It’s not often that a book comes along and manages to captivate me utterly and completely. When I first heard of Smiler’s Fair, it was due to favourable comparisons to The Night Circus. Although I’m quite hesitant when it comes to praise such as “the new X” or “for fans of Y”, I wanted to check it out since The Night Circus was one of my top reads of 2014. Safe to say, it didn’t disappoint.
Yron the moon god died, but now he’s reborn in the false king’s son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He’ll return one day to claim his birthright. He’ll change your life. He’ll change everything.
Smiler’s Fair. the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything. In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people – Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept – will discover just how much Smiler’s Fair changes everything.
Smiler’s Fair has a lot of things going for it, and it will be hard to contain the fanboy in me, but pardon my gushing and let’s proceed with the plot. Trying to summarise the different storylines of the main POV’s would take me too far and is nigh impossible without spoiling the heck out of the book. It will suffice to refer to the blurb above and add that they are amazing in their own way. It all comes down to five people trying to find their way, and en route to their destination – whatever it may be – their paths converge, with at the centre of it all Smiler’s Fair. The farir is not your regular carnival, but rather a peculiar place where convention and decorum no longer exist and one can experience the more closed off parts of one’s humanity. The way the plot is structured is intricate. Much like big epic Fantasy novels – not in the least George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire – these five POV’s alternate, but along the way, paths cross, pieces start to come together and slowly a part of the grand design is revealed. It might take a while, but it was rather soon that I found myself drawn into the different stories. Not in the least Eric and Nethmi’s. In fact, I found myself flipping through the chapters after every one of Eric’s to see how long it would be before I returned to his story. At times, the wait was long, but never boring. Rebecca Levene spins a tale of revenge, greed, the dark side of humanity, destiny and love against the backdrop of a world at war with itself. Cause whereas the different plot arcs of the main POV’s might be captivating, the world itself she created is amazing as well. Stripped of all glitter and glamour, riches and finesse, you get a world that is hard on its inhabitants, where brutality and self-preservation reigns and where demons lurk in the dark, whether they be real or psychological. Levene created a harsh world with a fascinating mythology filled with gods and monsters, and I have the feeling that this book only showed us the beginning of it.
Safe to say that I liked the characters a whole lot. Eric on top – pun intended – with Nethmi as a close second, but in the end, each and every main character triggered some emotional response. That’s not to say that I liked them, cause the Smiler knows I loath Marvan, but they are good and well-written characters with their own, unique and morally grey voice. These are the kind of characters that had me actually actively rooting for them – Eric! – or wishing them the foulest of fates. Another thing I liked a lot is how diverse these characters were. Ethnicity, religion, sexuality, .. You name it, the novel has it and it’s not merely for inclusion’s sake. It’s rooted in the character’s history and in the mythology of the world and as such it’s not merely a telling of said character is black/gay/.. but you notice it in the subtle differences when they engage with one another. Take note, cause this is diversity done right.
It’s not often that I agree with a blurb like the ones I mentioned in the introduction, but the one on the back of my copy is spot on. “If George R.R. Martin wrote The Night Circus[…]“(*) is probably the best way to describe Smiler’s Fair in comparison to other novels out there. Which means that, while there is a mysterious travelling fair present, the novel is devoid of Erin Morgenstern’s poetic prose. Probably rightly so, cause poetic writing would be very much out of place in a world like this, with a fair like Smiler’s Fair.. This also means that this book is not for the faint of heart. There is blood, gore, violence, sex, … It’s all there – none of it gratuit, though – and Levene doesn’t pretend. If a man is aroused, she’ll tell you just how hard his cock is and what he intends to do with it. If there is a fight, she’ll tell you where the blows land and what their outcome is. If this is something you’re not comfortable with, this might not be the book for you. If, however, you don’t mind, this might be the best book you have yet to read.
Cause in the end, that’s what this book was for me, though. The best book I’ve read in a long time. I’m very sparse with handing out five star-ratings and labelling books as a ‘favourite’, but I couldn’t go round it for this one. While it wasn’t perfection – but which book is, really? – it comes close. From this moment on, every single next installment in the Hollow Gods series will become my most anticipated read of said year and Rebecca Levene might just have become and auto-buy-author.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Pay Smiler’s Fair a visit. Entrance fee.
(*) That being said, if George wrote The Night Circus, Smiler’s Fair would have been three times the size it is now. Praise the Smiler for that, cause there is a very nice flow to it without ever dragging through unnecessary bits.