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The Circus of Adventure

Review by Keith Robinson (June 10, 2005)

At the end of The Ship of Adventure, Bill "proposed" to Mrs Mannering. Now, Bill and Allie Cunningham take the children off on holiday together to a cottage in Little Brockleton, somewhere in the middle of the country. But Bill has to bring along another boy—a strange, foreign boy by the name of Gustavus Barmilevo, or Gus as they all decide to call him. Apparently he's the nephew of one of Bill's friends. Gus is not very likeable; he cries when he cuts his finger ("My finger, it blids") and absolutely hates the "wicket" Kiki, demanding that the parrot be put in a cage during his stay with the others. Naturally the other children refuse to stand for this, and they tease the boy about his girlish hair and other things, which leads to more tears! Why oh why did Bill have to bring this awful child along with them?

The answer to this little mystery is revealed fairly early on, when Philip gets cross and tells Gus that he's not some kind of prince that can order people about. Gus stands up and announces that actually he is—the Prince Aloysius Gramondie Racemolie Torquinel of Tauri-Hessia! Astonished, the children listen as Bill and Allie reveal that the boy is being hidden away because there is unrest in the country of Tauri-Hessia, and the King's life is in danger.

With a plot that involves a make-believe Prince from a make-believe land, I had reservations about it. I never thought much of the whole Prince Bongawah from Tetarua State thing in The Mystery of the Vanished Prince with the Five Find-Outers (although the story itself was very good). He too wore very colorful and silky clothes. Perhaps Tetarua State is part of Tauri-Hessia? It would be funny to have Prince Bongawah turn up in both the Find-Outers story and The Circus of Adventure—I mean, both princes are virtually the same except for the name!

Anyway, that said, I think this book is the fourth best overall after Valley, Island and Castle (not counting River, which I've yet to read). It's hard to place it above Ship, because I really enjoyed the cruise ship setting and the scene where they're trying to figure out how to translate the treasure map...but Ship was let down by lame baddies and a horribly contrived bit in the middle. Circus doesn't seem to suffer from the usual lame "nasty" baddies. Just for a change, they're polite and respectful to their captives, and wish them no harm (except for killing the King!). They come across as firm but forceful, and it seems there are so many of them in the background you really get the impression we're dealing with an organization akin to the Secret Service. They move in, take prisoners, and move out again. At first I was doubtful when the foreign "couple" arrive at the little holiday location that Bill, Allie, and the children were staying at; I thought this subterfuge was going to be dragged out. But it wasn't. As soon as they were sure the Prince was being hidden away at the cottage, they moved in and kidnapped him—along with Bill, Allie, Philip, Dinah, and Lucy-Ann. Jack was out bird-watching at the time, so he managed to avoid capture.

Jack really is the hero in this story. With Bill and Allie bundled away somewhere, and the children (including Gus) stuffed in the back of a car, Jack bravely throws himself into the boot and goes with them. When they arrive at an airfield, Jack smuggles himself aboard the plane just like Philip did in The Valley of Adventure. After the plane lands and the children are whisked away, Jack is all alone in a dusty foreign country where Goon-like policemen wear colorful uniforms and roads are nothing but dirt tracks. A stranger, seeing Kiki on Jack's shoulder, points him in the direction of a nearby travelling circus—and a helpful boy named Pedro takes him in.

The obvious place to store prisoners (especially royal ones) is the castle at Borken. So Jack sets out one night to break in, and Blyton excels herself in detailing his adventure through dark winding passages and steep staircases, all the way to the point where he finally finds his sister and friends. But the room is locked, and there is no key! They can only speak through the keyhole. Jack will have to come back another time with a plan to get them out. And what a plan it is! Toni and Bingo, the trapeze artists from the circus, conjur up a daring plan to rescue the children from the castle tower. This reminds me of Five Have A Wonderful Time, where similar circus folk are employed to assist in their adventure.

