Cirque: Acts 1 & 2 by Ashleigh Giannoccaro

These books really have to be reviewed together. Both are fairly short and create a perfectly written piece of art. I read each one in one sitting, unable to put them down. A huge warning for all readers out there: this series takes dark to a new level. I’ve read dark romance and dark suspense. This is first person perspective of broken and twisted minds that make you feel emotions you may not be comfortable with. I loved every minute of it, even the ones that made my skin crawl.

From the very get-go, you know it is not going to be an easy ride. It is disturbing and I had to force my way through that brief intro, but I was desperate to know where it was going and who all the characters really were. I knew they had to tie together in some manner and I’m happy to say that it took me a while to figure it out. Most books give it away in some form early on; this book kept me guessing.

It starts with Sivan, a man with a clown in his closet. Instead of a skeleton, his secret is his desire and desperate need to be a clown. This clown in his mind is like an infection that he tries to control, to appease, but when Imogene comes along, he no longer has the upper hand. For some reason, both Sivan and the clown have an intense need to be with her and/or own her. The situation spirals out of control in ways I never saw coming and I was constantly dreading the moment his clown would be exposed. Book one deals more with this, but each one left me crying for more.

Sivan is kind and gentle. He has created a facade that he believes he wants to be, someone he thinks others want him to be. He has lived the Sivan front for so long, he’s not sure where he begins and the clown ends. The clown side of him takes creepy to a whole new level. People who are afraid of clowns might want to steer clear of this one. Aside from Stephen King’s It, I’ve never felt one way or the other, but this set has changed how I think of clowns for the rest of my life, both good and bad.

While I warmed up to Sivan immediately, Imogene had to grow on me. She has the circus in her soul and that part of her calls to Sivan’s, but she is incredibly broken, which leads to instances where I didn’t care much for her. Her backstory is so painful, that it is no surprise that she becomes who she is or why she is just as obsessed with Sivan as he is with her. When bad stuff goes down, she becomes a mix of her inner tormented child and the adult who tries so hard to survive. It wasn’t until the second book that I felt more emotion for her.

There are a few side characters who play important parts, but are not paid much attention and I often forgot they were even there. Their roles might be vital, but the lack of detail concerning them took away from the story, which was focused mainly on the couple. Imogene’s devastating past is given a lot of detail that I had to force my self through. Often, it was painful to read, but important to understand where she was coming from and why she found comfort in her box, both physically and mentally. Sivan’s own devastating upbrining is referenced, but I wish it had been given much more detail. His clown did not appear overnight; there was a definite reason for his need to become the clown. It was explained, but in my opinion, it just wasn’t quite satisfying.

Even with the weaknesses, I loved this story. It had true love, true fear, real torture, and fractured souls. It has the mixings for an incredible story, and it is. It passes quickly and the pace never slows, making you eager to find out what happens next. I was slightly disappointed by the semi-ambiguous ending, but I think of it as Inception; the real ending is left to the reader’s imagination and that is part of its strength. There was an annoyingly high amount of typos that would normally put me off entirely, but the story was so riveting that I took mental note and quickly moved on. Prepare yourself for a lot of double-checking as you progress, though.

For the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – it’s a super dark romance and even I had trouble reading some of the scenes. It’s safe to say that only adults who are prepped for a disturbing read to take this on.
  • The level of sexuality – was very high and left me cringing on more than one occasion.
  • Was there graphic language? There was some, but it was not overwhelming. In fact, it was quite low-key considering the content.
  • Did I cry? I got choked up repeatedly over the hardships that each character had endured and continued to struggle with.
  • Is this part of a series? Acts 1 & 2 are it. They create a seamless story.
  • Did I laugh? Not at all.
  • Level of character development – Sivan and Imogene were very well-done and easy to relate to. His mother, her father, his best friend, and his sister, were all pivotal characters, but they lacked any development. They were there simply to drive the story forward.

I’m so glad I read this series. I will never forget it and will be anxiously waiting for more from this author. I cannot recommend it more for individuals who want something very dark to read. If it had developed the side characters more and spent more time discussing Sivan’s abusive childhood and how it led to his clown, it would be a solid five stars. As it stands, I gladly give them a collective  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Act 1 Available here on Amazon    Act 1 Available here on Barnes & Noble

Act 2 Available here on Amazon

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