You might expect it from a story about circus performers, but the Arcrobats of Agra really does convey the tension, terror and thrill of the high wire, from its first line to the last.
Set in India in 1857, the story follows three children from different corners of the world as they travel through a land at war. While horror and prejudice surround them, the bond between the trio proves stronger than the chasm of difference in their backgrounds.
Beatrice, a free-spirited orphan from Ardnamurchan, is shipped to India to live with her Aunt’s family, just as tensions in her new home reach boiling point. Living under siege (and skipping school) in Agra Fort, she befriends Jacques, a French circus performer, and Pin, an Indian servant to the Governor. Together, the unwanted children make a plan to rescue Tonton, an unwanted circus tiger and to find Beatrice’s missing brother.
Though the Russian setting of his first book, The Tsar’s Curious Runaways, was vastly different from this, both of Robin Scott-Elliot’s novels take readers on an epic journey from which we emerge with a little more empathy and a richer knowledge of history that feels (though surely isn’t) almost incidental.
There are darker moments, but at its core, this is a tale of triumph over adversity, and crucially – as we watch Bea, Pin and Jacques somersault from one drama to the next – it is also a lot of fun.