Title: The Eighth Wonder
Author: Tania Farrelly
Published: July 2nd 2021
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
The Suffragette meets The Greatest Showman in this story ofpassion and courage, as a young feminist fights against the rules of society to find her place in the world.
New York, 1897. The richest city in the world.
Beautiful, young and privileged, Rose Kingsbury Smith is expected to play by the strict rules of social etiquette, to forfeit all career aspirations and to marry a man of good means. But she has a quietly rebellious streak and is determined to make her own mark on Manhattan’s growing skyline. When the theft of a precious heirloom plunges the Kingsbury Smiths into financial ruin, Rose becomes her family’s most tradeable asset. She finds herself fighting for her independence and championing the ideal of equality for women everywhere.
Enigmatic Ethan Salt’s inglorious circus days are behind him. He lives a quiet life on Coney Island with his beloved elephant Daisy and is devoted to saving animals who’ve been brutalised by show business. As he struggles to raise funds for his menagerie, he fears he will never build the sanctuary of his dreams … until a chance encounter with a promising young architect changes his life forever.
Just when Rose is on the verge of seeing her persistence pay off, the ghosts of her past threaten to destroy everything she holds dear. In the face of heartbreaking prejudice and betrayal, she must learn to harness her greatest wonder within.
From Fifth Avenue mansions to Lower East Side tenements and the carnivals of Coney Island, The Eighth Wonder explores the brilliance and brutality of one of the world’s most progressive eras and celebrates the visionaries who dare to rebel.
The Eighth Wonder is the debut novel from Tania Farrelly, a graduate of author Fiona McIntosh’s famed masterclass. Written with a deft and passionate hand, I was captured by the beauty of The Eighth Wonder from the first to the last word. This is a very special story that I know I will not part ways with anytime soon.
Transporting the reader to the magnificent Gilded Age, The Eighth Wonder immediately sets the scene for this time of great transition and contrast. While some residents of New York prosper and triumph, others struggle to stay afloat. The main character of The Eighth Wonder, Rose Kingsbury Smith, is a woman who is constrained by the rules and expectations of her position in society. With aspirations to become an architect, Rose faces an uphill battle in trying build a career for herself in this industry, when it is expected that she bear children. As Rose rebels against this oppressive regime, Rose faces further trouble when she loses a valuable family heirloom, sending her parents into financial ruin. With Rose’s family in deep financial concern, they use their daughter as a pawn in a quest to dig themselves out of possible poverty. Meanwhile, the other lead character of this tale, Ethan Salt, is a former circus operator who is determined to move on from this cutthroat business. Ethan now resides on Coney Island, where he works intensively with rescued former circus animals. Ethan faces a daily fight to protect his brood and support them financially. Despite these setbacks, Ethan still has hopes to build his own animal sanctuary. Will Rose be able to help Ethan on his mission? But Rose is facing her own private battle – she must deal with the choices she made and the fallout from her involvement in a past relationship. The Eighth Wonder is a tale that highlights a time of visionary change under harsh restrictions.
Blown away, tongue tied, speechless and entertained are just a few feelings I can call upon to explain my response to The Eighth Wonder. I am completely in awe of Tania Farrelly’s ability in so many areas in this novel – from the world building, history, human and animal characters, along with her writing prowess. Wow, just wow. I predict big things for this debut author. The Eighth Wonder is now sitting neck and neck with another 2021 debut novel, Sargasso, as my favourite novel of the year. I’m not sure if any book can top these two masterpiece releases!
Tania Farrelly immediately and vividly sets her scene in The Eighth Wonder. The reader is effortlessly transported to New York’s Gilded Age, as revolution, change and traditional values all vow for a place in this contentious era. I appreciated Farrelly’s strong depiction of New York and Coney Island, it was deeply authentic and moving all the same. Farrelly also kept me up to speed in relation to specific historical advances during this tumultuous time period. We are privy to the tireless and brave work of the Suffragettes, along with trends in higher education, the architectural world and unionisation. Big business and male power ruled this world, which were the key messages I took from this novel. Sadly, for our lead female protagonist, this was not a welcome society for a woman wishing to advance her circumstances in a career beyond the home. While highlighting title character Rose’s struggles we are also given an insight into the circus world, which was incredibly enlightening. I appreciated the novel’s focus on the work of an animal conservationist back in the late 1800s. Farrelly treats every topic I have highlighted above with historical accuracy, finite detail and a sense of vibrancy, so the reader is totally absorbed.
In terms of characters, The Eighth Wonder features an unforgettable cast that I just know will occupy a place in the heart of all readers that experience this majestic novel. The lead female protagonist was fearless, determined, brave, resilient and admirable. It was easy to get caught up in Rose’s struggles across her personal life, family situation, love predicaments and her passionate causes. I really felt as though Farrelly captured Rose’s frustration with being a woman clearly ahead of her time. We also see Rose’s vulnerability and affectionate nature when she encounters beloved Daisy the elephant. This aspect of the novel moved me significantly, especially one late scene in tale where Rose takes a stand in regards to Daisy’s welfare. We also have Ethan, the male lead of The Eighth Wonder who brings so much to the story at hand. Ethan is mysterious, enigmatic, charming and altruistic. I enjoyed following Ethan’s story from his origins in the circus business, through to his work in animal rehabilitation. I desperately wanted Ethan to achieve his dream by developing his own animal sanctuary, this was a fantastic character arc. Alongside the two core leads we have other players that enhance the overall storyline. From Rose’s mother and father, to a love interest, various circus personalities and more, Farrelly’s cast shine bright. However, it is the non-human characters that make The Eighth Wonder a spectacle not to be missed. I know that the elephants of the tale, along with Ethan’s accompanying menagerie really stole the show and left a lasting impression on me.
Pull up a chair and settle into an extravaganza of history, pageantry, rising feminism, animal rights, personal aspirations, architecture and blinding love. The Eighth Wonder is an outstanding set piece and if you could see me now, I am extending a standing applause to author Tania Farrelly.
The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly was published on 2nd July 2021 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Eighth Wonder, Tania Farrelly, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Eighth Wonder is book #60 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge