Menagerie is a dark book set in a word where mythical creatures are real and a known but dangerous part of the population. Since an event known as The Reaping, where thousands of human children died because of a fae plot against humans. These creatures, even half humans like shapeshifters, have no rights, not even those accorded to animals. They are kept in zoos, menageries, private collections—where they’re used for hunting and other things—or scientific organisations who use them for experiments and drug testing.
Delilah is a small town girl who visits a travelling menagerie on her birthday and is shocked to see a young werewolf being badly treated. Her rage at the maltreatment brings out the beast in her; she changes into something that looks like one of these strange creatures and attacks the man responsible. She suddenly finds herself stripped of her human trappings, dispossessed and thrown into jail where she is later sold to the very menagerie that caused her fury. Fear of what she is turns her friends into enemies.
From there the story goes into her relationships with her ‘handler’, other menagerie employees and the other inmates, her discovery of what she is, and how she is forced to ‘perform’ for audiences. This story makes it quite clear how it would be to be an animal in a zoo, circus or menagerie in our world. Even though there are rights accorded to our animals, who can say whether any individual in any situation actually follows them. Regardless of laws, the potential for abuse in any situation of imprisonment is high. The book also asks what we are when our legal rights are stripped away, and what constrains individuals when the law doesn’t; the answer to both as presented here is somewhat disturbing. Although in this story the species being abused are mythical in our world, it parallels any kind of racial discrimination. We can’t forget that humans can and have treated other races this way and could do again.
Technically, the book is powerfully written with strong characterisation and relationships, and despite the dark premise, the book has a positive ending. Compassion wins out in the end—at least for some.