From the moment the children land in Tauri-Hessia and the point of view switches to Jack, we hear nothing more about Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann and Gus except via second-hand local knowledge. This is unusual for Enid Blyton, who never strays too long from one character or another. Normally she flits back and forth and explains what is happening to each, but here she quite rightly stays with Jack alone—as he's the one with the adventure to tell. His acceptance into the circus, his venture into the castle late at night, his idea to get Pedro and the circus folk involved, and the rescue itself...it's all excellent stuff, and a gripping read! For me, this was easily the best part of the whole book, and it was a very large part, a good eight chapters or so. Following on from that was another chapter where Philip deals with some angry bears. This was not as silly as it could have been, and certainly not as unrealistic as some of Jack and Kiki's scenes; we're to believe that Kiki understands when Jack tells her she can make sound effects if she likes, but not speak any words (in case the English language gives them all away). Hmm, okay.

Anyway, after that there a couple of chapters where the circus is searched by the military, and finally Bill shows up—all good stuff! Then the excitement fades a little as Jack leads Bill into the castle once more. This scene is a little like the previous books, a sort of perfunctory rounding-up of bad guys. I thought the sentries were a little silly. One sentry marching up and down passages is okay, but two marching together strikes me as stupid; surely they'd go opposite directions and pass one another on their return, or perhaps stick to their own designated zones? That would make more sense as far as sentry duties go!

And finally, we're given a whole final chapter with the King being restored to his throne and Gus inviting Bill, Allie, and the children to stay at the palace. I think I was skimming a little by then, but I may just have been in a hurry to get stuck into the next book! All in all, a very nice read.

The Circus of Adventure

Review by Shagufta Naaz (added December 12, 2005)

I picked up The Circus of Adventure intending to skim through it to refresh my memory... and found that I couldn't put it down till I read it through! Now that's what I call a thrilling adventure story. In fact, much as I love the haunting atmosphere of The Valley of Adventure I would rate The Circus of Adventure as the best—not only in the series but in the entire genre of children's adventure tales.

Just look at all that Blyton packs into a little over 100 pages: a kidnapped prince, an exotic locale, a stowaway, a daring rescue, secret passages galore, and a circus to boot! Whew. Yet, she weaves it all together with such finesse that each event follows the other in a perfectly plausible way.

Of course, lucky coincidences abound, stretching our credulity a bit: Jack hears the name of the place the children are being taken to, lands up with a circus going right there, manages to find his friends in such a high security prison, etc. But overall the tale is thrilling enough to keep you turning the pages without worrying too much about these flaws... coincidences happen!

The children: It's the seventh adventure and the children are all seasoned adventurers (for want of a better word). Jack especially proves that he has learned well from his past exploits and really shines throughout the book. Philip also gets his moment of glory with the bears while the girls have a more passive role. No night time tramp in the woods for them.

Gussy: I could understand a prince being portrayed as spoiled and sulky, but why did Blyton also have to make him a coward and a cry baby, especially as his uncle is a brave and honourable king? I guess it was the 'British education' that made him strong, Gussy will be great once he completes his studies.

The family: As far as I recall this is Blyton's only non-conventional family, with a stepfather and adopted children all living together very happily. In the time when it was written this must have been rather unusual.

The Circus: A sense of 'Galliano' revisited, especially the bit about the bears. Blyton is at her cosmopolitan best when writing about circus people, she really draws a touching picture of harmony friendship among all races... makes you feel hopeful about the state of the world.

It's interesting to note that Mrs. Mannering didn't want the children to spend time alone with Bill because he led them into adventures... so she married him. And they still rush into an adventure every summer.

So what now? And if these children are so prone to adventures, why doesn't anything ever happen to any of them (I mean the entire Blyton family) during term-time.

Maybe Fatty could solve The Mystery of the Hijacked Headmaster, or Jack and Philip's school could be taken over by a gang of smugglers... think about it!


Dinah loses her temper with the high-and-mighty Gus.


Jack and Philip get advice on where to look for badgers.


Bill and Mrs Cunningham are nabbed by the bad guys!


When Philip, Dinah and Lucy-Ann are whisked away, Jack stows away in the back.


Lost in a foreign country, Jack is confronted by a policeman.


The bears are friendly at the moment...but they get mad when their master becomes ill! Can Philip calm them?

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