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REVIEW | Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

In a post-apocalyptic landscape a circus wanders around the waste from small enclave of life to the next in a never ending journey to entrance audiences with their wonders and grotesqueries. They may only visit a town once in a lifetime, if you're lucky, so get in while you can. Just don't tag along unless you have a strong heart unless you don't have a problem with it being replaced with scrap metal.

Last year Paul Jessup wrote an article for this corner of the web. An article that served as almost a call to action on what he was hoping for out of Steampunk in the future. A Steampunk novel that wasn't just Victorian. That wasn't just all about cogs and steam. That wasn't about colonialism and white people. Well the answer to his mandate has been answered by Valentine with a very dark and melodic first novel that consists of an unforgettable story that stays with you long after you finish the last page. Mechanique will haunt your dreams.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti is a novel of disparities. Disparities of time, love, and of what life is and should be. Even of what life could be, but probably shouldn't be.

Life in any circus can be hard. Hard for all the traveling, setup, and performing. But the Tresaulti circus is an entirely different beast. Like none you've seen before.  It is filled with moody characters desiring what someone else has even if that something is another person or a part of a person. Somehow Valentine makes a group of mostly unlikable characters into a family. A family you end up caring quite a bit about. I was surprised how much I came to care for each and every one of them. Even those I loathed and couldn't entirely comprehend.

The pacing and style take quite a few chapters to get a handle on, but all the hard work pays off in this slim volume that is heavy with meaning. We flip back and forth through time seemingly at random that starts with the mention of the death of a character who we only relive through the memories of others.   Each chapter acts almost as a standalone short story as Valentine has gone with her strengths of less is more. Each and every word is important and has reverberations throughout the narrative as the characters search for what comes next.

The Steampunk aspects appear more magical than mechanical, but each and every touch is done thoughtfully and with verve. Sure there are people with mechanical arms and wings, but this story is so much more than Steampunk. Mechanique actually has more in common with New Weird given its horror influences. Fans of early Mieville and VanderMeer will fall in love.

Mechanique is best experienced for yourself rather than reading an analysis. All those that like challenging reads should give this a chance and even a few of you who don't. On it surface you can simply enjoy it for the circus motifs and post-apocalyptic side. For you Steampunk fans this is one of the most original novels you'll ever find around the genre. For those that go deeper you'll be richly rewarded. I give Mechanique 8.5 out of 10 hats. I can't wait to see what Valentine has in store for us next. She is a voice to watch.  Be sure to check out an earlier post I did on the related short story work available online for the Circus Tresaulti.

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Miranda said...

Fantastic review. Sounds all kinds of strange.

Anonymous said...

You sold me. A dark steampunk circus. What could be bad about that?