Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review - The Troupe

The Troupe – Robert Jackson Bennett.
 The Troupe
I always going to read this book anyway but I was lucky enough to win a copy over at Staffersmusing. An excellent fantasy blog I frequent. Please check it out, Justin who runs it, is a very informed and welcoming guy. http://staffersmusings.blogspot.co.uk/
The Troupe is RJB’s third novel and the second that I have read of his (the first being the excellent Mr. Shivers). I normally like to read books in the order they were written as you get to see the author’s progression as they master their craft. However, recently watched and loved Carnivale, I couldn’t resist this.
The Blurb:
Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions.

But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father's troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change.

Because there is a secret within Silenus's show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it's not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.

And soon...he is as well.
As you probably ascertained from the blurb, the story is told through the eyes of George. A boy that believes he is owed more in life than what he is getting due to the adoration he has received so far. The sense of injustice he feels when he realises this is not how the world works makes for compelling reading. George is determined to win the respect of his new companions within the Troupe whilst uncovering a world he never knew existed. In general, George’s character is handled well. His sulks are realistic and garner genuine sympathy rather than get annoying. The small gripe I have is that l think, it is a bit silly that George cannot see what is blindingly obvious to the reader from very early on the novel and maybe the revelation could have been concealed better.
In so far as the Troupe themselves go, RJB assembles a cast of very good characters. From the laconic and gentle Stanley, the sensual Collette, the strong woman with a heart Frances Beatty and the tragic Professor Kingsley, every member of the Troupe is likeable or at least is interesting enough for you to be invested in their arc.
The leader, Harry Silenus is perhaps the best of these. Seemingly uncaring and harsh, RJB peels back layer upon layer to his character until the final pages of the novel. The pressure to hold the Troupe together and deal with a young boy coming into his life is well depicted but RJB still manages to make sure Silenus never acts predictably and so the audience is always guessing what his motives truly are.
The fantasy elements of the novel are good and feel fresh. This book definitely wins points for originality. At times I thought certain elements seemed to outlandish for the story but soon they seemed to flow naturally into the narrative which is a good sign in my book.
As soon as we meet the Troupe, RJB does an excellent job of surrounding them with a sense of intrigue and mystery. It is clear they are not just performers. When the revelation of what they are is revealed I was satisfied. As I said, this book receives points for originality and the scale of the mystery is huge. But even before the mystery is revealed, RJB’s writing is so good that I could not wait to see each of the members of the Troupe perform their act just to enjoy what they were doing.
This book is big in scale and introduces dozens of fantastical creatures. Throughout it though the characters remain grounded, as the book hurtles along to a frantic and satisfying conclusion. I for one could read another book with some of these characters and Robert Jackson Bennett is definitely climbing on to the list of my must read authors.
My rating: 9