Sheba is a freak, so-called. She has some sort of wolfish traits in her that don't come out at the full Moon, but which do surface when she's emotionally disturbed. Fortunately that isn't often, since she's quite accepting of her freakishness and her lot in life which is as a lonely exhibit on a pier in an obscure Victorian seaside town.
This all changes one day when a rotund man from London shows up with his traveling freak show and buys her from her 'owner'. She finds herself in a wagon full of people like her - not wolfish, but each with strange appearance or talents, and unfortunate smells. Sheba's enhanced sense of smell is one thing which is always on tap, she's sometimes sorry to suffer. At other times it can be very useful.
This change isn't a bad thing as it happens, because she finds acceptance and companionship in this circus as they travel back to London and take up residence in their permanent quarters, as a freak show in a dismal London side-street in a ramshackle, run-down and dirty house, where Sheba has to sit each day in a room so people can stare at her. But it's just for a short time and then she gets to have a decent bed and not too horrible food, which is new to her.
One day a little girl sneaks in to the show and meets Sheba, before the interloper is discovered and tossed out. The two of them bond in that moment, so when Sheba later learns that this same girl - a mudder who scours the low-tide banks of the Thames for anything of value to sell to buy food for her family - has gone missing, Sheba is moved to act. In her search for the mudder, she is joined by Sister Moon, a ninja girl with almost super-human speed and accuracy, and Monkey Boy, who is frankly gross-out disgusting.
This for me was the first and one of very few false steps in this Victorian era novel with steampunk elements, which is aimed at middle-grade readers. Given that three of the main five 'freak' characters are female, it suggests that the novel is aimed primarily at girls, yet the toilet 'humor' if you can term it that, is aimed at boys, so it made little sense. Other than that it was fine and it featured some other intriguing characters too, such as the woman who trains rats and the gentle giant who writes romance stories!
The plot became clear pretty quickly, but for younger readers it may remain more of a mystery for a little longer, and the story is engaging, with a few thrills and spills to keep a young heart racing, so overall I liked it. In some small ways it reminded me of the Philip Pullman series 'His Dark Materials' and young Lyra Belaqua. Sheba isn't quite like that, and this novel isn't in that league or about the same subjects, but young readers who enjoyed that might like this, and vice-versa. It's educational too, about the horrific conditions under which children lived, and how they were exploited back then, especially if they were not like most other children, so I recommend this as a worthy read.