Announcing The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

Welcome to The Circus of The Fantasticals—a show like no other, starring magicians and outcasts who elsewhere are hunted and feared…

Lindsey Hall has acquired an exciting debut novel, The First Bright Thing by J. R. Dawson, set for publication in Summer 2023 with Tor Books.

During World War I, people across the globe woke up one day with unexplained abilities, and these select few became known as Sparks. Now, it’s 1926, and three magically gifted women are building a home for those who are lost, risking everything for love, and perhaps leaving the world a bit brighter than they found it.

Welcome to the Ringmaster’s world: The Circus of The Fantasticals. Here, Ringmaster—Rin, to those who know her best—runs a show like no other, starring magicians and outcasts who elsewhere are hunted and feared.

Together, Mauve, a seer; Odette, a healer; and the Ringmaster, a time traveler, tour the country with their fellow Sparks, performing, avoiding arrest, and hoping each day to use their magic to change one person’s life for the better.

But another war is on the horizon, and another circus follows the Fantasticals. One with tents as black as midnight, whose leader has a dark power and even darker desires. The Fantasticals have something he desperately seeks, and he will not stop until it is his.

From J. R. Dawson on her debut novel:

My entire life has been underscored by theatre. There is magic in what a live performance can give an audience. And one of the most magical experiences I ever had wasn’t on a stage; it was in a circus tent. This little show was situated in the middle of an amusement park in the middle of Iowa, under the roller coaster tracks, and it was dusty and low budget and beautiful. The trapeze swinger somehow filled the air above us with a weightless dance. And I knew that someday I was going to write about it. Somehow that collided into this three-ring circus of a story that is about found family, growing up and healing, and how to keep fighting when you know the future holds a lot of dark nasty things.

This book was originally written with the pipe dream that it would find a home with Tor. It still hasn’t sunk in that this book has the same publishing house as some of my favorite stories and authors. Rena Rossner is a dreamweaver, and Lindsey Hall is a brilliant editor. It’s been the biggest blessing to work with Lindsey, and I’ve grown so much in the process. I literally cannot wait for Ringmaster to welcome you to the Circus of the Fantasticals.

From Senior Editor, Lindsey Hall:

In The First Bright Thing, J.R. Dawson takes something already brimming with magic — a circus — and makes it all the more enchanting. At its core, The First Bright Thing is a story of families found and chosen; of hope that burns like a firework; and of love like a tightrope, capable of carrying you safely across the deepest of canyons…if only you can find your balance.

Set in the years between World War I and World War II, when the past felt very dark and the future very uncertain, Rin, the Ringmaster of the Circus of the Fantasticals, takes her troupe of circus misfits and magicians on a joyous adventure across the U.S., reminding us that we write our own stories, and that the smallest of kindnesses is meaningful, even in the face of our fiercest enemies.


J. R. Dawson (she/they) has published shorter works in places such as F&SF, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, and Lightspeed. She lives in Omaha with her spouse and three dogs. 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. You can find her at her website and on twitter at @j_r_dawson.


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