I marked this as a spoiler review even though I tried to remain vague in some ways due to the Big Secrets only the reader should experience first hand. So difficult to comment on these kinds of books as a result!
Also, I was given this ebook by the publisher (amongst a few others) in exchange for creating a blog tour banner for the book. Beautiful cover - could not say no! I wasn't asked to read the book in order to do a review. I thought the book sounded really interesting.
First of all, the book takes on an interesting subject matter in Gene/Micah's secret. There are clues as to what this secret is as the build up to the Big Reveal, er, builds up, (and I was able to guess what it was thanks to them) so what becomes the important thing is how it's revealed to those reading and to anyone important in the book. It becomes clear after a while that this is the only driving plot element. As a result, the book kind of hangs on how the reveal is done. I wasn't particularly impressed with the reveals.
First of all, the readers are officially clued in anticlimactically when the protagonist is among peers at a party, rich folk of the noble class. Given the station of the people at the party, it seemed the reveal of The Big Secret was rather lamely done. It was the more obvious reaction. Also, the fact that nothing much happened after except for the expected resulting revulsion and mortification. These just seemed the most basic ways to reveal the protagonists secrets and it was not a little boring.
Later the protagonists secret is revealed voluntarily to a couple of the circus performers they've grown particularly close to. Of course, this is done well after the time when the protag could have shared and introduced many other possibilities into the story, by building on that with people they'd grown to care about, and who cared for them. Instead, we have a very long, drawn out book filled with the fear of discovery that really fizzles out of Excitement Factor long before the end of the book when the protag decides to vocally and physically share their secret.
The worldbuilding was disappointing because Pantomime only hints at it. It's one of those "long ago" worlds that nobody currently knows anything about. It's all myths and legends and nothing concrete except possibly artifacts called Vestige that everyone assumes are some form of magic from this long dead culture of mythical chimeras and other such creatures (The book borrows a little from steampunk, some of the Vestige being "clockwork" made; other mentions of gas lights are thrown in, too.). The protagonist is somehow connected to it all, though we never find out why in this book. This becomes a third driving plot element, but it's hung over for the next book. Another Big Reveal to wait for, because the protag is trying to discover who/what they are. I don't have a problem with that concept, I'm just disappointed that the world was not more solidly established in this first book in a new series. It's wispy and ethereal and just out of reach and that annoys me because what little we are clued into seems very fascinating. All it makes me wonder is will it in any way be worth waiting for. For now it felt randomly done more than anything, and piecemeal worlds in a fantasy novel are about as useful as a toothbrush with no toothpaste.
The writing style is, thankfully, very engaging. I definitely became invested in the protagonists struggle with their own inner fears and the very real outer ones. There's a bit of a love triangle thing going on, and due to the nature of the protag's secret, there's at least a little justification for one this time. The protag is very much confused and disoriented by this secret, and the finding of their true self is an understandable issue when mixed in with societal pressures and norms.
The only problem is I can't tell if any of this book was worth it. It reads like one big prologue to a bigger story. I don't really get why so much time is spent on some things that seemed superfluous, most of that being the circus, it's many characters, their torment of the protag, all that TIME spent on it. It seemed like getting on with the plot would've been more exciting. In conclusion, I'm not sure if I'll continue with the series or not when the next book comes out, which is a shame. The protagonist's secret is definitely an interesting one for a YA novel in an age where readers are calling for more diversity.