Blog Tour · Book Review

Review: The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge

It’s time for my stop on the Ultimate Blog Tour with The Write Reads for the Carnival of Ash.

Title: The Carnival of Ash
Author: Tom Beckerlegge
Pages: 528
Publisher: Rebellion Publishing
Publication Date: 15th March 2022
Ownership: ARC provided through The Write Reads tours

Rating: 4.5 stars

About the Book

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…

My Review

I think a few people have, quite rightly, found the style and genre of The Carnival of Ash quite different to how it’s being presented – less adult fantasy and more adult alternative history. But that definitely didn’t change my enjoyment of this novel, although I know it can be off-putting when you expect something to be one way and then it’s something completely different, and it’s not short either!

That being said, The Carnival of Ash brings emulates sixteenth or seventeenth century Venice, but in a city of words, where poets and novelists are lauded and a written denunciation can have fatal consequences.

The love for literature, libraries and words in this book is reminiscent of Carlos Ruis Zafón’s works, but with a little of the tongue in cheek nod to the kind of literature that comes in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. There are lots of references to ancient libraries and texts, their dispersal, copying and destruction, as well as that quirky literary feel of things being a little surreal (I chuckled at a counter-group called The Plagiarists and at the melodramatic dialogue between Carlo Mazzoni and Ercole in the First Canto).

Although not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, I loved the creation of ‘ink maids’ – notorious but anonymous female writers who send letters with fetished content at the request and payment of their patrons. I don’t know if you’ve come across Anais Nin’s writing before, or the reason why she was producing her erotica, but the ink maids are really reminiscent of that. In a city where not just words have power, but literature does too. The intense objectification of women (sometimes in very graphic ways) will also (quite rightly) not be for everyone – but perhaps this is another way in which the city begins to crumble …

From Duelling Dukes to shadowy chancellors, the literature of Cadenza begins to weave the city and the narrative together, and I enjoyed watching out for characters that would appear in later Cantos, with each character or group offering their own part of the story, as well as contributing (sometimes in very small ways) to that bigger picture.

I think there’s a risk with any book that is a homage to literature that it can be a bit ‘up itself’ – basically that the author wants to prove how well-read they are by showing everything they know (hey look, maybe I did the same above). I didn’t actually find that with this book, though – instead I trusted the author’s knowledge, and enjoyed meeting the rag-tag bunch of farcical characters that brought the story together and added depth and body to the city of Cadenza itself.

What can I say? It worked for me! But if you treat it as fantasy, rather than historical/alternate fiction, you may walk away disappointed.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in conjunction with The Write Reads for their ultimate blog tour.

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