Review: Smiler’s Fair

cover-smiler's fairTitle: Smiler’s Fair
Author: Rebecca Levene
Series: The Hollow Gods #1
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Novel
Available: Now


Yron the moon god died, but now he’s reborn in the false king’s son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He’ll return one day to claim his birthright. He’ll change your life.

He’ll change everything.

Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything.

In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people – Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept – will discover just how much Smiler’s Fair changes everything.

Source: Review copy from Amazon Vine

This opening part of a new epic fantasy series uses a scatter gun approach to introduce this world. After a dark opening about the birth of the false king’s son, the main story starts many years later. Within the first chapter we’re treated to four different POV characters – a goatherd, a noble girl, a male prostitute and an alcoholic warrior – which sets the scene for the rest of the book. None of these characters have anything in common, except a proximity to Smiler’s fair, and for a long while their paths only seem to cross in the lightest of ways.

There’s something strangely compelling about this book, considering it’s pretty slow to start and each of the character strands seem to take ages to actually get into their stride. Then again this world is wonderfully complicated and definitely needed time to be set up. I particularly enjoyed the idea of the ship-forts, great (and not so great) floating manor houses that are endlessly moved around the edges of their lakes by teams of mammoths. Even away from those forts, most folk don’t stay put in one place for long, moving their homes on wheels or rails, or in travelling caravans. All because of the fearsome worm men who hide from the sun and strike from beneath. People have learned the hard way never to stay put in one place for too long, and to stay out of the shadows.

It’s a clever idea, helping create images of this vivid world with its numerous gods and the idea of an ancient war between the Sun and the Moon, in which the Sun was victorious, but now the Moon is born again. True, the idea of prophecy, a cast out prince and a reborn god isn’t unheard of in the fantasy genre, but this world has some truly original touches that make it feel fresher.

However, despite the great world-building and the need to keep reading, I think there are possibly just too many POV characters here (I remember eight, but there might have been one or two more). Since the characters don’t really start meeting up until the second half of the book, there are a lot of separate plot lines running alongside each other, to the point where some get left behind and almost forgotten. One moment the story might be dealing with Nethmi’s marriage, the next it skips to Dae Hyo’s drinking, and then perhaps might trail back to see what Krish is up to. I found myself getting so caught up in one or two characters’ stories that I almost resented a switch to one of the others – until I got caught up with them, only to skip somewhere else.

The focus of this story is wide, and this is only the first of the series, so I think I would have preferred maybe one or two fewer characters to focus on. Add in the fact that I didn’t particularly warm to any of them, and it was just a bit much. I did like Nethmi at first, but I lost interest as her story developed, and while Krish is kind of sweet but a bit dull. The others are all full of good points and bad – mostly bad – and I was so busy trying to remember who was who and why I was supposed to care about them that I ended up not caring about any of them.

Which is a shame, really, because there is potential here. The world is vivid, the characters are well developed (if not always sympathetically so) and I’m sure the plot will eventually drag itself together long enough to make itself known beyond the clichés. This book is clearly setting the scene for an epic tale, with a wide and sweeping story arc, I just think I would have preferred it to have started a little smaller and a bit more focused.

There’s a lot of promise here, and no matter what else this story aims to do, no doubt it’ll be big and epic and probably destroy lots of stuff. The world is vast and vivid, the characters are gritty and not particularly nice, and the plot is aiming high. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then jump in and enjoy.

Smiler’s Fair is Out Now!


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