiny, enormously fat, abnormally hairy, or physically gifted in some similar way. Without an act of his own, with no future in the freak-show business, and yet ostracized by the “normal” townspeople, Abel feels stifled at home. Spurred on by rumors that the dog-faced girl is laying a romantic trap for him, beckoned by mysterious dreams of an ancient Egyptian beauty, Abel sets out to make his fortune. Trouble, mystery, and a promise of steamy romance set out after him.
In his adventure, Abel first joins a circus devoted to such a high standard of decency that it becomes inhumanly cruel. Then he gets caught up in a traveling freak show held together by fear, brutality, and deception. Abel finds himself trapped between wanting to escape from Dr. Mink, the “skeleton man” who owns the show, and looking for a way to save the abused children Mink either bought or stole for his exhibits. Meanwhile, his increasingly erotic dreams, coming as if from a previous life, intersect with the mummified Egyptian princess displayed among the pickling jars where stillborn freaks hang suspended in alcoholic spirits. Could the love of Abel’s young life be a four-thousand-year-old mummy?
This is not a book for the faint at heart. If the sexual tension doesn’t get your pulse racing, the suspense, danger, violence, gore, and graphically depicted freakishness will surely do so. At the same time, it is a humane book, raising up the plight of people who look different–people who, historically, have often been judged unfairly, treated poorly, or even “helped” in ways that deprived them of the freedom to live as they chose. Exploitation is only one of the evils they are at risk of. This book reveals their plight, and the unique ways some of them courageously overcame it. Among other things, it is a book about compassion.
Though I do recommend this book for the pleasure of maturer young readers, I can’t promise to read more of its author’s work in the near future. Maybe once the “Twilight” hype dies down, Blood and Chocolate will look a little more tempting. For now, I must content myself with this book. From it I gather that Annette Curtis Klause has a fine touch for dramatic pacing, a good sense for steamy teen romance, and work habits that involve meticulous historical research. Perhaps more inviting than all this, however, is the fact that she writes on an unusual topic, covering a colorful period of American history, and does it in a way sure to entertain.