Death of a Circus tells the story of the Bringlebright Circus, a small fictional troupe traveling the United States in the early twentieth century, an era when circuses are falling out of favor and only the largest shows are enduring. Initially, the book follows Lor Cole, a young African American man from Connecticut who dreams of leaving behind his provincial past and making a name for himself as a high wire walker. Upon joining Bringlebright, however, Lor quickly learns that the characters who join him under the Big Top have their own stories to tell.
Closest to Lor is Cirella Flannery, a beautiful and startlingly devious fire-eater who has struggled for survival since her spirited days in a juvenile detention facility. Ranju, Bringlebright’s reclusive chief animal trainer, hides a history of magic and trickery that may be his undoing. Stalwart, Ranju’s young protege, finds solace in his journal even as he grapples with a mysterious connection to Lor. Presiding over the show is Mr. Barnacle, the Ringmaster, a charlatan who constantly concocts new stratagems to keep Bringlebright afloat. Together, these performers create a colorful ensemble that illuminates the twin sides of the show: one rapturously razzle-dazzle, the other rough-and-tumble.
Death of a Circus is a novel of multiple narrative lines. It captures the rapid pacing of an adventure story, but it is ultimately much more. Chock full of circus allusions, Big Top lingo, folklore and historical detail, it is a far-reaching fairy tale that speaks to the foibles of the human heart and what happens when life is lived both within and outside the center ring spotlight.