My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Polis Books, and the author, in exchange for an honest review.
“This means nothing! You are nothing!”
“I am everything.”
Set in the year 1922 against the backdrop of a travelling carnival lies a battle of good and evil. Ruby is the snake charmer at her father’s travelling show, it’s not glamorous, it’s anything but, however it is a safe haven for her as she would never be accepted in the normal world, not with her strange tattoos. When the geek of the carnival is found dead, hanging by a swing from a tree, Pontilliar is filled with rage, how DARE this man decide to take his own life and tarnish the carnival. How DARE this man make trouble for Pontilliar, costing him money to make this all go away. While still in a rage, Pontilliar is approached by a strange man, Daniel Revont, he claims to have something that Pontilliar wants, curiosity causes Pontilliar to hear the man out. Daniel proclaims to be a geek, he will take the empty place left behind by the passing of a man, and help Pontilliar out. This is how it came to be that Daniel is a part of the carnival. What follows is a series of strange happenings and curious feelings felt by all involved. In a battle of good VS evil, where the good has no idea what the game is, can the evil be thwarted?
So when I started this book, I had no idea what it was about, other than that explained in the blurb which to be honest, wasn’t much. I felt a bit frustrated because I wasn’t sure what I was reading, I didn’t know the purpose of the story. It wasn’t until probably half way through that my suspicions were confirmed about what we were actually dealing with. I had an inkling earlier on in the book about what might have been happening, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure. Once what was going on was actually confirmed, I found that I absolutely fell into the story. The revelation of the level of good Vs evil that was happening in this story was actually a stroke of brilliance. As a reader I was floundering through the beautiful words and the deep descriptions reaching for the life preserver that would just give me a hint, a tiny clue as to what I was actually drowning in, and it did not disappoint.
I won’t go into great detail in this review as I believe this book is best read with almost total blindness going in. What I will say is that the pacing in the first third odd of this book is very slow. Things are happening but there’s not really anything happening at all. We’re getting a feel for the characters, for who they are, how they feel, what they think about their lot in life. We’re being shown the reality of travelling with a carnival in the early 1900s. What we’re not getting is told what we’re actually reading about. If you can get past this initial frustration of being blind to the real plot of the story, I think you’ll enjoy this book. When I first started, I was honestly thinking that it would be a push for me to rate this book at 3 stars. When I finished the last page, I had no issues throwing it a 4 out of 5.
I have a soft spot for stories based in or around carnivals of any era, something about them just seems so magical. So I think that was the main reason I requested this book. Though at one point I was considering DNFing it, I’m so glad that I didn’t, and that I pushed through the stumbling start as I got to the end and everything made sense.
The characters are relatable, they are just people trying to make a living doing the only thing they know how. I liked Ruby, she was petulant, stubborn, too serious, and miserable, but she was real. Knowing that the carnival is the only thing she would ever know and the only thing she would ever be able to do was soul crushing. Prejudices against those who look different are still prevalent today and I have experienced them myself before, so it was kind of refreshing to read about Ruby’s struggles. Her entire life has been one of tragedy and hardship and I think that moulded her into the person she became. I had a soft spot for January, the beautiful woman who knew she was only good to dance in cootchie shows, though dreamed of something so much more, of being a beautiful, respected starlet who would marry well and live a life of opulence. Though unfortunately, we know that will never happen. To Daniel, the stranger, the one who everyone believes is behind the strange deaths and the odd feelings and tensions that are winding their way through the carnival. I had sympathy for him. I don’t know why. Post has written his character in such a way that he’s just so HUMAN. He has flaws, wants, and needs just like anybody else. I enjoyed his character immensely.
I can’t pick one thing that I loved the most about the story, just that I ended up loving in, when in the beginning I honestly thought that I wouldn’t even finish it. This is put into the genre historical fiction, as well as literary fiction, which I suppose is correct. There is a hint of the supernatural in this story as well though, which I think worked perfectly for it. I’ve no doubt that I will be checking out more of Steph Post’s work. I hope they’re all just as amazing.