Review: Circus Hearts 2 and 3 by Ellie Marney

Almost immediately after reading and reviewing All the Little Bones – the first in the Circus Hearts series – a began reading the second, All Fall Down. Once I finished that I went straight onto number three, All Aces.

If nothing else, that will tell you how easy these books are to read, and how easy is it to want to read them. So here we go, with me telling you why these next two books (and the whole damned series) are so good.

Circus Hearts 2: All Fall Down

While the first book, All the Little Bones, follows trapeze artist Sorsha Neary, All Fall Down is about Fleur Klatsch, who looked set to be Sorsha’s worst enemy in the first book.

The aftermath of the final events of All the Little Bones are infused in the opening of All Fall Down, where Fleur is dealing with the consequences of her actions. There’s also the little matter of the accident that could have killed her.

Fleur is determined to make up for her mistakes and face her responsibilities full on. She is, after all, the ringmaster’s daughter and one day she’ll be running Klatsch’s Karnival.

One day happens sooner than she’d like, when a series of accidents, which are very obviously not accidental, put her father in hospital and the whole circus at risk. In the meantime, she’s confronted with the return of her childhood best friend, Marco Deloren, who against all stereotypes ran away from the circus.

Fleur is hard-headed and domineering. She’s also loves her father, is passionate about the circus and, despite some of her history, has the potential to be a great leader. All of these things are put to the test as she’s thrust into leadership. Marney draws a textured picture of someone who could easily be unlikable, and instead makes Fleur complex, deep and sympathetic.

Like All the Little Bones, there’s romance here, and it’s elegantly balanced and entwined with the story of the dangerous acts of sabotage, the history of Klatsch’s and its rivals, the personal histories of the players and Fleur’s transition from a bossy child to a substantial woman.

Marney’s depiction of Klatch’s is also fantastic – you can damn near smell the greasepaint, the sawdust, the sweat; the smoke and the fire.

None of the books indicate what city, or even what country, Klatsch’s and its rivals might operate in. I think it’s a good choice. Circuses operate as worlds of their own, and the only truly ‘real’ places in these books are within the canvas and wooden walls of the carnivals, and with the people who inhabit them.

Circus Hearts 3: All Aces

All Aces, like the first two books in the series (All the Little Bones and All Fall Down) is written in the first person from the point of view of the young female protagonist. It was a great way to introduce Sorsha and then Fleur and give them great agency.

Getting inside the head of Indonesian-born contortionist Ren Petri is also fantastic, and even more so because Ellie Marney has found a distinctive voice for her. Along with being supremely bendy, Ren is studious, kind, very organised and very brave. She’s sharply observant and has some behaviours that indicate a degree of neurodivergence, which serve to make her unique perspective even more engaging. She’s also surprisingly impulsive: where others run away, she’ll run towards. That impulse prompts some of the best and the worst things that happen to her throughout All Aces.

All Aces, like All Fall Down, begins with events that overlap the previous installment. Circus worker and card sharp, Zep Deal rescued Ren from a fire and she’s still suffering health issues. The repercussions for Zep, whom some believe to have been criminally involved with those events, are different but just as unpleasant.

At the same time, Ren is juggling family obligations and is keeping some secrets, but not as many as Zep, who joined Klatsch’s circus to escape his father and a shady past. Far from keeping them apart, these secrets and their efforts to untangle Zep from his draw the two of them more and more closely together.

Once again, Marney winds the YA romance intricately together with the overall plot so that it’s perfectly balanced. It’s also perfectly charming and delicious. It’s a pretty sure bet that things will work out in the end, but the superbly written trick of it trying to see how on earth it will.

Like Ren’s extraordinary and graceful contortions, the plot bends and loops and provides plenty of surprises – and like Zep’s exquisite skill with a deck of cards, it’s all sharp and snappily paced, with Aces appearing from nowhere with perfect timing.

I’m sad it’s the last of the Circus Hearts stories: the whole world Marney has built is so lively and textured. I’m going to miss it a lot.