Member Reviews

This book is told through multiple narrators in third person in multiple timelines ranging from 1916 to 1945. It’s all very clearly labeled with each chapter, so I had no problem following along with the characters and the timeline. I never really connected with either of the main characters of Rin or Edward or the counterparts in their stories including Ruth, Odette and Mauve, so maybe this story just wasn’t for me.

I did enjoy the aspects of the Sparks, the people and their abilities or gifts and their feelings of being misfits and banding together to support each other through the circus. I loved the precocious and brave Jo and especially the multiple Bernards as they went about their business setting up the circus and doing odd jobs. I wish there had been more about the circus and more circus atmosphere. More Jos, Bernards and Kels to go on adventures. I enjoyed the spark that Rin had in taking people to other places in time whether to give others support or to retrieve supplies for the circus.

The story explored the powers of the Circus King and the effect that he has on people and especially on his companion. There’s a power imbalance in their relationship that is more about intimidation and misogyny than about any true feelings and choices. I think that readers who enjoy stories about heroines who overcome their doubts in themselves whether they are self-instilled and/or from a history of emotional abuse will enjoy this story more than I did. I still had more questions than answers about the events when the story ended although the emotional ending was satisfying.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for a copy provided for an honest review.

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Not a fan of circus things so I wasn't sure about this one. Despite that the characters were well thought out and I liked the set up of the world around them.

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I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, and it took me a while to see where it was going. All and all I enjoyed it! The characters were well fleshed out and interesting and the fantasy elements definitely kept me wondering where it was going to go! Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

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The world is changed in a moment and two people find each other over a lifetime. New and strange gifts change the landscape of reality, but it’s the choices these men, women, and children make that shape the future. When that future becomes a nightmare, can they use their abilities to bring peace?

There’s so much going on with this fantastical story: intoxicating powers, enduring love stories, found families, war and peace and hope. I loved the setting of the circus and the rich characters that populated the world. There were moments of surreal beauty and glorious narrative and moments of horror and tension I wished I could escape. A really well told tale woven through with heart and hope.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my free copy. These opinions are my own.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for this Advanced Readers Copy of The FIrst Bright Thing by J. R. Dawson!

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Unfortunately this one just wasn't for me. The tonal differences between the WWII scenes and the rather silly circus shows just didn't sit well with me and the plot was also a little boring to me. The ending was lackluster and oh my god, I have not encountered a character as annoying as Jo in ages. It is delightfully queer though and the writing is ok so it wasn't all bad.

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I struggled to get into this one so I did end up DNFing, but I do not think it was a bad book and I do believe that others would enjoy it more so I do encourage you to pick this one up for yourself.

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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I'm a bit conflicted on this one. It had a lot to like, such as the characters and the themes of found family. However, I felt there were two HUGE conflicts constantly happening at the same time.

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This was good, but not excellent. I liked the main character but it felt a little forced. Was a fine read, but probably wouldn't purchase it for myself!

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The First Bright Thing was one of my most anticipated books of the year- it's being promoted as The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue meets The Night Circus and I'm happy to say that while that's a pretty apt description this is a story all it's own. During World War I random people suddenly developed powers dubbed 'sparks'. Each person's power is specific to them; a physical representation of their greatest hope, wish or fear. How people choose to use their power, whether for good or evil, is up to each individual and some powers are much stronger than others. Meet Ruth, who can suddenly transport herself anywhere she desires. Her first transportation brings her to the trenches of the war where she stumbles upon a young man named Edward. Edward is desperately afraid and Ruth touches him, taking him back to the home she shares with her mother in NYC. Edward appears to have no spark but that matters little to Ruth who decides to offer her home to this young man who is now halfway across the world and without a home. Flash forward to 1926 where Ringmaster, or Rin to her closest companions, has built, along with Odette and Mauve, a Spark circus. Their purpose being to bring joy wherever they go and to always put on a show for someone who most needs it. Life is good for Rin and her lover Odette, and Mauve, her greatest friend. Until Mauve sees that twenty years in the future another war is brewing and not everyone they care about will survive and Rin's past is chasing behind her and if it catches up the consequences could be worse than death.

