A New York Times bestseller!
"A beguiling first novel"—Gregory Maguire in the New York Times
"Takes readers to a marvelous place.”—The Wall Street Journal
Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.
The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn't want to keep his promise. And now it's up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.
Excerpt from Circus Mirandus
Grandpa Ephraim opened the drawer of his bedside table to reveal balls of crumpled paper. Micah uncrumpled them one by one until the bed was covered with letters, letters made up of impossible words.
Lightbender, the letters said.
Circus Mirandus, they said.
And they said one more thing, one very crucial thing. You promised me a miracle.
Micah knew about the promise the Lightbender had made to his grandfather. It came at the very end of the story, and it was one of Micah’s favorite parts. But . . . it was only a story.
His grandfather placed his hand on top of one of the crinkled sheets of paper. “It took me quite a few drafts to get it right.”
“I don’t understand,” said Micah. “Circus Mirandus isn’t—”
“Real?” Grandpa Ephraim said quietly. “But it is.”
A smile was tugging up every wrinkle of Grandpa Ephraim’s face. It wasn’t a teasing smile.
Micah stared at all of the letters spread across the crocheted blanket. “If it’s really true …”
Grandpa Ephraim laughed his blub glub laugh and beckoned with one arm. When Micah reached for him, he pulled him close in a weak hug and wheezed in his ear, “It’s the truest thing ever. I’m so sorry I never told you.”
Micah hadn’t realized there was a fist in his chest until his grandfather’s words made it unclench. Grandpa Ephraim would never lie about something so important. And that meant . . . that meant magic was real. And, more importantly, a real magician had made a promise to his grandfather. Micah wouldn’t have to be alone. The Lightbender could save Grandpa Ephraim. The world would go back to being the way it was supposed to be.
Micah hugged his grandfather so tightly that his arms hurt. “Everything’s going to be all right,” he said. “It is.”
Grandpa Ephraim lay back on his pillows and nodded. “I think it might. I finished the final draft of the letter last night, and a messenger came for it.”
“It was the most astonishing thing. I wish you could have been here to see it. I had no idea how to get the letter to the circus, but the messenger flew in through the window a few hours after I had finished writing it.”
“Wait. Did you say flew?”
Grandpa Ephraim’s grin widened. “Yes. It does sound strange, doesn’t it? Apparently the Lightbender uses a parrot for his mail. She said she preferred to take phone calls, actually, but I’m really not sure how that would work. I should have expected something fantastic.”
“Phone calls?” Micah rubbed at the back of his neck with one hand. “This . . . it’s so . . . wow!”
He looked around the bedroom and realized that everything had been transformed. This wasn’t a room where Grandpa Ephraim had been sick; it was a room where he was going to get well again. Even the afternoon sunbeams that shone through the window seemed brighter.
“And this mail parrot—she was going to give the Lightbender your message? She was going to tell him to come here?”
“Yes,” Grandpa Ephraim said. He bent over and coughed a couple of times. Micah started to pass him a tissue from the box on the bedside table, but he waved it away. “I hope,” he said, “that he’ll agree to help us.”
“He has to.” If this was real—and it just had to be—then the Lightbender would help them. Micah didn’t see how he could refuse. In Grandpa Ephraim’s story he was a very powerful magician, a good magician, and he had promised.
“I can’t wait for you to meet him.” Grandpa Ephraim coughed again. “The messenger said Circus Mirandus was in La Paz right now.”
“It’s in Bolivia. So I’m not sure how—” Blub glub.
Micah handed him a tissue, and this time he coughed into it.
“Do you think it will take long?” Micah asked. “For the Lightbender to fix you, I mean.”
Aunt Gertrudis would have to move out of the spare bedroom to make room for their guest, he decided. She would be glad to be going back to Arizona without Micah anyway. She’d been saying just the other day how difficult it would be to find room for him in her apartment.
“What?” Grandpa Ephraim was coughing so hard that he barely got the word out.
“Are you okay?”
Blub glub. “I think I need . . .” Grandpa Ephraim’s face was turning pale. His eyes were clenched shut. His mouth was opening and closing like a fish’s, and all of his words had turned into nothing but blub glub, blub glub.
Micah was on his feet in an instant. “Grandpa? What should I do?”
That awful, dying-kettle sound was lasting for much too long. He was about to ask if he should fetch a cup of water, or the breathing machine that the doctor had given them, but hands were on his shoulders, jerking him away.
Aunt Gertrudis’s nostrils flared. “Out!” she said. “Get out. Getting him excited for no good reason.”
Her eyes landed on the letters spread out on the bed. They narrowed into slits.
“This again,” she hissed. “I should have known.”
Micah didn’t know what possessed him in that moment, but it was something with a lot of bravery and almost no good sense. Instead of leaving, he ducked around his aunt and made a wild grab for the letters.
He managed to snag one of them before Aunt Gertrudis caught him by the back of his T-shirt. “I said out!” she shouted. “Go to your room!”
She snatched at the letter in his hand as she shoved him toward the door. Micah’s fist was closed too tightly around the paper, though. It ripped, and he stumbled out into the hall, nearly colliding with the wall. The door slammed behind him, and the lock clicked.
“Grandpa Ephraim!” he yelled. “Are you all right? Aunt Gertrudis? Please let me in!”
Micah slid down the wall and sat, staring at the door, wishing that it would burst into a thousand splinters. The silence from the other side seemed to last forever before he heard the breathing machine turn on. The grinding sound of it made him feel like he might never be able to move from that spot again.
