Hello, everyone! Today is my stop on TheWriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour for The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge. Thank you to TheWriteReads and Rebellion Publishing for organizing the tour and providing a copy of the book. I’m grateful to be able to participate!
Book Info & Links
An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.
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…
***Thank you to TheWriteReads and Rebellion Publishing for providing a copy of the book. I also purchased a copy of the audiobook, which helped me finish this book on time for my stop on the tour. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading/listening experience.***
This book was nothing like I expected it to be. It was more of a literary alternate historical fiction tale than one of traditional fantasy. Literary fiction is something I don’t typically read, but I actually enjoyed a lot about this one once I got over the shock of how different the book was from what I anticipated. The writing had a beautiful, lyrical quality to it that completely sucked me in while reading (and maybe even more so while listening to the audiobook). It felt like the writing in the book was something similar to what the poets in the book would have written themselves (beautiful, but a bit dense and pretentious), which added another layer to the storytelling and helped with the immersion into their world.
The world-building was truly spectacular. The city of Cadenza really came to life in a vivid way, and I felt transported to renaissance-era Italy. The seedy underbelly of the city slowly came to light more and more as the stories unfolded, and I liked how the city itself became the main character of the book with each POV lending a peek into a different facet of its history and current affairs. However, there were times it all got a bit confusing because of the non-linear nature of the story and sheer volume of information, and I did find myself going back at several points to try to see if I missed something.
The structure of the story was very unique, and I think it was both a major strength and weakness of this book. The book consisted of 12 shorter stories with different POVs, each of which gave a look into some aspect of the city of Cadenza. The overall plot of the corruption and downfall of the city was weaved throughout the twelve stories very subtly at first with growing prominence as the book progressed. I enjoyed each of the individual stories for the most part (the clever take on plagiarism was probably one of my favorites) and honestly thought this was such an interesting way to approach telling a story that I didn’t want to stop reading it. That being said, there were plenty of times the stories felt pointless in the larger narrative, and the switching of POVs so often felt abrupt and disorienting. So, I really think some people will like the experimental nature of the story structure and others will definitely not. Personally, I thought it was interesting but also found myself wishing for a more traditional structure.
There were several characters that I really enjoyed reading, including Carlo, Maddelina, Ercole, and Cosimo. However, I didn’t feel especially connected to any of them because of the large number of POVs. Even in the 500+ pages, there just wasn’t enough time to really get to know any of the characters that well. I also often lost track of who each character was supposed to be because there were so many of them. Truthfully, I don’t even remember half of the characters only a day after finishing the book. I think the story would have worked better if it followed a handful of POVs using a more traditional structure, maybe using Carlo as the outsider perspective who slowly strips back the layers of corruption from the city he so desperately wants to be a part of. There was a compelling tale with interesting characters buried within these stories. I’m just not convinced this was the best way to tell it even though I found most of it enjoyable enough to read.
Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about this one but enjoyed it overall. There was plenty to like with the beautiful writing, immersive world-building, and unique story structure. However, the story structure also worked against the book somewhat by making it quite complex with disorienting POV shifts and limiting the characters by never giving me as much as I wanted from them. The audiobook was quite good, though, and the prose sounded beautiful when read aloud by the narrator. All of that considered, I think this book falls somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, but I’m going to round up to 4 because the author had the guts to create something so unique.
About the Author
Tom Beckerlegge grew up in the northwest of England in a house filled with books. Writing as Tom Becker, he won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with his debut novel; The Carnival of Ash is his first adult book. He lives in Enfield with his wife and young son.