The main reason I was anticipating this book is because I adore stories set in a circus, carnival, theme park, etc. Make it a fantastical circus and I'm going to be the first person in line to pick it up. This book did a great job living up to my hopeful expectations. A trope I almost always love in books is found family. I don't know what it is about a family that you choose for yourself that makes me so happy but it does. This book has that in spades. I haven't been reading a lot of historical fiction this year but the 1900's-1920's is one of my favorite time periods to read when I do. There is a multitude of things to love about this story. It's also one of the most quotable books I've ever read. While I had hoped that this would be a five-star read it didn't quite get there. There's one main reason for this. The villain. I LOVE villains. When they are written well they can be some of the most incredible and many-faceted characters in a book and I often find myself rooting for them even when I'm not meant to be. The key to a great villain is the gray area. Dawson has many gifts as a writer. The characters she built on the good side of the spectrum are so well done. She excels at poignant moments and adding many layers to these characters. So much so that I was utterly shocked when we finally met the villain in this book, The Circus King, and he was a mustache-twirling caricature.

Dawson went too hard with this villain. It was like she wrote a list of the most terrible things she could think of and then had him do it. His big-bad monologues were ridiculous. Simply put, the Circus King is one of the corniest villains I've ever read and it forced me to drop a star from this otherwise excellent book. I know that the author is capable of writing a morally gray character because she displays that somewhat well with Edward's character although I think she struggled with that even with him. I hope Dawson shows improvement in this area with their future works as morally gray characters are something that I really love and whether they're done well or not can make or break a book for me.

In this case I'm really happy that there were so many redeeming qualities that shone bright and despite the crappy villain I still had an incredible time reading this. Dawson reworked a well-loved setting and idea and made it into something fresh and new that is all theirs. This book has so much value that goes beyond any criticisms and for that reason I still highly recommend this novel, especially if you're a fan of Addie LaRue and/or The Night Circus. For once a book actually lives up to its comparisons.

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I love the idea of a magical circus. This book has a good premise, but it tends to drag in places. Also, there is self-harm so if that is an issue, you might want to skip it. Overall it is a good read. Not quite what I expected, and some of the time shifts weren't as smooth as I would have liked, but I would recommend it for people who liked Night Circus and similar books.

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Content warnings: mind control, body horror, antisemitism, homophobia, abusive behavior from a partner, child abuse, gaslighting

This is a tough one for me to review, I loved the synopsis and was super excited for it given the quotes included from other authors... and Dawson has a great concept here. Unfortunately for me, I didn't enjoy the reading experience and struggled to stick with it until the end, YMMV. I found that by halfway through, I didn't really care what happened to any of the characters and while I understand why the Circus King was the way there were (both circumstantially and for driving the plot), it was REALLY uncomfortable to read their chapters.

The found family along with the lived experiences of Sparks mimicking/paralleling real-life experiences of both queer and/or Jewish people throughout history is a powerful message and driving force throughout the plot.

Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by NetGalley, Tor Publishing Group, and Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.

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DNF @ 30%. I really tried to get into this because the premise really sounded like something I would love, but this story is not clicking in my brain. The time jumps are a bit too confusing for me and I’ve lost the ability to follow the timelines. The writing is absolutely stunning and if you like The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern then definitely give this a try.

Thank you TOR and Netgalley for the advanced copy.

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Well this was fun! I liked reading this! I think it had so much to offer in terms of the overarching themes presented and what the author wanted to say. I enjoyed the rep and I liked how natural it all felt, even within its setting that doesn't necessarily celebrate the rep that's presented. I really liked the MCs and loved the way this story was told. The writing was really nice and I would absolutely read more from Dawson in the future.

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I like the concept of the book, it gave me "x-men" vibes, however it was hard to get hooked on the story so it took me a while to finish it.

The characters were ok, but my problem was them is that i felt likw they all have the same personality (?), like if the book didnt tell you which one was talking, you couldnt know bc their personality wasnt that strong to know (i dont know if that makes sense).

