In 1881, meek Hester Marsh inherits her great-uncle Diablo the Great’s riverboat magic show, after he accidentally decapitated his wife onstage while performing a magic trick and then shot himself.

It’s a fest of stereotypes as she meets Gypsy Mara, superstitious black boatmen, and “the embittered dwarf, Quantimo.” And yet, so entertaining! Shadowy figures try to push Hester overboard, spooky women lurk at her bedside, Gypsy Mara croaks dire warnings, handsome men gallop about on stallions, the ghost of decapitated Mary haunts the riverboat, and (since they’re still using it in the act) the guillotine claims another victim!

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Gypsy Mara explaining what she wants to save Hester from: “From the deep night and the spider’s web. From the crawling things that tunnel in the earth and feed on festering mortals.”

Which I guess is better than festering balls. Though if I understand her correctly, she’s saying that Hester needs to be saved from earthworms.

The only thing this story lacks is a monkey, so I have provided one in my icon.

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