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A Circus of Brass and Bone, by Abra Staffin-Wiebe - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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A Circus of Brass and Bone, by Abra Staffin-Wiebe [Jan. 11th, 2015|07:33 am]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by author. For further disclosure, the author is a personal friend, and we’re in the same writing group, although the group did not critique this book.

A Circus of Brass and Bone is a dark fantasy set in an aether-powered alternate 19th century, and it starts with catastrophe. It was originally an online serial, but I hate serials (haaaaaate), so I didn’t read it that way, because then I would hate a book that didn’t deserve it.* The story follows a circus caravan through the ravaged northeast, as its members try to figure out who they can trust (inside the circus as well as among “civilians”) and how they can survive. There’s a lot of worldbuilding here–the world has a texture and a past that appeals even as it appalls–clearly lots of thought about what the aetheric applications are and what they can do, most of which is entirely backstory because the entire system is completely blown to shreds. Logistics are not foregrounded here but are important. Also relationships with animals vary realistically and interestingly, as you would hope for (but not always get) in a circus novel. The ending ties up the personal-level problems but not the world-level ones, leaving plenty of room for sequels or related work in the same setting if Abra decides to go that direction.

If I hadn’t heard another friend saying that it was too creepy for her, I wouldn’t even think to make a note of the creepiness, because it’s nowhere near my line for not liking horror, but apparently some of the aetheric…issues…are too much for some gentler sensibilities? Honestly I don’t expect that to be a problem for many people. The characters have a lot of bad stuff happening to them, but they retain both agency and their moral sense. The darker scenes never devolve into hopelessness or pointless gore.

Probably my biggest problem was with Tuckerizations, which I hate like I hate serials. They bother me more when I know the author’s social circles (as I do Abra’s), but honestly there’s often a way about them that’s very obtrusive–times when a character gets a both-names reference where it would be more natural to use only given name or only surname in a dialog tag, or when you find out a full name that you have no need to know, or when something is ethnically inexplicably out of place. That’s a fairly subtle thing, though, and most people either don’t find Tuckerizations as problematic as I do or won’t know enough of Abra’s social circle to spot them while reading (or in some cases both). They’re labeled in the endnotes for people who find that fun and interesting, which I know some people really do.

*Seriously, I tried reading Dave Schwartz’s Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib that way, and I had to stop and just read it when it was all done, because I could tell that it was a book I would not hate, and serials: haaaaaate. So at least I know not to do that again.

Please consider using our link to buy A Circus of Brass and Bone from Amazon.


[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2015-01-12 03:54 pm (UTC)
I'm interested in circus novels conceptually (I haven't actually *read* that many), and this sounds interesting.

It's funny. When I read Ship Breaker, there was mention of a type of cannon, a Buckell cannon, and I thought, Huh, that sounds realistically like something named after its inventor or manufacturer, and yet also, somehow, something... and then I realized it was because it made me think of the writer Tobias Buckell. Someone later suggested to me that that was a Tuckerization. ... It didn't stick out too badly, maybe because it wasn't both names, just surname.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-01-12 04:05 pm (UTC)
I feel that just using one name or the other is the superior option in Tuckerization because it's less likely to jar the reader out of the text. Partly because "hey, it's Tobias Buckell!" is more likely to be known to the reader and thus jarring, and partly because there are very few occasions on which people use both names for people in Anglophone cultures. "Said Marissa Lingen" is not generally a dialog tag for fiction, it's a dialog tag for journalism--and even so, after that first "Said Marissa Lingen, Minnesota writer and well-known hater of Tuckerizations," the journalist will go on to say, "said Lingen" every time thereafter unless they're also quoting my folks or Aunt Mary or somebody. (It's a very small surname. The odds that they're quoting some unrelated Lingen are essentially nil.)

I understand, though, that Tuckerizations are frequently used for fundraising, and that people might be willing to pay to see "Robert J. Smith" in print when they wouldn't be willing to pay to have "Smith, the secretary." I don't understand why, but I understand that it's the case.

For the Buckell cannon, another possibility besides Tuckerization is that Paolo felt that Toby had actually come up with this idea and wanted to slip him some credit for it.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2015-01-12 04:11 pm (UTC)
It had never occurred to me that a person would require both names, but yeah, I guess if your name is Smith, you might get irked not to have your given name included, if you've paid money for the privilege (though that would *never* be a prize I'd go for).

If I ever have to identity-tag you for a journalistic piece, I'll be sure to call you "Minnesota writer and well-known hater of Tuckerizations." Then Merriam-Webster will report that dictionary searches on "Tuckerization" are trending. (Actually, I wonder if it's in the dictionary. I'm betting not.)

Edited at 2015-01-12 04:12 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-01-12 04:07 pm (UTC)
PS Yes, if you are interested in circus novels, this is probably your cup of tea. I feel like there is room for discussion of Tuckerization issues, but I don't want Abra's actual book to get lost in that.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2015-01-12 04:08 pm (UTC)
I did add it to my to-read list, so no worries there!
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