Menagerie - Rachel Vincent

[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

An interesting read, for its themes and the issues it raised. What defines "humanity". How a whole category of beings were enslaved and treated like dirt because they were considered as sub-human and not even worth the attention you'd give a pet. The dichtomy between the handlers, some of whose displayed really crappy features, and the cryptids (with some being savage beasts, but others also being loving parents, like the werewolf Claudio and the cat-shifter Zyanya, much more humane than humans here. There were somewhat decent people in the lot (Alyrose, Atherton)... and yet not everything was in black and white, as these nevertheless didn't raise above the others: they didn't want to lose their jobs, they didn't want to attract unwanted attention from the police, etc. Not the most original approach, and one that became a bit heavy-handed after a while; still, it kept me interested nonetheless.

I liked the depiction of the circus, the state of misery, hunger and weakness the cryptids were left in, with the most "dangerous" ones (sirens, creatures with enchanting powers...) kept sedated. It enhanced how awful their daily life was, although I woud've liked to see more world-building in that regard: how came they let themselves be treated in such a way, for instance? Were they killed en masse, threatened with lethal weapons, or captured through more insidious means? Did the humans hit them all at once to ensure they couldn't strike back? And what exactly was the reaping? A few snippets from "newspaper articles" etc., prefacing the different parts of the novel, brought some insight into the events of the 1980s leading to the cryptids being oppressed; I would've appreciated seeing more (or less cryptic snippets), with more details about how exactly this went on.

I found the pacing uneven, too, as events ran much faster in the last chapters—too fast, compared to the rhythm of the novel in general. Even though the supernatural aspects were more exciting, quite a few things happened (for instance, those moments with Delilah's mother, or with Kevin) and it felt as if they were swept under the carpet quickly after, with little aftermath for the characters. It's difficult to know if Romilly's predictions about Eryx were fulfilled here, and we're done with that arc, or if something else is coming in the next volume. It's difficult to determine if the events in this book (Adira...) are going to impact the characters, or if this is done as well.

Delilah... I found her annoying most of the time, and while she became better towards the end, I didn't care much for her. On the one hand, I wanted to root for her because she didn't let herself be abused without retaliating at least in words; on the other hand, her reactions often bordered on stupid, inviting more abuse. It was tricky, as finding a balance between "giving up" and "biding one's time until it's time to strike back" is very difficult, so I can't fault her for being who she was, but I think the way it was done is what grated on my nerves.

I definitely wasn't sold on the narrative being in 3rd person, except Delilah's, in 1st person: because it highlighted what a special snowflake she was, and also because the prose looked weird in places, for instance when she described herself being shocked or in fear: "Terror pooled in my stomach like acid, eating at me from the inside" looks definitely weird in 1st person.

Overall it was an okay novel, but I'm not sure I'm feeling invested enough in the characters to want to read the next book in this series. 2.5 stars.