Hodder, out now
Smiler’s Fair – the travelling carnival where everyone’s paths eventually cross… from courtesan to murderer…
A world gets the heroes it deserves, and in the rough and ready land that Rebecca Levene has created for Hodder’s first ever secondary world fantasy, they’re not the nicest of people – to put it mildly – nor are they the most sympathetic companions for a quartet of novels.
However, Levene’s prose draws you in, from the description of a forced caesarean at the start to a fire which saves one of the key characters from death at the hands of a Bonnie and Clyde-esque pair of serial killers at the book’s climax. There’s plenty of sex and violence of all shapes and sizes – particularly given that one of the lead characters is a male courtesan who follows one of his johns home and after a convoluted journey, finds himself instead put out to stud – and it’s clear that this is a world where death comes suddenly, either up from the ground (from worm men whose existence forces everyone into some kind of nomadic life), or from the blade of friend or foe.
Understandably, much of the story is spent setting up the various dramatic conflicts that will drive the tale forward, even if it does occasionally seem as if characters lurch from one incident to another (and some are just ignored once they’ve served their purpose). Multiple prophecies are banded about, not all of which seem mutually compatible, so it will be interesting to see which way events unfold.
Verdict: An intriguing and grim world whose inhabitants’ machinations will entice you in. 7/10