The Demon's Librarian

Night Shift

Saint City Sinners

To Hell and Back

Flesh Circus by Lilith Saintcrow
(Orbit, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-31603-545-3
Always an urban-fantasy smorgasborg, Saintcrow is in fine form for the latest Jill Kismet novel, Flesh Circus.

The title is, oddly, literal. When the Cirque du Charnu rolls into her city, Jill chomps at the bit.By some long-standing agreement, as long as the carnival only reels in and does away with psychopaths, suicides, and the demon-ridden, they're free to do business. Of course, that doesn't keep a hunter from keeping them on a pretty tight leash: one of the head hellbreed's pets is held hostage for the duration of their stay.

If only Jill taking out the hostage was the least of the Cirque's concerns. Almost immediately, one of their performers is dead and the hostage is attacked through an attack on the ringmaster himself.

Not that things could stay so simple. Soon, Jill is hip-deep in mystical cockroaches and buried in mummies - some of whom were possessed people she'd recently exorcised. It doesn't take much digging for her to realize there is voodoo involved with the possessions and the mummies - but does it connect to the trouble at the Cirque?

A string does finally tie the two together - nearly a century ago, according to a lot of dusty old journals, a boy went missing when the carnival was in town and his brother disappeared during the search. But who were the boys, and what were their ties to the Cirque? And, more importantly, who did they become?

Jill's got her hands full of all sorts of unpleasant things and her heart sore to boot. Her husband and partner, Saul, recently returned from burying his mother, came back from his trip to the reservation changed. Jill doesn't know how to handle it, and judging from the dialogues between the two, Saul doesn't either. Saintcrow's greatest strength is clearly her imagination, but her characters aren't far behind. When Jill, tough girl that she is, hurts, so does the reader. Every encounter between her and Saul throughout Flesh Circus is likely to rend hearts. Just as, in the midst of one of many action scenes that somehow don't get old, readers will hold their respective breaths or flinch or just say, "ew."

Flesh Circus picks up where its predecessor, Redemption Alley, left off, and Jill is still mending her psychological if not her physical wounds (one of the many things she finds beneficial about having a deal with a demon even if she hates to admit it). Flesh Circus does have a smaller cast of key characters than RA, although the many, many names that get thrown around may unsettle even fans of the series.

A handy dandy glossary in the back of the book does explain some of the series-specific terms like hellbreed, Trader, Sanctuary, and so on. I would not recommend starting the series here but would like to point out that Night Shift, the first book, also jumps right in without much fanfare.

As long as you like violence, gore, and deep emotions, Flesh Circus is a fabulous fourth book in a series that is shaping up to be even better than the Dante Valentine series of a few years ago.

--Sarrah Knight

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