The Circus Infinitus Stories Volume 1, by Ethan Sommerville (2:58)

IOD-CircusInfinitusToday we discover that telling the reader something is unusual falls flat if you do not describe why it is.

What I gleaned about the stories: A mysterious teleporting circus appears in the cities of Europe.

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Note: This book had no table of contents, which strongly put me off it after the first WTF; however, I chose to give it a pass in the interests of giving the prose a fair shot.

WTF #1: Inappropriate surprise

Analysis: The story opens by telling the reader the Circus Infinitus appears without warning in unexpected places. This time it has appeared in Hyde Park “of all places.” But this threw me. The phrase, “of all places,” suggests that having it appear in Hyde Park is somehow unusual, but unusual places are the norm, so Hyde Park should be entirely in keeping with its established pattern. So that phrase is either redundant, or contradictory, depending on how you look at it.

Unable to work out from the sentence why Hyde Park was so surprising, I wondered if I had misread the initial description of the locations in which the Circus usually appeared. I hadn’t. There was no indication beyond them being unexpected of where it had appeared previously.

Slightly puzzled rather than filled with a sense of how exciting the Circus was, I felt no connection to the story and moved on.

WTF #2: Inappropriate narrative style

Analysis: The narrator is described as having difficulty breathing because she instructed her maids to lace her corset as tight as possible. This immediately created an image of her as upper-class, and the story as set at some point in the area of European history beloved of the costume drama.

However, the narrative voice was very casual, even modern. The disjunction between the expected diction of a young gentlewoman and the actual words used finally overcame me when a crowd was described as “a lot of people” rather than the more formal “many people”.

Lacking any evidence that the story was set in a culture different enough from costume-drama Europe to explain the apparent mismatch or that the issue was a deliberate choice by the author, my image of the scene was damaged, dropping me out of the story.

WTF #3: Inaccurate punctuation

Analysis: Already irked by the lack of an embedded table of contents, and knocked out of two stories barely past the first page, I had no momentum at all entering the third story. While I tried to read through, little oddities I had noticed in the previous two stories but continued past, stood out more and more until a semi-colon instead of a colon followed shortly by a missing comma left me re-parsing a sentence several times.

Having spent longer considering the grammar of a single sentence than I had on the story itself, I pulled the plug.

Darkness Creeps Forth, by Brian Greiner (4:15)
Wanderer's Escape, by Simon Goodson (14:18)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction. He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.