Dirt Circus League


Publication Date: 30 Mar. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781922330253

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    I stumbled towards the Meat House, my body shaking with the violence that raged within me, as the realisation of the mistake I had made in coming here rose to the surface of my mind. This was the last place I should be. That thought was crossed by another, even more terrifying.

    This is exactly where I belong.

    Asa’s running from a troubled past. To a remote outback town, a disappointing father and a fresh start that’s already souring.

    But then the notorious Dirt Circus League arrives. A troupe of outcast teens performing spectacular fight sequences and challenging any who dares to take part.

    They’re ruthless. Menacing. Thrilling. And led by the magnetic Quarter. He’s dark, powerful and intensely attractive-and he faces a threat only Asa can see.

    Will Asa be drawn into the league’s mysterious community?

    And, as she discovers the violent secrets at its heart, will she delve into her own untapped abilities to save herself—and heal those caught in its evil web?

    Dirt Circus League is a compelling and fast-paced novel about the powerful allure of danger and the battles we face with our demons in a world beyond our control.

    Information

    Book Type:
    Age Group: 16 years +
    Traffic Lights:
    Class Novel: No
    Good Reads Rating: 4/5
    Literary Rating: 4/5

    Review

    Asa has moved back in with her father in the tiny rural Queensland town of Dirt Creek. Far from healing their relationship, she finds that he’s often absent so she spends a lot of time with their neighbour Karen, who treats her like family.

    When Karen takes her to see the mysterious Dirt Circus League—a fighting troupe of teenagers who live in the rainforest—Asa is entranced. She’s trained in martial arts all her life, and when she takes the challenge to enter the ring, she decimates her opponent Briony and impresses their leader Quarter, enough that he offers her a trial with the League. Asa feels she has nothing tying her to Dirt Creek, so she accepts despite the apparent danger.

    When she gets to the League’s home base, she finds it even more strange and cultish than she anticipated. The League are followers of Gaia, Mother Earth, and living in nature and limiting their environmental impact is part of their veneration and worship.

    It gets stranger: there are no adults in the camp, bar the mysterious Surgeon, a woman who performs first-aid and health checks on the Leaguers. The Leaguers also believe that they cannot give birth, though they have no understanding of contraception. Most are illiterate and they spend their days training to fight, sorting matters of hierarchy and gaining special privileges through combat on full moons. And then there’s the looming Time of Return. Asa eventually realises that the Time of Return is the ritual sacrifice of Leaguers who reach adulthood—they are left in the rainforest and, presumably, taken by Gaia.

    Then there’s the complex political situation. Quarter, the current leader, has had six bird eyes spliced into his face to give him 360° vision. Though he sees this as the ultimate merging of Man and Nature, and therefore within Gaia’s vision, others in the League see it as an abomination—specifically Klae, who plans to challenge Quarter for the leadership. But was it really Quarter’s choice, or was he manipulated into it by Surgeon? With Quarter recuperating from the surgery, Klae assumes temporary control of the League.

    The situation turns even more dangerous when Briony is revealed to be pregnant and Klae plans to sacrifice her early. Herman’s Time of Return comes, and he reveals that he believes the Time of Return is a lie. He bases this on his memory of the Great Sacrifice, in which his mother and all other adults in the League burned alive. In the struggle to escape his Time of Return, Herman suffers a fatal head injury. Asa discovers that Surgeon is one of the original Leaguers, and that she is responsible both for the Great Sacrifice and the deaths of all the Leaguers who have reached their Time of Return since.

    Klae and Quarter fight for the leadership of the League, and Klae loses, breaking his leg. Luckily, Asa manages to get both Klae and Briony to hospital safely, and alerts the police, who discover 72 bodies around the League’s camp.

    When Asa discusses the situation with Quarter, she finds that he has no intention of leaving: he intends to continue running the League according to their beliefs, as many of the older Leaguers are old enough to care for the younger ones and he believes they will be better off there than in the foster system. Asa returns to her father and begins to rebuild her relationship with him.

    A confronting, wild book full of intense fights, cult thinking, unpredictable twists and chilling violence. Themes of environmentalism and the difference between Western conservation and Indigenous land care are woven throughout, made most explicit in Karen’s assertion that though the Leaguers try to minimise their environmental impact they understand nothing about caring for Country.

    Through Surgeon and the League, we see the dangers of cult mentalities and dogma and the abuses of power found in insular communities. Through Quarter and other members of the League, there’s an exploration of body modification and returning to the natural world. Asa’s own narrative explores a fear that she will become as violent as her abusers, even as she embraces violence as a form of self-defence. Overall, a complex and intriguing thriller.

    Themes

    violence, abuse, power dynamics, cult psychology, manipulation, body modification, environmentalism, conservation, mystery, thriller

    Content Notes

    1. Asa has a special “sight” which allows her to see people’s weaknesses and maladies. The mechanism by which this happens is not explained. Her grandmother apparently also had this “sight”. Viola asks if Asa is a witch (p. 229). Briony also thinks Asa is a witch (p. 236). The Dirt Circus League worships Gaia, Mother Earth. Their ethos is based around making as little environmental impact as possible by growing their own food, using very little electricity, and only killing animals they need to eat. As the story continues, Asa discovers that they also sacrifice themselves around the age of 20, in a ritual they call “The Final Return” to Gaia. They hope that once they have all returned to Gaia she will awaken and restore the Earth to its natural state, healing the damage done by humans to the climate and environment. Mother Gaia never appears in the novel and her influence is not seen. It is purely part of the League’s cult-like belief system. 2. Mild fight scenes occur throughout the book, as the League spars to entertain crowds, practices fighting constantly and uses physical fights to settle disputes about hierarchy and gain advantages like eating first at special dinners. Self-harm—Asa cuts open one of her old scars (p. 176). Asa’s stepfathers abused her and her mother physically. She briefly remembers punching one of them to protect her mother, who was being choked; both her and her mother being hit; biting one of them because he broke her mum’s ribs; hiding from one with her mother because he was drunk and threatening to shoot them (p. 189-190). Herman dies of a cerebral oedema (p. 214). Klae breaks his leg—compound fracture, bone sticking out through the skin (p. 254). Surgeon stabs Briony (p. 258). Seventy-two bodies are discovered at the site of the Dirt Circus League’s camp (p. 285). Surgeon implants six bird eyes into Quarter’s head, and he can see out of them (p. 61). 3. Language: bastard x 1, bloody x 5, shit x 1, slut x 1, Jeezus (p. 42, 170, 192). 4. Adults drink alcohol (p. 19, 27, 41). Asa’s dad smokes (p. 41, 286). 5. Dad’s friend grabs Asa’s ‘ass’ (p. 41). She punches him out cold (p. 42). Asa and Quarter kiss (p. 281, 282). Briony is pregnant by Klae, though they do not interact romantically or sexually on the page.