Blog tour: The Theatre of Glass and Shadows by Anne Corlett

The Theatre of Glass and Shadows

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Compulsive Readers. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘Sometimes the greatest spectacle hides the darkest secrets…

‘In an alternate London, the city’s Theatre District is a walled area south of the river where an immersive production - the Show - has been running for centuries, growing ever bigger, more sprawling and lavish.

‘The Show is open to anyone who can afford a ticket but the District itself is a closed world; even the police have no jurisdiction within its walls.

‘Juliet’s mother died when she was a baby. Brought up by her emotionally distant father and even more distant stepmother, she has never felt wanted. It’s only when her father passes away that Juliet – now nineteen – learns her birth was registered in the District.

‘Desperate to belong somewhere at last, she travels to London where she hopes to unearth the truth about her identity, her mother’s death and her father’s years of silence - and claim her birthright.

‘But in the District, there is only one central truth: the Show must go on. And in a world where illusions abound, and powerful men control the narrative, Juliet has no idea of just how far some will go to ensure certain stories are never told…’

The Theatre of Glass and Shadows

In The Theatre of Glass and Shadows, by Anne Corlett, we follow 20-year-old Juliet Grace as she gets to know the Theatre District, an independent borough of London bordering Lambeth.

Inside the district’s walls, there’s always entertainment on offer, whether that’s an encounter with a roaming performer, a play at one of the plentiful smaller theatres, or The Show – a never-ending production which runs day and night at the sprawling House of Doors, where actors, dancers, and singers repeat the same scenes in different spaces until the time is ripe for them to move on to the next part of their characters’ stories.

Following her father’s death, Juliet comes to the district to see what she can discover about the mother she never knew, who lived and worked there. A trained ballerina herself, Juliet gains a coveted small part in The Show, but continually runs into dead ends on her fact-finding mission. What’s more, it seems that a serial killer is operating locally, and the police are circling the district despite their lack of jurisdiction.

Not unlike the Theatre District itself, The Theatre of Glass and Shadows has something for all sorts, making for a sophisticated novel with plenty of layers to sink your teeth into.

The mystery of Juliet’s heritage, and the cold indifference of her stepmother, Clare, will appeal to those who like Gothic fairytale vibes – an aspect of this novel I especially appreciated. At the same time, seeing Juliet escape the stultifying life Clare’s planned out for her as a secretary or mother’s help, and experience genuine warmth from people for the first time in her life, is uplifting.

Habitual crime fiction readers have the police investigation into the unsolved murders to pique their interest. Fans of fantasy and/or alternate history are likely to enjoy the detailed world-building, including extracts from a history book that, with an air of authority and authenticity, outlines the area’s development over the course of centuries.

Relatedly, the features of the district, how it operates, and who pulls the strings, are well-described and thought-through, with incidental details contributing to its believability. While aspects such as being picked out of the crowd for a private scene, collecting tokens in pursuit of an unknown prize, and the treasures one might find in the unofficial memorabilia museum (housed by the pub) captured my imagination, the district is far from a utopia unaffected by the world at large.

For instance, the place would grind to a halt without its stagehands or hospitality workers, but of course, they live in the down-at-heel housing of the outer district, unlike the top performers, who live in secure private quarters close to the heart of the action. Additionally, the Second World War sounds like it was much the same in this alternate world, and proved a challenge for the district and The Show.

The idea of The Show enthralled me. I pictured it as a kind of in-person, interactive soap opera, where the same set of scenes played out over and over, until such time as it could be surmised that anyone who wanted to know the latest developments would have got to see them, and anyone who loved particular scenes so much they made repeat visits had had sufficient fill.

I’d have liked to read more details about the storylines – maybe from the mouth of Juliet’s lovely new friend, Show enthusiast Eugene – but then again, this way it retained its aura of mystery, and with all its history and interconnections (both on- and off-stage), even a summary of the most recent, major storylines might well spiral out into a separate book in itself!

The Theatre of Glass and Shadows is imaginative, expansive, and full of mystery.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK