Author: Genevieve Valentine
Publisher: Prime Books
Category: ADULT: Romance: Fantasy
If you like strange and different and are fascinated by the idea of a steampunk circus, then you might like Mechanique. It’s unlike anything I have read before. I didn’t dislike it, but I couldn’t say that I really liked it either. The idea is great, the story good but the way it’s written made it hard for me to get into.
Come inside and take a seat; the show is about to begin… Outside any city still standing, the Mechanical Circus Tresaulti sets up its tents. Crowds pack the benches to gawk at the brass-and-copper troupe and their impossible feats: Ayar the Strong Man, the acrobatic Grimaldi Brothers, fearless Elena and her aerialists who perform on living trapezes. War is everywhere, but while the Circus is performing, the world is magic. That magic is no accident: Boss builds her circus from the bones out, molding a mechanical company that will survive the unforgiving landscape. But even a careful ringmaster can make mistakes.
Two of Tresaulti’s performers are entangled in a secret standoff that threatens to tear the circus apart just as the war lands on their doorstep. Now the Circus must fight a war on two fronts: one from the outside, and a more dangerous one from within…
The first half of this book jumps between characters, events and times so much that I was never sure who was narrating the story. The primary narrator didn’t have a name, sex or description (I never did get a picture of him) and when the name did appear, it took me some time to confirm that the narrator was in fact Little George – except when it wasn’t. But how did George know all those things about the others that they didn’t know themselves? I guess the words in brackets were the voice of the writer. The effect was novel, but also confusing and tended to distance me from the characters and their well-portrayed world. The style was a brave departure from the norm, and I congratulate the author for going for it, but I found myself thinking that it would have engaged me better had it been written in a more normal way.
The reader learns about the different characters and how they came to the circus in a series of scenes, parts of which overlap with other scenes, but seen from different points of view. I loved this overlapping of pivotal events and thought the author pulled it off well. It could easily have been repetitive, but it wasn’t, because each time we came back to an event, we discovered something new about it. The voice of the narrator(s) – present tense – gave a distinct feel to the book, (for me, its most endearing aspect,) a future/past flavour mixed with the grit of circus life and a strange magic whose nature was gradually revealed as the book progressed.
I never really felt like I got to know Little George. I came to know Elena best and Stenos, but I never developed a fondness for them and the other characters including Boss, only ever remained shadowy. The circus as a whole, however, came over clearly as one big dysfunctional family.
About half way through, after the character introductions and back-stories, the story moved into a normal narrative structure, beginning with the visit of the Government man. At that stage, I felt like the story had finally begun and happily followed it through its twists and turns to a satisfying conclusion. I give it 3 stars.
Ooh, it brings to mind Nights at the Circus or Something Wicked This Way Comes…stories like that almost beg to be told in unconventional ways that can require a bit of work to decipher, but shouldn’t leave the reader totally muddled. I’m intrigued by this one nonetheless, so if I ever read it, thanks for the heads-up on how the first half is structured.
Tahlia Newland says
I’d be interested to know what you think of it. I imagine that others will love the style. It’s such a personal thing.