Title- The Carnival of Ash
Author- Tom Beckerlegge
Genre- Alternate History
Publisher- Solaris Books
Publication Date- 15 March 2022
Comment- I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. My pretty words may be dismissed as the ramblings of an ink maiden.
Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.
Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…
I think the book needs to readjust its marketing.
The premise and blurb made it sound like this would be a fantasy novel about a City of Scholars and the dangers therein. This would have been wonderful as the idea of a whole city devoted to poetry or reading is one that would appeal to the majority of readers. The ‘fantasy’ tag made me think of books bound by magic or having special powers- anything mystical to deserve the tag.
However, this is actually an alternate world book far more in the vein of Mercedes Lackey or Conn Iggulden than a fantasy novel.
It’s a retake of the Renaissance which fits in with the idea that one city of the centre of art, one of the medical advances and therefore one of the love of the written word.
The writing is very poetic and beautiful. The dialogue is actually quite funny in places, especially coming from Ercole whose prosaic and fabulist meanderings have such a lovely deadpan touch.
I thought Ercole was a decent character and, if we could have had the entire book from his point of view, I think I would have lasted longer than I did.
Sadly each Canto was given a new narrator and with that, the actual plot of the novel became less urgent and therefore less important.
Admittedly I didn’t read more than 25% because I became very disillusioned with the book.
Even after only a few chapters Carlo needs to have an almighty slap and told to grow up. I couldn’t deal with his piteous woe-is-me airy poet persona.
Also in the whole first Canto, only two women are mentioned, despite it detailing the history of the building of the City. Both Ginevra and her acolyte Hypatia are only mentioned as potential love interests- either past or present- and their contributions to society are denigrated by the term “Ink Maids”.
The sexism inherent just cemented that this book is not for me and I DNFed.
But if you are a fan of Italian history or alternate histories then give this book a try. There is a huge market for ‘alternate timeline’ books at the moment as evidenced by Stephen King’s 11/22/63 through to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.
For me, the writing would get three stars for its beautiful style. The content would, sadly, get 1 star due to sexism, fatphobia, and lack of magic. So I’ve round it out at 2 stars overall.