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J. R. Dawson

Fantasy, Tor, 2023

If you knew how dark tomorrow would be, what would you do with today?

The First Bright Thing is a spellbinding debut for fans of THE NIGHT CIRCUS and THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LA RUE.

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.

Rights Sold:

UK: Tor; USA: Tor



"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

“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


"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 A SONG FOR A NEW DAY


"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


"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


"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


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