Synopsis: Stella’s life is on the unusual side, but whose isn’t nowadays, half a century after the Fall that led to this ruined landscape with its mesh of mythology and machinery? Still, being brought up as part of a troupe of circus performers wandering along the coast of the Inner Sea, going from small village to small village, sets her apart from many.
Even more alienating is the fact that she doesn’t know who her parents were. The others in the troupe deny any knowledge of them, and so Stella feels herself a stranger among them, particularly as adulthood draws near and she must figure out what her role with the circus will be.
When one of the circus elders reveal that Stella’s mother was, in fact, a circus performer, Stella must navigate feelings of betrayal, new responsibilities, and her mother’s legacy of magic-enhancing technology. When she fails to control her temper and half the circus burns down as a result, she’s ejected from the only family she’s ever known.
Accompanied by a village girl named Abacus (Abbie), the two strike inland, hoping to find the city that Stella’s father was rumored to come from. Their ingenuity and bravery are put to the test as they battle minotaurs, mutants, and other perils created by the crumbling technology of a long-gone scientific age.
When they finally come to the city, they find it deserted, much to their despair. But that night they are seized and taken to find Stella’s father, who lives far above on the space station. Abbie is slated to be the human sacrifice who will “pay” for Stella’s admission to the station, but when they find out they manage to (with great peril and suspense) flee to an abandoned lunar colony, where they come face to face with the greatest challenge of all: the aliens who created the Fall.
From the first chapter:
I’m practicing juggling again, because it’s raining outside, big fat bloodwarm drops drumming on the tent’s waxed canvas. In an hour, as the day’s light vanishes, the circus’s light will begin to flicker and shine, powered by the ancient turbine/treadmill pulled by three ponies and a servobot. Townsfolk will wander through the maze of entrance gates and aisles, hesitant and eager all at once, pockets full of silver slugs and other tradeable metal.
They’ll wander through the booths, looking at the freakshows and trying their luck at the games, winding their way towards the bigtop, ready to make their way up the creaking bleachers and sit to watch marvels unfold.
This time we’re within earshot of the ocean, a jungle-hugged glade near two different villages.
I drop a beanbag and curse. I’ve worked my way up to four at a time, but keeping five aloft continues to elude me.
Roto the Tiger Boy sticks his head in the flap in time to catch the last words. His whiskers twitch. He holds out a tin silently and I take it, gesture at him to sit on the floor. He does, closing his eyes as I start to apply the orange greasepaint that colors his dun fur, turning him from an ordinary cat-man to something more exotic.
What can I apply to myself, what will turn me into the exotic thing the circus just hasn’t realized it needs yet?