Barnum's Angel - Book Review

Barnum's Angel

Author: Len Boswell
Genre: Fiction - Fantasy
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Date Published: October 6, 2022
ISBN-10: 1685130380
ISBN-13: 978-1685130381

GoodReads Rating:

Book Review of :  Barnum's Angel


 Len Boswell's Barnum's Angel is an imaginatively more powerful historical fantasy than most historical fiction. The action takes place in the mid-1800s. Mysterious actions began in 1828 onboard the HMS Beagle near Tierra del Fuego. What is lurking on the ship? Why is the captain locked in his room? Is that death in that locked room a suicide or a murder? This is an entirely different type of tale from anything Boswell had previously written. In my opinion, this is his best work.

It is a fascinating story about a girl called Lily who was born with numerous odd features. She was a born 'freak,' but she was an accomplished and talented performer who could both charm and horrify people. The odd young girl was discovered through a series of fortunate accidents. She came into the possession of a freak show owner through a strange coincidence. As a captive in the underworld of carnivals, she is exhibited as an albino Abyssinian costumed to look like an angel with feathered wings. Unknown to her owner or the public, she has incredible abilities. She appears to be able to disguise herself as a dragon.

She is then discovered by the great showman P. T. Barnum, who sees how he can capitalize on her oddities. Once she is part of his entourage, he tries to take financial control over her for his theater shows. He portrays Lily and her peculiarities as an angel and the carnival going public buys into the hoax.

But there is a lot more to Lily than just being a carnival oddity. During a breathtaking sequence of scenes, Lily's true nature is revealed. She is now pursued by the police, a fearsome albino dressed in black, and a person of royal heritage who is determined to kill her for her powers.

Lily has few friends, but she is befriended by an older albino woman in the freak show, who treats her with kindness and encourages her to be her best self. Then, through a progression of events, Lily finds herself in Charles Darwin's household. Here she submits to his scientific studies of her unusual abilities in exchange for controlling her unimaginable powers and a normal existence.

Charles Darwin was fascinated with natural history and immersed himself in the study of various varieties of plants and animals. Anything unusual attracted his attention as a naturalist. Much of his scientific studies have been preserved. However, the notebook and research papers surrounding his most unusual find were hidden until recently. This volume reveals his secret study to classify Barnum's Angel.

Alternating chapters disclose Darwin's involvement in Lily's life as she ages. He is most curious as a scientist as to her genetic makeup. Was she a freak, a new species, or what? How could he solve his questions about Lily?

The historically accurate depiction of the scenes, senses, and civilian population of Victorian London pulls the reader into the plot.

Barnum's Angel is about humanity and inhumanity at the same time. It's about our perceptions and how true beauty is sometimes hidden in the least likely place. It is a tale of how accepting we are of the exploitations of those unfortunate to be born with disfigurements or other oddities who are labeled "freaks of nature."

This is a book for readers of all ages. I hope and expect additional books in the Pale Chronicles Series will soon be available. 

Reviewed by: Carole W

About Len Boswell


I was born in a hospital that has since been torn down, grew up on a street that has since changed its name, in a house that has since changed its number. Everywhere around me my life seems to be erasing itself. Before the eraser wears out and rips through the paper of my life, I spend my days writing furiously against the darkness. As grim as that sounds, my books tend toward the humorous. In fact, not reading my books could put you seriously out of touch with frivolity.

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