Circus of the Queens: The Fortune Teller’s Fate

Written by Audrey Berger Welz
Review by J. Lynn Else

Donatalia Petrovskaya grows up in imperial Russia and believes her life will follow in her mother’s pointe-shoed footsteps. But in 1905, as the Russian revolution rises, Donatalia’s father sends her to America for safety. On the ocean liner, a chance encounter with a charming man ultimately leads to an accident that will change Donatalia’s life irrevocably. When an old friend from Russia, Vladimir Vronsky, comes back into Donatalia’s life in 1911, she finds a new calling, performing in his family circus as a fortuneteller. They travel across the United States, but shadows loom over the circus, including jealous rivals, vengeful past lovers, and the Great Depression. Can this circus family survive these hardships as Donatalia and Vladimir learn to let go of the Russia they once loved?

Using prologues to throw readers back in time is a very popular literary device, and this book has two such throwbacks. However, the second throwback is simply unnecessary, as it takes away from the intrigue of the first. Overall, though, the book is rich in culture and diverse characters. Relationships between friends, family, and circus animals are the strength of this novel. I would have liked a bit more time spent during Donatalia’s prima ballerina days and experienced her dancing with Vladimir at the Winter Palace, as it’s referenced often in the book. This would have added depth and palpable conflict to their relationship. As it is, Donatalia’s and Vladimir’s relationship is the least compelling part of the story; however, there are many intriguing characters and heartfelt connections to draw readers in. Episodic in structure, charming, and unpredictable, Welz waxes a sentimental reflection of immigrant life in early 20th-century America.