My favorites chapters were Edward's pov, i like him as the villain.

I still think its a good story, but maybe it wasnt for me.

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Book Summary:

Rin, aka Ringmaster, is the best at what she does. She can jump between moments in time. More importantly, she (alongside her wife) can create a safe haven for circus folk. In other words, the people who don't typically fit in with society.

Unfortunately, not all safe spaces are truly secure. There's something after Rin's troupe – and her. It won't stop until it has what it wants, which will put the entire circus in danger.

My Review:

If you're looking for a historical fantasy with circus vibes, The First Bright Thing is the book for you. It's set in 1926 (not long after WWI), though several time jumps follow, so keep that in mind if you prefer more stationary tales.

The rich and vibrant characters make it easy to follow along and appreciate their stories. I adore Rin and her determination to protect the Sparks. Likewise, I loved learning about the Sparks and their different talents.

That worked well, as it made the big bad all the more threatening. There was something at stake here, to put it mildly. It's a classic good versus evil story, with circus vibes and magical elements woven into the mix.

Historical Fantasy
Post WWI

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I most definitely jumped on this book because it was marketed for people who love The Night Circus. I can definitely see why the comparison was made but The Night Circus has this element that made me want to linger and wonder over the magic and world in those pages. This book starts off slower paced, with that magical and mysterious atmosphere but it also makes me think a bit of X-men thanks to the Sparks having such widely different abilities, the found family aspect and the impending war story line. I also feel like the underlying topics that come up throughout the book are also a lot deeper and darker than what was in The Night Circus and I do like how these topics were implemented, sometimes you need to read between the lines a bit. One aspect I enjoyed was the time jumping aspect of this story - I find it creative and fun, even if there a few holes surrounding this.

Ultimately, this book is all about good vs evil. I do wish the villain was a little more developed, I would've liked the opportunity to discover/understand his motivations a little bit more. But, I loved how Rin and the other characters at the circus all banded together to protect their home and found family. There is also always a ray of hope that endures and the idea that through love, they can conquer anything, which I appreciated when it came to balancing the darker themes.

All in all, I thought this was going to be a light magical read and what I got was so much more! I also enjoyed the LGBTQIA+ and Jewish rep in this book!

Content warnings: War, murder, alcoholism, emotional abuse, homophobia, suicidal thoughts, antisemitism, eating disorder, animal death, child abuse.

Thank you to Tor and NetGalley for the ARC of this book for review. All opinions are my own

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I wrote about this on Goodreads and The Storygraph with a link sent to Twitter. Note that I didn't finish this book; the rating is based on what I read/listened to.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

GodDAMN do I love a good found family book, and this is definitely going on the record as one of my favorites. It tore out my heart and left me sobbing and I loved it. (This is where I put the obligatory note that I do, in fact, cry pretty easily, but THIS BOOK. Agh. I am wrecked). Definitely have to add a content warning for abusive relationships, because that is a pretty big theme here, but it is done well, and with sensitivity. I was reminded, while reading, of so many of my favorite books, movies, TV shows, etc.: The Night Circus, X-Men, Misfits, Jessica Jones, a little Doctor Who.

The characters are so richly drawn and realized, their motivations are so clear, and their love and care for each other shines through. It's very much a character-driven novel, so if you're looking for something fast-paced and action-packed, look elsewhere. But if you, like me, just love reading novels about found families, loving relationships, queer joy, and finding yourself, pick up this book.

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It is truly phenomenal how much The First Thing achieves with the simple premise of "superpower circus". The constrictive horror of abuse, the painful slow recovery from it, and the threat of its return all make for a powerful story of a not okay woman trying to make the world a bit better through art. To then also tackle issues of war and bleak futures (going head first into the old question of why superheroes and sorcerers don't stop some of the horrors of history) is even more impressive. With this then tying into queer history and an attempt to reconnect with a Jewishness stolen, multilayered doesn't even cover it. Deeply emotional, carefully philosophical, utterly riveting.

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