Welcome to day two of The Carnival of Ash blog tour. Below you will find my book review for this fantasy novel by author Tom Beckerlegge. I will not be revealing any spoilers in my review.
Many thanks go to The Write Reads for putting together this blog tour and for letting me join in alongside so many great bloggers. You can find out where to get a copy of the book and information on the author at the bottom of this post. For more thoughts and reviews for The Carnival of Ash, click here.
Content Warning: suicidal thoughts, gore, general and sexual violence, lewd behavior and language
An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.
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…
Although The Carnival of Ash has been categorized as Adult Fantasy, it would perhaps be better categorized as literary fiction, or be given a more specific Fantasy title, like “fable” or “mild magical realism.” If “Adult Fantasy” brings to mind a drawn out magic system, an entirely made-up world, epic adventures, etc., this novel may not necessarily satisfy your reading needs. However, if you crave alluring prose, astute literary references, extraordinary character building, and engaging settings, The Carnival of Ash is exactly what you need.
Author Tom Beckerlegge organized the book into twelve cantos, which creates a poetic atmosphere right at the start. We are introduced to the city of Cadenza through the eyes of an aspiring poet, whose family had been cast out of the city. His perspective is a little rough and tumble, but with each canto comes a new perspective, and they only get more enthralling. Characters respond to political shifts, social events, and personal histories that are as interesting as they are connected on a grander scale; each setting and tale is irresistible and leaves the reader wanting more in all the best ways.
That irresistible quality is a direct result of the eloquent way in which even the most crass actions are written (who knew I could actually enjoy reading about each painstaking step of someone hawking a loogie in another person’s face?!). The author’s language and the way he blends fact and fiction shows how he himself admires and invests in the craft of writing, in addition to making the book about a city that honors and worships their academics and librarians. The Carnival of Ash feels like a love letter to writing itself, and while some of the references are a bit deeper for the average reader, they can lead any reader to interesting places beyond this work of fiction.
The narrative is not without flagrant content; torture and abuse, leering men, objectifying women, describing certain physical characteristics as “exotic;” they all show the unfriendliness of the city among the lovers, writers, and caretakers trying to shine some light on impending turmoil. Nonetheless, the artists continue with their crafts, and continue to pass on wisdom and historic accounts in the shape of stories and symbolism. In the end, what survives when sensitive texts and physical structures crumble? What does it say about people who, when all hope is lost, keep their desire to uphold the tradition of the written or spoken tale burning brightly? Each canto in The Carnival of Ash can be taken as personal accounts and points of view of the characters, but as with any admirable work of literature, there is so much more in and between the lines written by the author.
“A tortoise falling from the sky, as though the world tipped upside down; a church admonished by a fork of lighting; the great Tommaso Cellini, buried beneath his own bookcase. What do these things all have in common? They come delivered to us from the aether; first and greatest of the elements—mortal heaven, breath of the gods, incorruptible and sublime! Beyond fire and earth, water and air, aether is the essence of the celestial vaults. It is because of the aether that the poet sharpens his pen, and the artist wets his brush—inspiration is its true gift, albeit one unknowable in its form and manner of imparting.”
About the Author
Tom Beckerlegge grew up in the northwest of England in a house filled with books. Writing as Tom Becker, he won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with his debut novel; The Carnival of Ash is his first adult book. He lives in Enfield with his wife and young son.