"The Circus of Hungry Clowns" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Independently Published

the circus of hungry clowns poster large

Written by Caesar Ruell
2022, 76 pages, Fiction
Released on 18th November 2022

Review:

“I fucking hate clowns” is a phrase currently bouncing around in my brain, but I’m uncertain of its origins, film? Book? Comic? Or maybe deep in my subconscious I really do f***ing hate clowns! And after spending some quality time with Chunky, Bonzo, Itchy, Queasy, Fangs, Crooks and Bruiser, I am unlikely to alter my opinion anytime soon. If you ever watched the trashy but hilarious film Killer Klowns From Outer Space, the clowns which star in this highly entertaining little novella are worse, so much worse.

I entered The Circus of Hungry Clowns with ambivalent expectations and was pleasantly surprised by a seriously tight, funny and clever piece of over-the-top fiction which could be hoovered up in one quick sitting. At first (and second) glance, the title sounds rather garish and trashy, but do not let that put you off, this tale of monster clowns is considerably more subtle and rather restrained with the violence until its wild big finish. Not a word is wasted in what are a wildly intense 78 pages.

I am not sure why clowns have such a bad reputation in horror. Is Stephen King’s IT truly to blame? Ramsey Campbell’s utterly terrifying The Grin of the Dark does not help, but at least in Jeff Strand’s Clowns Vs Spiders, the clowns have the rare opportunity of playing the good guys. That is definitely not the case in The Circus of Hungry Clowns, where we head back to Brentway 1936 with Joe and Bobby standing in the queue to see the circus, which has just arrived in town. Little Bobby is very excited and Joe is looking forward to seeing the enjoyment on his son’s face when the clowns weave their magic. But in the back of Joe’s mind, something is nagging. Aren’t names like Itchy, Queasy, Fangs and Bruiser weird names for a circus show billed as family entertainment? Joe should have gone with his instinct, as balloons, candyfloss and popcorn are in seriously short supply.

I do not want to say too much about what goes on within the confines of the circus tent except for the fact little Bobby is chosen to be an assistant in one of the acts. Around the halfway mark, the story makes a very clever swerve of direction and the pace speeds up considerably and it had me on the hook for how things might play out in the second act. Considering there are a number of bloody kills, they are presented in such a matter-of-fact almost droll manner. The reader casually accepts small children being impaled on fake rhino or being burned alive. It really is not funny, but at the same time, it is. There is another very effective plot manoeuvre where the narrative jumps to the second night the circus is in town, which really sends poor Joe (and the reader) through the wringer. The story is told in the third person from Joe’s point of view, making the occasional smooth jump to other characters once the action begins to move. And I guarantee you will be biting your nails when The Circus of Hungry Clowns hurtles into its big finish.

You will find very little about Caesar Ruell online and it just goes to show that sometimes it is worth taking a punt on an unknown author who self-publishes. However, to put it bluntly, this is far too good to be self-published and is worthy of any quality small horror press. The Circus of Hungry Clowns goes to show there are a lot of gems lurking out there with virtually no reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. In fact, this nasty little novella impressed me so much that after completion I bounced straight into The Depths of the Valley: A Medieval Horror Novelette, which is equally enjoyable and completely distinct from Hungry Clowns. In this odd tale, three mercenaries are sent to recover loot from a valley within a protected mountain range, which was severely damaged by a catastrophic flood. Upon arrival, they are greeted frostily by the villagers and find other mercenaries already searching for the treasure deep in the mountain caves where it has been hidden. This is another terrific story, with a great setting and some memorable scenes, particularly in the frustrations around locating the treasure, and I would recommend this just as highly as The Circus of Hungry Clowns.

Once you start The Circus of Hungry Clowns, it is extremely hard to put down and before you know it, all 76 pages are in your tail lights. It does everything a great novella is supposed to do, blending horror, humour, sympathetic characters, monstrous villains, a vivid setting and a kick-ass finish. Caesar Ruell invites you to his nasty little circus act and you won’t be asking for a refund!

Grades:

Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US.
Cover
Buy from Amazon UK.

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Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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