Cover Image: The First Bright Thing

The First Bright Thing

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Member Reviews

The blurb I read that says this is for fans of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and Night Circus was spot on! I loved this book. I cannot wait to sell it in my store. It is magical, historical, sad, hopeful, and diverse and truly something many people are going to love.

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This was a beautifully constructed novel, rich with lush visuals and cinematic showmanship. The Ringmaster, known as Rin, leads a ragtag group of magical individuals known as Sparks in a truly captivating circus. It's not all smoke and mirrors, though, for at the heart of the circus is found family, love, and acceptance.

Constructed as a dual timeline and dual POV narrative, I found the past timeline drew me in very thoroughly and although I could see and predict where it was going, I still found the big reveal very satisfying. The Jewish cultural elements were fascinating to me and the magic was well developed and interesting.

Thank you to Tor/Forge for providing an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Under the big top of the Spark Circus the remarkable acts of fantastical gifted performers do more than entertain—they reach into the audience and offer targeted, intentional hope. And they do it all under the charismatic leadership of the Ringmaster—a magical, flawed, aging, Jewish, lesbian protagonist with shadows in her past.

Then those shadows come alive. The man who spent years using his own magic to reshape her and the world around them has found her. When he reaches his claws into the safe world she has built, the Ringmaster cannot stand against him alone. Her wife, Odette, their friend, Mauve, and the entire found family of the circus has to face the broken places in their past, present and future. Because having a Spark isn’t enough to stop the darkness that is coming, from both him and the next war looming on the horizon.

The vivid world of a magical circus is palpable in this Tim Burtonesque story. With a rich, visual tapestry of descriptions and sensory details that bring the flavors and scents off the page like an incantation, this book is a delicious experience. The emotional depth of each character, the pain that cracks through their tragedies and the way they pick each other up is a tender and real depiction of healing and hope. The story brings such nuance and thoughtful exploration to each character, even the antagonist, whose twisted view of the world leads so realistically to abuse. As the Ringmaster grapples with herself and the lies he has planted in her mind, she also struggles with the age old question of how to stop evil from happening in our broken world. The sheer overwhelming size of the WWII horrors that await are so hard to fight, but Rin and her band of misfits aren’t ready to give up. This story is for all the wounded ones, the lost ones, the not-quite-fitting-in ones, the ones who dream of weaving our pasts into a more beautiful future.

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“If you knew how dark tomorrow would be, what would you do with today?”
I’ve read lots of really good books, but only a few that have grabbed my heart in the first few chapters and swept me up in the magic so thoroughly as this. It's a story of a magical train full of magical outcasts, time travel, found families and finding the light even in the deepest darkness. Gorgeous writing with characters that I fell in love with. I loved it even though I knew it was going to break my heart. So good!

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Don’t compare books to The Night Circus. Don’t do it. It is never true. I’ve never read anything like The Night Circus.

THAT SAID - this is a circus book. It is doing its own thing, and that thing is WONDERFUL. The First Bright Thing is a gem of a novel, a scream of frustration at the things we can’t change about our broken world and a joyful embrace of the good in it all. It is found family and queer spaces and good people doing their best. It is broken and sharp in places, but it takes care of those broken places, too. Hard but rewarding, a revelation and a revolution.

But please stop comparing things to The Night Circus just because there’s a magical circus involved.

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I wanted to enjoy this but was overly unimpressed with the relationships, the dynamic, and the plot felt convoluted.

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I was provided the ARC for The First Bright Thing by J.R Dawson for free in exchange for an honest review.

The First Bright Thing is JR Dawson's debut novel that promises to be for fans of the Night Circus and Addie La Rue. Ambitious claims! I was very excited to get into it.

First off, there are a lot of storylines in this book. You have the ring master Rin trying to stop World War II while dealing with the injustice of the treatment of her people as both a Spark (magical individual) and being Jewish, and a cat and mouse game with the rival circus owner who used to control her, and a parallel storyline at the same time. The parallel and eventual converging storyline is Edward who finds out that he is a Spark and uses his power of suggestion to go the evil route. Like I said, a lot going on!

What I liked: There was a lot of diversity in this book, just a heads up that this is not a "no homophobia" world and it is a CW for the book. I thought Dawson did an incredible job writing Edward's emotional manipulator personality and drive, a high note on how delightfully frustrating this character was for me. It was an easier read and I managed to read through it in a day and a half on my Kindle.

What I think could use improvement on: there is a lot going on with this book, almost too much. There is way too many storylines and plot driving that don't seem to mesh well together. If you are a fan of the Night Circus and Addie La Rue for the lyrical prose of the book, I don't think this is on par with that. The world building and descriptions are not described thoroughly. It gives more Umbrella Academy or X-Men vibes mixed with the circus.

I think this will be a good book for magical realism fans but some of the plots need to either be reduced or tightened up a bit.

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The First Bright Thing is a spellbinding debut for fans of The Night Circus and The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.

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I requested this one because it might be an upcoming title I would like to review on my Youtube Channel. However, after reading the first several chapters I have determined that this book does not suit my tastes. So I decided to DNF this one.

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