The half of the letter that he had managed to rescue from Grandpa Ephraim’s room trembled in his hands. Micah pressed the creases out as best he could, running his fingers across the words over and over again until the paper began to feel soft.
You have to get up, he told himself.
He had to be ready to meet the Lightbender when he came. He had to make sure that Grandpa Ephraim got his miracle before it was too late.
The messenger’s name was Chintzy, and she returned to Circus Mirandus just before the sun set on a dreary afternoon. She ignored the excited oohs and aahs of the children who spotted her as she zipped toward the black-and-gold tent she called home.
“All this rain!” she squawked once she was safely atop her perch. “I don’t know why the Head allows it. Gray, cold, wet. Ruins the mood of the place.”
She ruffled her damp red feathers and glared with one beady yellow eye at the Man Who Bends Light, who was fiddling with an ornate silver coffee service beside her perch. He looked as he had for centuries. His sandy hair was a tangled nest, and his beaten, brown leather coat swept the ground. His nose was strong—almost, Chintzy had been known to admit from time to time, like a proper beak.
“The meadow around the circus needs rain as much as any other living thing,” he said. “You’re just in a snit because you wasted your day on a fool’s errand. Not every twitch of your tail is a magical event. I told you I wasn’t expecting any messages.”
Chintzy snatched a lemon cookie off the coffee tray with one clawed foot. “Shows what you know,” she muttered around a beakful of crumbs.
“I told you,” he said again, then paused. “Wait. There was a message?”
She shook her tail feathers at him. “You won’t be insulting my tail twitches anymore, will you?” she said smugly. “I wouldn’t have gone if there wasn’t a message. Flying all that way. My poor wings!”
The tray rattled as he plunked the creamer onto it. “Who could possibly . . .?” He looked sharply at her. “It wasn’t Victoria. Was it?”
Chintzy honk-snorted at him. It was her favorite rude sound. “Of course not! After all these years? Not that I would deliver a message for her anyway. Not after what she did.”
“I suppose that is for the best. Who sent the message?”
“You suppose right. Can you imagine what the Head would say?”
“The message, Chintzy,” he reminded her.
“I almost perished of fatigue, you know.” She drooped on her perch in an attempt to look terribly forlorn and dramatic. “You could have lost me.”
He rolled his eyes. “I am rarely so lucky.”
“Do not swear at me. I know for a fact that Porter opened a Door for you last night. It’s not as though you had to flap all the way there.”
She turned her back on him. “Ingrate.”
He sighed. “I know. I am sorry, Chintzy. I do appreciate your hard work. Would you please give me the message?”
“Well, if you’re going to beg . . .” She spun around and puffed out her scarlet chest. “I’m a professional, you know. The letter disintegrated in this rain you insist upon defending, but I memorized it for safekeeping.”
“I am,” she agreed. “The message is from a child who saw your show.”
Then she paused and tilted her head. “Well, no, that’s not exactly right. He’s not a child anymore. He grew up.”
The Man Who Bends Light furrowed his brow. “It’s from an adult?”
“He almost shocked the eggs out of me,” Chintzy admitted. “It’s that serious. You’re going to be in such trouble with the Head, and . . . well, I guess I’ll let you hear it.” She cleared her throat to acknowledge the formality of the situation, and then she recited Ephraim’s letter.
After she finished, the tent was silent for a long time. The Man Who Bends Light stood as still as a petrified stump. As the minutes dragged by, the quiet started to itch. Chintzy plucked a couple of particularly beautiful chest feathers before she even realized how nervous she was.
She cleared her throat again. “He shortened your name, such as it is. Lightbender. Clever. Much more modern.”
When he didn’t respond, she bobbed her head and added, “He called me ma’am, too. You should take notes.”
“As if your ego needed stroking.” He folded his legs and sank onto a tasseled floor cushion. “Ephraim Tuttle,” he murmured. “That is something I didn’t expect.”
“Who is he? Looked about as special as a goose on a pond, if you ask me. Not the sort we usually deal with.”
The Man Who Bends Light looked thoughtful. “He is a child who was called to Circus Mirandus. Or he was. And he was special, compared to most.” He stared down at his long fingers, and a smile crept across his lips. “He showed me a magic trick.”
“A real one?”
“Quite.” He glanced at her. “Do you know what Ephraim wants for his miracle?”
“I’m not sure. He wants to talk to you. Maybe . . .” Chintzy refused to look at him.
“What is it?”
“He’s very old,” she said. “And he’s dying, I think.”
The Man Who Bends Light flinched. “Dying? What if he wants something impossible?”
“Well, that’s a problem for you, isn’t it?” Chintzy turned her head around to preen a few feathers that had been mussed by the rain. “I didn’t even know the children could save their miracles. Never heard of that before.”
“Nobody before Ephraim ever asked to. I didn’t expect him to wait so long. I had almost forgotten.” He was pacing now, back and forth in front of Chintzy’s perch. “I’ll have to speak to Mr. Head.”
“He’ll feed you to one of his creatures,” she predicted.
“Nevertheless.” He strode toward the curtain that served as a door. “Go back to Ephraim. Find out exactly what he needs. I must be prepared.”
“What do you mean ‘go back’? I just got home!”
“Back,” he said. “Talk to Porter about a Door.”
Chintzy fluffed herself to threatening proportions. “I’m not your carrier pigeon.”
The word echoed between them. Chintzy hated it when he used that voice, that deep tone with his magic bleeding through at the edges. She ground her beak.
“Fine!” she squawked. “I don’t know how you got into this mess anyway. Thought you didn’t offer miracles.”
“I did once,” he said softly. The lamps in the tent seemed to dim for a moment. “Before.”