Menagerie: A Novel by Rachel Vincent

Look around you.  Take a long, hard look at your life.  Seriously, do this now.  Think about each member of your family, your friends, your home.  Think about your job, your coworkers, your ability to make a living.  Think about the things you love to do, the movies and books and music that you enjoy.  Think about the education you’ve received.  Think about everything that makes you who you are.  Say your name out loud and really think about what that identity means to you.

Then imagine one horrifying day – let’s say today, right now – when the unimaginable happens.  You are informed you are not human, and you have no means to deny that truth through the evidence of your own senses.  You have no rights.  The life you knew is over.  You are slapped in irons, stripped of your every conceivable dignity, and put in a cage.  Then you are told that your life is being negotiated.  You might end up as an exotic pet in a private collection.  You could end up being hunted for another’s sport.  Or you could end up an exhibit in a traveling circus for the amusement of the population of which you were a part only hours before.  Your cooperation is irrelevant; it only determines how much pain or how little pain you endure above and beyond what you’re already experiencing.

It is the world of a slave, where people are stripped of their identities and basic humanity, sold as commodities on the open market to anyone with a check book or credit card.

Hope becomes the most dangerous thing you could ever wish for, as it will leave you more shattered than any weapon you can name.

This is Menagerie.  25-year-old Delilah Marlow experiences this nightmare for herself, and through the incredibly visceral writing talents of Rachel Vincent, you are given a first-person perspective to live this horror through Delilah’s eyes.  Every humiliation, every grievance, every bruise and cut is yours.  This is broken up by occasional chapters where third-person limited POV is used on other characters.  This respite is all too brief, and “reality” comes crashing down fast.

And this all happens legally and willfully within the borders of the United States, present day.  Through brief insights, the reader will come to discover the catalyst that allowed this to be, a cultural apocalypse known as The Reaping.

The very best of science fiction and fantasy is the kind that has something to say.  If you take away the cryptid element of the story, this is precisely the kind of story that happens with frightening regularity all over the world.  A fantasy story should sugarcoat that reality.  If anything, it heightens it for us so we can understand it on own levels, without actually having to go through it.  Verisimilitude is the name of the game here.  No punches are pulled.  The violence and gore found within are not gratuitous, but rather necessary to the psychological pounding the reader will take alongside Delilah.  It is relentless.

My understanding is that Rachel Vincent is a YA romance author.  This is irrelevant in assessing Menagerie.  This book is neither romance nor YA, and I applaud Ms. Vincent for breaking free from her own classification and proving her identity simply as a gifted writer.  Without any exaggeration, I think this book requires a status as a modern-day classic.  At the very least, it’s one that should not be lost in the pile of new titles.  Menagerie deserves recognition.

The only thing I can truly say negative about this book, aside from how often it delivered a successful punch to the gut, is that I have to wait for the next installment.  My understanding is that this is a trilogy.  I eagerly await the second book, knowing that things will get worse for Delilah, and for all those sharing her fate, before they get better.

Take a bow, Ms. Vincent.  Bravo.

EDIT:

I don’t know why I didn’t put this in my review the first time, but I want to thank Ms. Vincent also for her insightful study of the concepts of honor and chivalry that are found in this story as well.  I don’t know that I’ve seen it depicted quite this well before.  As I read medieval studies on this subject frequently, that’s impossibly refreshing.

5 stars

menagerie

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