Behind the spectacle, there are always secrets.
Unruly crowds descend on Crillick’s Variety Theatre. The young, mixed-race actress Zillah is headlining tonight as “The Great Amazonia, a Savage Queen from Darkest Africa.” Zillah, an orphan from the slums of Victorian London, knows that her rise to stardom is her ticket to freedom and, she hopes, to high society. The absurd caricature of her role, along with the leers of the drunken audience, are simply the price she’s willing to pay.
Zillah’s late mother made her promise to make a better life for herself, and now she’s on the verge of attaining everything she’s ever dreamed of. But when Crillick’s newest Black actress suddenly disappears, Zillah is haunted by worry—can she risk her own neck to save this troubled stranger?
A reckless pursuit of the truth takes Zillah into the underbelly of the city—from gaslit streets to the sumptuous parlors of Mayfair—as she seeks help from both rich admirers of the Great Amazonia and notorious criminals from her past, and where she will quickly find herself torn between two powerful worlds.
A stunning and deliciously immersive debut, Lianne Dillsworth’s Theatre of Marvels is a riveting journey across Victorian London and an unforgettable tale of race, identity and a woman’s reclamation of her fate.
In 2018, LIANNE DILLSWORTH graduated from Royal Holloway with an MA in creative writing with distinction, and in 2019, she won a place on the London Library Emerging Writers Programme. Most recently she was awarded a bursary place for underrepresented writers on the Jericho Writers Self-Editing course and short-listed for the SI Leeds Literary Prize. She also holds an MA in Victorian studies, and her love for the period shines through her writing. She currently lives in London, where she works for the government on growing diversity within the Civil Service.
A Christian Science Monitor's "10 Best Books of April" —
"Enticing...Readers will cheer on this gutsy heroine [and] vibrant cast...An accomplished first novel from a bright new talent." — Star Tribune
“Richly evocative and glittering with atmosphere” — STACEY HALLS, bestselling author of The Familiars
“Theatre of Marvels is a fascinating, empowering story of a young woman's search for identity and justice in Victorian London, a world which Lianne Dillsworth evokes so richly.” — JENNIFER SAINT, author of Ariadne
“A dazzling tale of self-discovery with a cast of vivid characters. I loved it.” — LAURA PURCELL, author of The Silent Companions
“A startling, original and utterly compelling novel which subtly navigates the core issues of race, gender and class.” — MARY CHAMBERLAIN, author of The Dressmaker of Dachau
“Thrilling, eye-opening and absorbing.' — LIZZIE POOK, author of Moonlight and the Pearler's Daughter
“I fell in love with Zillah and her theatre world. I was gripped from the opening pages - highly recommended.” — LOUISE HARE, author of This Lovely City
“Fresh, original and full of atmosphere - a compelling story with a heroine I'll remember for a long time.” — FRANCES QUINN, author of The Smallest Man
“A story that shines a spotlight into the shadows of the 19th century, while also exploring very relevant themes of identity. So fantastic to read a novel that centers POC in the Victorian era. Loved it!” — SAARA EL-ARIFI, author of The Final Strife
“Gripping…Can't wait for everybody to meet Zillah.” — LAURE VAN RENSBURG, author of Nobody But Us
“An illuminating, page-turning tale of self-actualization. Loved it.” — KATE SAWYER, author of The Stranding
“A compelling, big-hearted story that whips the reader along. I loved seeing Victorian London through the eyes of its strong female protagonist.” — ROSIE ANDREWS, author of The Leviathan
“Theatre of Marvels depicts Victorian London in rich, vivid detail that springs into life. Zillah, the beating heart of the novel, is both brave and compassionate. I was rooting for her from the first page to the last.” — ELIZABETH LEE, author of Cunning Women