Inspired to pick up this book by the folks at Book Riot, I got myself a copy from the library and started reading. Pitched as something similar to Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, I had high hopes of being carried away into the magical world of night performers. Although it took a while for the story to pick up, by the end I was left more than satisfied by this excellent debut novel.
Erika Swyler's The Book of Speculation takes place in two time periods, switching back and forth as the author slowly reveals the secret that has cursed protagonist's Simon Watson's family for generations.
In our current time period, we have Simon Watson, a recently fired librarian living in the dilapidated ruins of his childhood home. Simon wallows in his own failure, and the haunting memory of his mother who drowned herself when Simon and his sister Enola were still children. Simon mysteriously receives an ancient book, sent by an overly friendly book collector, that has references to his grandmother and appears to reveal an alarming trend of the family's women drowning themselves.
Swyler then takes us back tot he mid 19th century, to the world of carnivals and travelling circuses, where "wild children" and "mermaids" entertain locals easily captivated by the slight of hand or inexplicable mysteries. We are introduced to a young mute, Amos, who has fallen into favour of the circus' ringleader and who falls in love with the local faux-mermaid, who he can only communicate through the symbolism contained in the Tarot cards of his guardian.
Slowly the story moves forward as Simon tries to figure out what is wrong with his family as he fears his Tarot reading carnival working sister may follow the family destiny. Simultaneously, Amos' tale brings us closer to revealing the source of a curse that powerfully stays with his family for generations.
While Speculation doesn't necessarily quite create the dark and mysterious aura of The Night Circus, the plot is better paced and the ending more satisfying than Morgenstern's big hit. I found myself captured toward the end, desperate to find out why such poor fates have doomed Simon's clan. This book takes a while to get into but by the end you'll be happy to have gotten through the slower moments.
I read this on my e-reader but I will also say that it may be worth checking out the hard cover. It is beautifully put together with beautiful fonts and such that really are not captured that well by the epub version.
So go off and get it and enjoy!