The First Bright Thing (Hardcover)
If you knew how dark tomorrow would be, what would you do with today?
"This is the magic circus book that I have been looking for all my life."―Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of Every Heart A Doorway
Ringmaster — Rin, to those who know her best — can jump to different moments in time as easily as her wife, Odette, soars from bar to bar on the trapeze. And the circus they lead is a rare home and safe haven for magical misfits and outcasts, known as Sparks.
With the world still reeling from World War I, Rin and her troupe — the Circus of the Fantasticals — travel the midwest, offering a single night of enchantment and respite to all who step into their Big Top.
But threats come at Rin from all sides. The future holds an impending war that the Sparks can see barrelling toward their show and everyone in it. And Rin's past creeps closer every day, a malevolent shadow she can’t fully escape.
It takes the form of another circus, with tents as black as midnight and a ringmaster who rules over his troupe with a dangerous power. Rin's circus has something he wants, and he won't stop until it's his.
About the Author
J.R. Dawson (she/they) has published shorter works in places such as F&SF, Lightspeed, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy. She lives in Omaha with her spouse and three dogs in the middle of a city park. Having earned a BFA from The Theatre School at DePaul and an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast, Dawson works at Nebraska Writers Collective and other Midwestern nonprofits that teach kids the power of performance and storytelling. The First Bright Thing is her first novel.
"This is the magic circus book that I have been looking for all my life. It's compelling and brilliant, and made me cry on a public street. I cannot recommend picking up a ticket for Windy Van Hooten's Circus of the Fantasticals highly enough."—Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of Every Heart A Doorway
"J.R. Dawson welcomes us to a time-traveling circus of magical outcasts, forged by love into family. A celebration of artistry and wonder as essential talismans we wield against despair—and with which we triumph against it. Spanning ages and continents, where history repeats its cycles of darkness, Windy Van Hooten’s Circus brings with it hard-won light. I, for one, am here for the show."—Travis Baldree, New York Times bestselling author of Legends & Lattes
“Perfect for fans of The Night Circus. . . The First Bright Thing is a genre-bending and wholly absorbing tale that will envelop readers in its exploration of light and dark.”—B&N Reads
"Trains leap across continents, trapeze artists fly through the air, and three women desperately hurl themselves through time and against the dark tides of history. This book takes the reader on an audacious, bittersweet journey, underpinned by the magic of theatre and the alchemies of grief and love. A masterpiece of the fantastical and the human."—Freya Marske, author of A Marvellous Light
“Mesmerizing and magical, The First Bright Thing gives friendship, love, and found family top billing, puts the audacity of optimism on center stage, and delivers a voice with artistry and flair worthy of the Ringmaster herself.”—Rowenna Miller, author of the Unraveled Kingdom series
"Dawson mashes up history, fantasy, and the magic of the circus in an emotionally immersive, character-driven story."—Library Journal, STARRED review
"If this circus were real, I'd be in the front row; it's the found family so many of us crave. Richly imagined and vividly depicted, The First Bright Thing shows both the joys and costs of power."—Sarah Pinsker, award-winning author of We Are Satellites
"This magical novel will invite you into an astounding circus and carry you along on its wild journey through time, struggling to survive in the shadow of world wars and the sinister threat of their greatest competitor. The cast of colorful, endearing characters will make you glad to know that, as the Ringmaster says, 'Circus people never say goodbye.'"—Louisa Morgan, author of A Secret History of Witches
"The First Bright Thing will break your heart and stitch it back together, again and again. A nearly perfect amalgam of Mrs. Peregerine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The X-Men, this story is inhabited by beautiful and imperfect characters. It is a delicious tale of magical outsiders, determined to find love and light, beauty and family, in a world that fears and often hates them. It is a wonderful tale of hope and heart and perseverance."—Rita Woods, author of Remembrance and The Last Dreamwalker
"Fans of gentle, uplifting speculative fiction will find much to enjoy in this heartfelt celebration of difference.”—Publishers Weekly
"Brimming with complex characters, The First Bright Thing is a one-of-a-kind exploration of the deathless tension between light and dark, in the world and in our souls. Dawson's debut, like the Ringmaster at its heart, commands your attention completely."—Greer Macallister, bestselling author of The Magician's Lie
“The First Bright Thing is pure magic. It’s a story of healing and becoming and truth, of finding our broken pieces and fitting them back together. A beautifully woven exploration of who we are, who we love, and who we choose to be in this world—the light or the darkness.”—Liz Parker, author of In the Shadow Garden
"Found family, faith, queerness, and free will weave in and out of timelines along with the Ringmaster and her crew. The circus itself serves, as it often does, as a symbol of a place where the impossible becomes reality — and the power of that is the reason why circus stories will continue to enchant readers for years to come.”—NPR
"J.R. Dawson bids you step under the Big Top to witness one of the most fantastic circuses in genre history. The time-travelling stars of this show band together to form a unique family with Rin, the Ringmaster, at center stage in this vividly imagined world. The First Bright Thing shines!"—James Patrick Kelly, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author
“Like if The Night Circus smashed into the X-Men and formed a found family that welcomed every reader with open arms. A beautiful novel.”—John Wiswell, Nebula Award-winning author of "Open House on Haunted Hill"