It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Madeleine Brent. Stranger at Wildings (also known by the title Kirkby’s Changeling) is just as wonderfully odd and unique as Moonraker’s Bride (which resides on this site’s 10-Star page.) An epic journey of self-discovery for an English girl traveling with a Hungarian circus, this book does not disappoint.
It is 1904 and Chantal (her chosen name) is eighteen and in her fifth year as a trapeze artist. At thirteen she was found alone and destitute by the kind Mr. Galletti, who took her in, trained her, and is now her mentor and wise friend. Along with his two grandchildren, Maria and Leo, they are a family within the larger troupe of circus performers and workers touring throughout Europe. They support, practice, and look out for each other.
After a few expository chapters about the dynamics of such an unusual group, we learn more about Chantal’s backstory. It is here that Stranger at Wildings becomes the classic Madeleine Brent novel, which often tell of young women whose lives are upended. Chantal’s fortitude is tested and all she knew to be true is challenged. (A reminder that “Madeleine Brent” is actually the pen name of author Peter O’Donnell, which I always find amusing because he is so adept at writing from a young woman’s perspective.)
In Forrest Gump-like fashion, Chantal comes into contact with many different people in many different places. She maintains her dignity, her keen perception, and is frequently underestimated. No matter her circumstance, she tries to be good and compassionate, always striving to be better than the person she was in her childhood.
It’s quite a different type of story, falling into the “Gothic” category, but I enjoyed Stranger at Wildings very much. I have several other novels by this author that I need to read, but this is the only one available digitally (and on Kindle Unlimited for those who subscribe.)