100 words: Introduction
The twelfth, and final, Hodderscape Review project title is Smiler’s Fair, by Rebecca Levene. It’s a big, world-built secondary world fantasy with maps that all three of my regular readers will have some idea that it’s may not be my personal cup of tea. I was still intrigued to read it – Levene is a tremendous writer with a big range of great stories, so it should be at the very least loads of fun. Plus, I was assured from some of those in the know that it’s very, very good. Will it live up to its reputation? We shall see.
100 words: The set-up
The prologue starts out with a boy smuggled out of his mother’s womb due to a prophecy, taken away by a whole range of disturbing, engaging measures, and… well, spoilers, I suppose.
The titular Smiler’s Fair is the anything-goes carnival: traveling around the world, selling men, women, flesh, drugs, and gambling. There’s a fragmented kingdom with people and races, and here’s the thing: everyone has to move. There are (possibly legendary) people underground who will find you and come eat you if you stay in one place too long – and there appears to be little metal (mining being extraordinarily dangreous).
100 words: The world & its environs
This is where Smiler’s Fair really shines. Levene has created a breathing world with cultures who affect each other, so neighbouring tribes have knowledge of each other. There’s no lazy shorthand – “Bastard” might, for instance, be a grave insult to one race but not at all to another. The way different people move to avoid the underground men differs, according to class, race, and geography. The cultures aren’t thinly veiled analogues of one or more of our cultures fused together clumsily. The story starts off as a good/evil clash, but that battle itself is starting to be questioned and unpacked.
100 words: So… is it good?
In a word… yes. In two: rather good.
It can be a challenging read – the benefit of shorthand is you can think “Ah, all the assassin/rogues are Japanese-ish” or whatever, so you have to think, and pay attention, and there is a massive range of races, plus a whole load who are out of their environment and stuck together at Smiler’s Fair. This creates a richer tapestry but conflicts, a bit, with the fast pacing of the book: It can be difficult to keep track of these. It’d be no harm to read it twice in rapid succession. Fun, too.
This will be my final review for a while here on the old blog. I took over The Kitschies recently, and am a judge, and have now hundreds of books to read. Hundreds. Lots. Loads. SO MANY. And I can’t really talk about them.
I may start writing reviews of comics or lego or 80s bands you’ve never heard of.