Book Reviews

Review: The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

The First Bright Thing is a stunning debut about found family, toxic relationships, and love. I couldn’t stop reading this one – I actually started reading it while hiking and walking I needed to finish! Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


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.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: alcoholism, self-harm, toxic relationship

The First Bright Thing is a myriad of glittering light. It’s a book that examines the power of love and support, of relationships who have our unconditional love and support. At the same time, Dawson isn’t afraid to portray the darkness. The ways The First Bright Thing examines choices, toxic relationships, and the manipulation of power. Reading The First Bright Thing is like being entranced by a mirror ball. There’s a depth of themes and characters to appreciate in the shimmering beams of light and the rich shadows.

This queer historical fantasy set with a found family in the circus and time traveling magic is glittering. There’s an appreciation for the world. We can deeply empathize with the setting and their steadfast belief that WWI was the war to end all wars. But we know differently. There’s something naive and heartbreaking about this when we know all that is to come. At the same time, The First Bright Thing reminds us of the power of one life. Of the ripples we can make with our moments.

This adult fantasy debut is shimmering with its emotional highs and lows. The portrayal of the toxic relationship combined with this examination of a manipulation of power was so moving. If you are a fan of the Jessica Jones and Killgrave dynamic, then you have to read The First Bright Thing. When we aren’t sure if people are staying with us because they want to, or because we want them to. All the ways it preys on our insecurities, but how that does not excuse our actions.

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The First Bright Thing is one of my most recent obsessions. It’s a spectacular heart wrenching debut. About the wonder and the terror in power depending on the one who wields. Rin’s own relationship with her Jewish identity as well as her mother is tender and fragile. The First Bright Thing is, in many ways, about the bad things that will happen, but in knowing that we still have today to make an impact. With some gorgeous lyrical lines, The First Bright Thing is committed to unpacking past trauma and wounds, the guilt, pain, and abandonment.

Find The First Bright Thing on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.


What is your favorite literary circus?

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