Smiler’s Fair is the first book in a new fantasy series by Rebecca Levene.
Many years after a war between the moon god and the sun goddess tore the world apart, people are still living with the after effects. Prophecies are rife, gods are many and the people are restless. Darkness and shadows bring the worm men, servants of the moon, who will destroy everyone in their path. To avoid them, great floating cities grace the countries lakes. Those that live on land have wheels beneath their homes, constantly moving onwards.
Smiler’s Fair is a huge mobile community, setting up shop and selling any number of vices to the people that flock through its gates, before moving along before the worm men can come. It’s rarely in the same place twice, but it attracts a boiling pot of cultures, races and desires. For the characters in this book, it’s a hiding place, a fighting ground, a way of life or a form of employment. Prophecies, fear and anger drive them together, acting as a catalyst for a war of gods and men that have the potential to change the shape of the world forever.
The author has created a huge new fantasy world here, which should have any number of possibilities. There are numerous different clans and kingdoms all brought together in one vast landscape, taking us on a journey from the snow and mountains to deserts and open plains. We’re introduced to a whole range of characters and narrators with constantly changing fortunes. There’s also an overarching supernatural element that gives events a wider context, helping to drive the story forward. All the ingredients are there. But unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.
My main issue with this book is that there seem to be lots of random unconnected stories that seem to have any relevance to the overall story. The different strands felt disjointed and never really came together. There were too many narrators and it felt more like several different books. Having fewer viewpoints would have helped. As it stands, it got confusing and hard to keep track of who everyone was. There wasn’t enough of a central story to bring everything together.
I liked Dae Hyo. I bought into his back story and felt like he really fitted the world that he was in. I liked the son of Nethmi’s husband. He showed some real character and turned out to be much more than he seemed at first. I also liked Krish, he seemed to have real potential to evolve as a character and I would have liked to read more about him.
But I thought the sections with Nethmi and Marvan were almost superfluous, and they could easily have been incorporated as minor character in other people’s stories. The ending would have worked equally well without them in it and it felt like all the time I spent reading about them was a bit of a waste of my time.
I didn’t particularly like many of the characters. There was a lot of time spent talking about their vices or how physically attractive they were, but very little on their redeeming qualities. Some, like Eric, may get more interesting later in the series, but it felt like many stories had only just been begun when the book ended.
To me, this felt like half a book. I didn’t race to the end, more like I turned the last page and thought – ‘Oh. Is that it?’. I was constantly waiting for it to really get started. Maybe this is a tactic to get readers to buy the next book in the series when it comes out, but if it is, it hasn’t worked on me.