Author Veronica Henry
A fresh new fantasy with a cast of predominantly people of colour and a fascinating,complicated but I couldn’t warm to the main character.
Content warning: Children deaths, Racial Violence and slurs.
Genre Magical Realism/Low FantasyFrom Amazon
Evil lives in a travelling carnival roaming the Depression-era South. But the carnival’s newest act, a peculiar young woman with latent magical powers, may hold the key to defeating it. Her time has come.
In the 1930’s American South, Eliza, a young black woman with an unpredictable power joins Bacchanal, a carnival made up of almost black performers, to escape her deary existence. She settles into a new life as an animal performer using her abilities to control animals with her mind and starts to make new friends and finds love. But she knows something isn’t right and it has to do with the red trailer which is no one but the carnival owner can go near. She is right, the carnival hides an ancient evil and Eliza is the only one who can stop her no matter what the cost.
I picked this book from Amazon first reads when I saw that striking cover and when I saw the main characters were people of colour in a fantasy set in a western setting, which is becoming more common but still is a bit of a novelty.
The book is told from several points of view, including the demon which was one of its strengths and also helped made Eliza a little more bearable as the main character( more on than at later). Clay, the nominal head of the carnival could have been a cardboard villain but the chapters from his point of view paint a picture of a deeply flawed man who is a product of his times and trying to do some good through actions that are morally questionable if not evil. Eliza’s power to influence animals through mental images feels fresh and new.
The book is full of mystical tales from Africa all well woven into the main story that seems to fit perfectly in a story about America struggling to survive the depression.
I loved reading about Madame Stephanie St Clair(aka Queenie) a black woman who was head of a crime syndicate in 1930’s Harlem and one of the highlights of the book was reading the author’s note on this remarkable woman. I honestly thought she was a figment of the author’s imagination but she is real and I plan to read a few more books about this woman, so ahead of her time.
There are too many points of view, pretty much all of the carnival people have one and I struggled to read the chapters from Hope’s and Autumn’s who are two of the performers in the carnival point of view. They seem to serve the sole purpose of trying to make Eliza a more likeable character and to justify why the people in the carnival turned a blind eye to all the bad things happening around them. I know they had a vested interest in keeping the carnival going but at some point you have thought one of the carnival folk would have had a moment of doubt.
I really didn’t warm to Eliza. There were times she came across as mean and changeable which could be justified by her difficult childhood but she seemed to be without humour and brittle.
While I could understand how some people deserved their terrible punishments, there was no explanation for some of the awful things that happened to other good people. I was left confused by the magical side of the story and feel a little more explanation would have helped and why the carnival was the door to the underworld.
There are a lot of racial slurs used in the book which is accurate for the time, I imagine but would be offensive to many people today( I found it hard reading so many of them)
There are several scenes describing children dying and of racial violence. There is also a scene implying lynching.
Perfect for Fans
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
3 and a half stars- I would have like to have known more about the magical side of this world and I like my main characters a bit more likeable. The book has scenes of child peril and death, that I found hard to read.