Review: Miraculum by Steph Post

Miraculum by Steph Post
Polis Books (January 2019)
320 pages; $17.10 hardcover; $16 paperback; $1.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

If readers haven’t yet discovered the magic of Steph Post’s enthralling writing, Miraculum is a fine place to start, a novel that should put her on the map with a style somewhere between Gillian Flynn and John Connolly, but with a mark all her own.

Who doesn’t love a carnival? Pontillar’s Spectacular Star Light Miraculum comes to town on the Louisiana-Texas border. With it comes snake charmer Ruby, living out a curious existence. The daughter of the owner of the Miraculum, Ruby has been tattooed in a manner that leaves her a bit of an oddity in the freak show—which speaks volumes. She doesn’t talk of the strange backstory of the wonderful yet twisted markings on her flesh.

One night, after a tragedy, a strange man joins the crew as a “geek” (don’t ask—just read). Daniel seems to be anything but the typical carny type: well dressed and well spoken, with something a bit askew about his origin. Also rejoining the group is Hayden, the only man who ever held Ruby’s heart. A muralist and roughneck, he aims to find his place in a world where everyone has a home away from the world that has shunned many of them. Both men play a crucial role in Ruby’s life as the carnival begins to unravel, the big top caught up in a storm brewing from a place darker than the patterns drawn onto her body.

Post has drawn both Ruby and Daniel as exquisite characters who are not who they seem to be, people who have important parts to play in mankind’s history, even though only one is aware of that fate. Ruby left home after her mother died mysteriously and emerges from the shadows of New Orleans with her disguise in tattoos in a manner that would cause Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man to blink and wonder. She trusts no one, and for good reason, yet she gravitates towards January, a dancer; Samuel, the mysterious right hand man of her father; and of course, Hayden and Daniel. 

Daniel holds secrets that Post unfurls like sleight of hand trickery, a character that wields a power which he keeps hidden, like a folded ace up his sleeve. He slips into most of the carnies’ graces, charming the staff, while the few who suspect otherwise encounter a darkness unexpected and…well, to say more would ruin the story.

Miraculum is a pure wonder, both of story and style. It’s deceptively darkly gothic, yet it also draws from the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres. Steph Post guides the mark, the reader, into the midway’s shadows, leading them by the hand into a world that feels both familiar and fresh, darker than pitch, yet with a heart that, while damaged, beats subtly, reluctantly, which results in a read that is sure to be one of the year’s best.

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