So I finally got stuck into The Circus of Adventure, and I have to admit, for all my sins I haven’t been able to finish it, but I have read 3/4 of it so feel refreshed enough to review it for you!
Before we even begin on the story however, I do feel I should mention the extra special, long introduction from Blyton at the beginning of the book. She says how she was going to end the series with The Ship of Adventure but all the children’s letters persuaded her to carry on. How right the children were – just because Bill and Allie got married (spoilers, sorry!) that didn’t mean the story of the Mannerings and Trents was finished. It’s true that the Adventure series only carried on for two more books, and the last one is rather a disappointment in respects to some fans but I feel I would have been disappointed if the series ended at The Ship of Adventure which I feel isn’t one of her strongest Adventure books. Circus however has to be one of my favourites. Right up there with Castle and Sea. Maybe you’ll see why when you’ve finished reading the blog. I hope so.
The beginning of the book starts with the children coming home for the spring holidays. They’re loud, excited and eager to be at home with Aunt Allie, and their new addition to the family, Bill. Aunt Allie, or Mrs Mannering, has now become Mrs Cunningham – I wish Blyton had written their wedding, I wonder if Bill was late because he was on a job? (Maybe I’ll fill that hole in one day and write it for you all!) Anyway, she announces to the children straight away that Bill has suggested that they all go off somewhere on holiday and that they are to unpack and pack immediately.
Chaos then envelopes them all as they try to pack enough, but “not too much” as Mrs Cunningham says. She only wants them to take one set of clothes each, which is rather bold considering how quickly the Famous Five and the Mannering/Trents get themselves into adventures and often come home as muddy as people who have been to the Glastonbury rock festival (if you don’t know what this is, or what I mean, Google Image it. You will soon understand). Still eventually she manages to get them to pack suitably and not let Jack take all his heavy bird watching books.
In the middle of the packing however, she gets a mysterious phone call from Bill saying that he’s agreed to look after a friend’s nephew during the hols, which the children don’t like, but there is a consensus that they would rather have this boy than lose Bill for the holiday. Bill arrives him shortly with Gustavus Barmilevo and the children instantly dislike him as he’s strange, has long hair and is younger than them. The boys vow to put him in his place and become unusually hard with the young boy.
I suppose this feels strange because the Five are usually in the company of someone younger and the Trents and Mannerings tend to do a lot on their own without outside parties being present In fact, Tassie in Castle and Lucian in Ship are the only two companions in the whole series up until this point. Gussy reminds me a bit of Richard Kent in Five get into Trouble, and is a bit spineless to begin with and then suddenly he steps up to the plate. Its a remarkable transformation.
The big secret around Gussy is that he is actually the prince of a place no-one had heard of (and it’s a big old secret that Blyton made it up), Tauri-Hessia. Please don’t ask me to pronounce it, because I don’t even think I could. Given that it is a fictional country I cannot tell you where it is, however from a guess I would say it would be over towards Romania, Ukraine and the eastern block of Europe, just because of the way Blyton describes the clothes of the villagers later on in the book. That’s my thoughts on it anyway.
Now, when Gussy gives the game away by telling the children that he really is a crowned Prince, we finally get from the slow moving dullness of a ‘normal’ holiday to the exciting part where Gussy is kidnapped by some men who do not like his Uncle, the King’s, ruling and plan to put the weak Gussy on the thrown. In the act of catching Gussy, the men also take Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann from the cottage where they are staying. A clever plot device from Blyton was to have Allie and Bill overpowered on a late night walk and Jack outside watching the owls.
Jack manages to come back to the cottage just as the others are being bundled away and jumps on the back of the car and manages to stow away on the plane that is used to transport them all to Tauri-Hessia. When he’s there he has the problem of not knowing any of the language and through a series of mishaps Jack ends up with the Circus who are happy enough to have him and Kiki along, as well as travelling close to where the children are being held.
Jack attempts a daring rekkie to see where the others are being hidden, and then with the help of the Circus people rescues them. This is the book where I really decided that Jack was my favourite Adventurer because he does everything so level-headedly and he was so brave and daring. I think it also became one of my favourite books because of this long passage where you got to have an adventure on your own with Jack and Kiki.
The story as well is just as colourful and joyful as usual and is full of fun and adventure, in fact one of the biggest they’ve had because this adventure is the first one where they’re supposed to be protecting someone and its gone wrong. It shows as well that Bill is only human, even though he is an amazing secret agent. There are lovely little touches in Circus that make it one of the strongest in a very strong series. There are never as many plot holes in the Adventure series than the Famous Five, but that might be simply down to the fact that the Adventure series is only eight books long and is a much closer knit series than the 21 volumes of the Famous Five with stories that are very episodic rather than part of a carry on in a way.
Anyway, please let me know your thoughts on Circus. Where does it come on your list?