When I was a wee girl my parents used to take me to see the circus at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow every Christmas. I vividly remember the smells: sawdust, animals and cotton candy, and the other kids laughing at the freakishly frightening clowns. I remember the noises; the trumpeting, roaring otherworldliness of it all and to this young Scottish girl, it was nothing short of magic.
But what took place annually in Glasgow pales into normalcy compared to the Circus Tresaulti. In Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine has created a steampunk Big Top like no other you have experienced.
The world in which Mechanique is set is a world at war. Many, if not most, cities have fallen and the circus Tresaulti travels around the war-ravaged land as it has done for tens – if not hundreds – of years. The ringmaster, an enigmatic ex-opera singer, collected her acts on her travels. She takes in broken people and remakes them, replacing bones with copper pipes, lungs with bellows and used their discarded bones to make an amazing set of wings which whistle and sing and call out to those whose bones have contributed their ribs, vertebrae and ulnas.
There are aerialists, jugglers, strongmen and some like Bird whose special talents refuse to be defined by any convenient label. Most junior of all her cast is little George, a young lad to whom Boss refuses ‘to give the bones’. He pulls on a pair of brass legs over his own and wanders around the towns and cities where the circus stops, pinning up flyers and selling tickets. But as the story develops, we discover that Little George is perhaps the most important of all the circus’s members.
Ms. Valentine crafts her story using multiple viewpoints and flashbacks, and a series of repeats and literary ‘ticks’ which show a writer at the top of her craft. Her characters are rounded and have cleverly told backstories which make it easy to empathise with them.
I love Steampunk literature and Mechanique is one of the best I have read.
If you like Steampunk, read this book. If you like speculative fiction, read this book. In fact, if you just like a book with a great, believable plot and characters for whom you care, read this book. Genevieve Valentine has knocked the ball out of the park with her debut novel and I hope we see more from this talented writer very soon.