|The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett
||[Apr. 22nd, 2012|04:15 pm]
Review copy provided by Orbit, at the request of the author.
So...that's an unusual thing, that above line right there. I review books for Tor pretty regularly, and I have for Haikasoru and for Upper Rubber Boot, but I haven't for Orbit really. And I have reviewed books for authors I know personally in some capacity or another. One of the Orbit publicity team contacted me to say that Robert Jackson Bennett wanted his book sent to me for review and was that all right, so I looked at the blurb and said, "Sure, send it along!"
Then I said to myself, "Uh. Do I know this guy?" I...maybe? Not sure? Possibly I have had a pleasant convention party conversation with Mr. Robert Jackson Bennett, or possibly I know him under another internet name, or possibly he is a friend of a friend. Or possibly he just looked at this blog and said, "Hey, she reviews books of this sort. Possibly she will like my book of this sort."
Well, Mr. Robert Jackson Bennett, if that last is the case, you were right. And how far superior a thing it is, for a lurker if a lurker you be, instead of supporting me in e-mail, to go off and write a book I would like, intuit that I would like that book, and have it sent to me! Best kind of lurker ever! Go, other lurkers, and do likewise! And if not a lurker but a casual passerby--gosh! Even more fortune for me. And if not a lurker or a passerby but one of the above categories, please do say that we met at the Shimmer party at such-and-such a convention or had dinner at that other one or that you are my friend so-and-so's friend or that you used to blog as X, so that I can smite my forehead and say of course, it's you.
Onwards to the book itself, now that I have already pronounced it worthy.
Comparisons are dangerous things. The well-meaning person who blurbed a previous Bennett book on the front compared it to a collaboration between Stephen King and John Steinbeck, and had I read that instead of the blurb for this particular book, I would have gone running for the hills. And the comparisons that occur to me here may do the same for you, and yet I am so tempted. Because mine come with a very important caveat: with all the annoying rubbed off. Specifically, the emotional core of The Troupe reminds me of A Wind in the Door and The Man Who Was Thursday, with all the annoying rubbed off, with a turn-of-the-last-century vaudeville dark fantasy story written around it.
Ideally this has just made some of you say, "I...don't quite know how that works," and some of you say, "Awesome." Because this is a book whose jacket cover choice and whose author's previous works made me think that it might well be too far over the line into horror for me, and while there are dark moments and creepy elements, The Troupe is a much broader-palette fantasy novel than that, with a lot more leavening of other emotions and a different type of focus than what my horror-fan friends have led me to expect of horror. If it's horror at all, it's the type of horror from back before horror and fantasy diverged particularly far.
The titular troupe of vaudevillians has an assortment of talents that is refreshingly not trotted out in a series of plot points for the climax. One of the structural elements I get tired of is the "here is the 'diverse' group of characters--now the strongwoman's strength will have to get used, now the puppeteer's ventriloquism, now the musician's voice...." And in The Troupe, each of the characters had a role to play, but as characters rather than possessors of a particular skill. They could not have met in an inn at the beginning of the book. Relationship was the heart of the story, its essence and its structure. While the main character, George, met the rest of the troupe at the beginning searching for his father, his relationships with the other characters have complex implications for everyone because of who his father is and what that means for all of them.
I predicted how some of the elements in The Troupe came together, and others I didn't, but the ones I predicted were not bothersome--they felt needed rather than boring. I don't know how similar his other books are, so I don't know whether they will be more horror and less my sort of thing. But I begin to think they will be done well for whatever they are, on the strength of this one.