After watching The Greatest Showman no less than fourteen times over the last year I was unbelievably excited to see one of my favorite authors coming out with a book featuring a hot, knife-throwing ringmaster. It was kismet.
Blurb: Cale has the circus in his blood. As ringmaster and owner of Meriful’s Traveling Circus, his world is the arena, the spectacle and the heat of the spotlight. He looks out for his ragtag troupe of performers as if they’re his family, because after tragedy struck, they are.
Ryah’s been battered and bruised by life and is ready to give up. Then Cale finds her, and she runs away to join Meriful’s Traveling Circus and becomes the horseback acrobatics star she’s always dreamed of being.
What ultimately calls to her is Cale’s dangerous knife-throwing act, and the thrill of putting her life in his hands. Soon, she doesn’t want to be just part of his act. Cale’s doing his best to resist the fragile eighteen-year-old. He’s the ringmaster, but lately he’s been wondering… Who’s running rings around who?
Review: Those who are already fans of Brianna Hale will be surprised by the difference between this book and her previous books. Where previous novels have been hot and heavy and scandalous, Ringmaster is a masterful slow burn that makes you work for the pleasure of seeing the characters together rather than just throwing their insta-love at you from the first page. In fact, there's hardly any insta anything here, with the attraction building from affection, protectiveness, and idolization to a slow simmering, curious love and eventually capping off at explosive fireworks as the character grow to know one another on a deeper level.
This book won't be for everyone what with the age gap, child abuse (in our heroine's history) and some of the goings-on between the pages, but if those things are your thing then you'll be pleased by the sweet longing experienced by our heroine and hero. The couple is perfect for each other--with Ryah's desire to belong somewhere and Cale's makeshift band of circus misfits--and the love they develop for one another moves at its own patient pace. If you're like me and want the sex now, now, now you'll find yourself forcing your fingers to turn the pages at a reasonable speed and not fly through them desperate for a roll in the literal hay... but it was worth the wait.
Cale is a protective leader searching for justice for his murdered sister, Ryah a lost soul forced too early to become braver than any child should have to be. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle, though it takes them far too long to realize it, challenging one another to be better, do better, and see the world as better than they've seen it thus far. You root for them the entire time, forgetting about the age gap or the sorrow they've suffered at the hands of other people, and just focusing on the strength they lend one another. A very special relationship built on more than insta-lust, insta-love, or any of that.
Hale brought to life a merry cast of circus performers that made what might have been a somewhat serious book into lighter form. At times I truly felt that I was living among the ragtag group of jugglers, acrobats, and knife-throwers, riding in their wagons and taking meals in the frigid air by the warm fire. It was such an imaginative world to step into and experience through the eyes of two individuals from very different backgrounds looking for something more in the world and from the world.
A great read for slow-burn lovers, age gap enthusiasts, and misfits of all kind.
Out now: click here.