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Title: The Carnival of Ash
Author: Tom Beckerlegge
Published: 15th of March 2022 – Solaris (Rebellion Publishing)
Format: Physical ARC – 600 pages
Hello Hello! How are you?
Today I’m popping back on the blog after a while to bring you my review of The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge, currently on #UltimateBlogTour with Dave and the team over at @The_WriteReads.
As soon as I heard about this book I knew I needed to read it because it sounded right up my alley, and it definitely turned out to be a very interesting and original book, even though it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned from the blurb and the genres.
Thank you as always to Dave for having me on the tour, it was a great pleasure. And thank you to the author and the publisher for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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…
Trigger warnings: violence, death, murder, betrayal, treachery, gore/body horror, blood, suicide/suicidal thoughts, torture, sexual violence and abuse/rape, ableism, sexism, medical content, misogyny, drunkness. (Please let me know in th comments if I have missed any).
The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge is described on Goodreads and other sites as fantasy, but from reading it and from the other reviews on this tour, I think it’s fair to say this is definitely more of a lyrical historical fiction with some fantasy and theatrical elements, which is perfectly fine by me, but maybe confused some people as they were expecting full-on fantasy, as was I.
I finished this book a few days ago, and it did take me a while to read it, but I enjoyed every minute of it. However, it has taken me all this time to try to come up with words for this review because it’s the kind of book which leaves your brain fuzzy, not in a bad way at all though – no worries!
This is a really difficult book to describe, partly because I think the genres were all messed up and I haven’t figured out why that was. Yes, there is a slight touch of “fantasy” in the book (not your usual fantasy though), but overall this is historical fiction, and very much in the theatrical vein of the commedia dell’arte, which I personally love. If you’ve been coming to my blog for a while, you’ll know I studied theatre for 9 years, so I really enjoyed how dramatic and theatrical this book was. It was so extra and just really UNIQUE. I’ve never read anything quite like it and I think this could turn into a comfort read if I decide to reread it at some point. It’s just a bit of a chunker though, so would need to be in the right frame of mind and have enough time on my hands.
I think the main thing I have to say about this book before I can describe it in more detail and give you my thoughts is that it is HELLA violent, gory, descriptive and definitely, 100% NOT for the faint of heart. If you are even slightly squeamish about any of the trigger warnings I have mentioned above, I would not read this book if I were you. The violence, gore, etc, go hand in hand with the style and prose of the book, I don’t think any of it is gratuitous, at least not in my opinion. I am not bothered by any of these elements in the least because I can put it into perspective with the kind of book it is. It is just something to keep in mind. It is set in Cadenza, a kind of imaginary city in which so many awful things happen, in a type of Renaissance setting. If any of you are into history, you’ll know that this period was quite gory, violent and there was a lot of blood-lust and sexual violence, to only name a few. This book really fits into this time frame, genre and style, so just be aware of these things before jumping into the book as I know a few bloggers on the tour had quite the surprise. It is a dark book, it is violent, it is gory, it is quite long and it is sometimes a bit confusing, but overall, it is a unique and lyrical tale that I think works thoroughly well.
This story is told in a set of about a dozen Cantos, which we would think of as “Acts” in theatre/drama. Each one of these stories is, I believe, to be seen and read as individual insights into the different characters, themes and events, but they all weave together to tell the tale of Cadenza, the city of words. I don’t think I have ever read a book quite like this one and the fact that it was even set out like a play was so enjoyable to me as I do miss my theatre days.
This is also a very vivid and vividly described setting/city. I could literally feel the place jumping off the page at me, it felt so real, so palpable. The author, Tom Beckerlegge has an AMAZING way with words, and so many sentences were just breathtaking. The author has created such a fascinating and fantastical “fake” city in Italy, it feels so real though. At first, I have to admit that I found the Cantos a little confusing as I was expecting the characters to come back and maybe meet, and they don’t really, although it does do a sort of loop toward the end where all the strings are finally woven together to give a grand view of Cadenza, the characters and the whole plot. Once I got over the desire to see all the characters again, I got swept up in the lyrical and magical feel of this book and I was so immersed in every Canto, every character, their feelings, their thoughts and what happens to them. I felt like a really long series put into one big book, although I never found it clunky, heavy or drawn-out, which I think shows just how wonderful and clever this world is. I never found it info-dumpy, it’s just not. It is extremely well-written and just flows so well.
As I just said, I enjoyed reading about the characters, however, they are not loveable in the least. There is debauchery, treachery, murder, sexual violence, abuse, and all manner of terrible and awful things explained through their respective Cantos. This book is not a light fluffy read in the least. Even though most of the characters were detestable, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with them. For some reason, it reminded me so much of Figaro by Beaumarchais but also the kind of spin-off by Odon Von Horvath. It is crazy and improbable and the whole thing is just insane, but also so enjoyable as you get caught up in the story. I feel like the Figaro books are very similar to The Carnival of Ash, at least in their atmosphere.
And now, to talk about the atmosphere, a.k.a, my favourite part of a book. WOW, this story has Atmosphere with a capital a. This is a very sinister book and I could really feel how as the book went along and the different stories unfurled, it was getting progressively darker. I mean, the things that happen in this book as just crazy and the author did such a good job on the atmosphere but also on the writing which is just beautiful while the plot is despicable and atrocious. I don’t think I’m selling this book very well, but I think the people who dig these vibes will definitely know what I’m talking about and want to jump on the chance to read this book, it is 100% worth it.
MY THOUGHTS AND RATING
I visibly can’t get all my thoughts down in a very comprehensible way about this book, but I hope that from my rambling, you have gleaned that I in fact did LOVE this book. I knew I would from the minute I started it and I was just drawn into it through the writing style, the atmosphere and the unique way of setting out these small stories that all came together for the grand finale.
The writing style is really what took my breath away, and also one of the reasons I can’t get all my thoughts in order. It was just stunning and I definitely had to take my time with it because it deserved to be read slowly and digested. I don’t personally think it is a book you can binge read unless it’s a reread. The first time around when you have no idea what is happening, the characters involved and the plot unfolding, it’s just too complex and insane to wrap your head around it. I do really look forward to picking this up for a second time. Maybe in winter as I think the darkness and sinister aspect of the story would really make a perfect dark winter night read in front of a fire. I want to go back to this city, I want to feel Cadenza envelop me in its ominous setting, its vile characters and its unforgettable descent into mayhem and destruction.
I gave this book 4.5 stars and I found it to be just a fantastic read that had me immersed and fascinated throughout. It’s all woven together seamlessly and even if you really don’t “get it”, just let yourself go along with it and enjoy it for what it is. A mix of tales and characters all living and going about their daily lives in Cadenza, to the backdrop of dramatics, commedia dell’arte, debauchery, the Renaissance and most importantly, poets trying to find their way, their voice and their art in a city built on words. It sounds far-fetched and crazy, and I have to admit that it is, but it is also wonderful.
If you are a fan of the commedia dell’arte feel with all the elements I have mentioned above, a sweeping tale of multiple stories and characters, a beautiful city which is described in the most lyrical and magical way, and above all a beautifully written and sinister plot, this is the book for you. I 100% recommend it, just make sure to check out the trigger warnings first as it is dark and daunting from the very first page.
Atmosphere – 8
Start – 6.5
Pacing – 7
Ending – 8
Characters – 7
Theme – 7
Style – 8.5
Total = 52
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – TOM BECKERLEGGE
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.
Tom’s Links: Twitter
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this post and will want to pick up this book, I really hope you will, and tell me what you think of it.
See you soon, stay safe,