Welcome to my stop on The Carnival of Ash blog tour! Huge thanks to TheWriteReads and Rebellion Publishing for giving me the opportunity to take part in this! I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Solaris / Rebellion Publishing
Publication Date: 17/03/2022
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction | Historical Fantasy
CW: depictions of death, suicide
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.GoodReads
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…
From reading the blurb of this novel, I thought I was stepping into a novel dripping with fantasy, so I was surprised to find that it is a literary alternative to history. Whilst the writing at times makes the novel have a fantastical feel to it, it’s important to note that this novel may not be the fantasy you’re expecting it to be. Personally, I enjoyed the lyrical writing style and having a novel entirely set in a world where literature is the aspect of society that is most respected. Beckerlegge thoroughly immerses you into the city of Cadenza through this language, not only through the dialogue between the characters but through his own descriptions and world-building. The entire setting, and the characters within it, felt incredibly unique and I loved being able to explore it from so many different perspectives.
The fact that the story of Cadenza is told by multiple narrators was another aspect of the novel which surprised me, especially as, at first, it didn’t necessarily feel like each Canto was related however the more you read, the more you begin to make links between them before they come very overt. Each Canto felt like a contained short story, even when they began to link, which I thought was a nice touch; although, like a short story collection, there were some Cantos and characters which I was much more excited to read than others. Beckerlegge gets the balance of humour, jeopardy and darkness spot on throughout the novel; he clearly understands the necessity of breathing space, reflection, and breaking the tension, particularly in a lengthy novel.
Whilst I really enjoyed seeing the different perspectives of Cadenza, as this was a brilliant way of being able to illustrate the depths of the city and the people who live within it, there were times when I felt like there were slightly too many characters to the point where I was a little confused at points, especially towards the end. The more memorable characters were easier to identify, however, I think I may have missed the importance of a few of the others. Although, this could also be down to the fact that I, unfortunately, became ill in the middle of the book and had a reading break forced upon me which didn’t help!
Overall, I had a good time with The Carnival of Ash as the world, situation, and a lot of the characters were fascinating. I definitely want to read this novel again, as I think it’s one that benefits from a second read as I’m sure there are a lot of details Beckerlegge has included which would enhance the story on a re-read. This may not have been the fantasy I was expecting, but it was a great alternative history with a literary flourish.
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.