book reviews by Althea

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti – Genevieve Valentine ***

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There were things I liked about this book… and there were things that annoyed me about this book.
I felt as if any Readers Advisory Service out there would say? What? You loved China Mieville’s ‘The Scar?’ and you loved Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus?” Well then, HAVE I GOT A BOOK FOR YOU! And I have to say… “but…no.”
This book does indeed have many of the elements that I’ve loved from both of those books. Grotesquely mechanically enhanced people. A circus with performers who do not die. A land torn by conflict. Lots of ambiguity, lots of metaphor.
But somehow, it just didn’t come together for me, emotionally or intellectually, like the other two books. (This book was actually published slightly before The Night Circus, the authors were probably working on the books at the same time, so I do not actually think one imitated another; they just happen to have many of the same elements and themes.)
I’ve spent some time now thinking about why it didn’t wholly come together for me.
Part of it was aesthetic. I really did not like how the author keeps taking time out to refer to the reader as “you.” I felt like it was a device intended to lure me into the story; which had the opposite effect, and pushed me out of the story… with feelings of aggravation.
The other thing was that: Mechanical enhancements are usually about ingenuity, technology, the uses and misuses of physical ability. Here, they are not. The enhancements/mutilations as they function in this story, are fully and completely magical. There is no reason, plotwise, for them to be mechanical; they don’t actually function as if they are mechanical.
I also was just not drawn in by the love/hate conflict over “who gets the wings.” I didn’t feel it. Many of the characters were too vaguely drawn. (For example: we know Elena is a cruel bitch, because we are told how mean she is ad infinitum. But I did not once notice, or feel, her being particularly cruel.) I wanted to know the characters as people; to know what drove them to their extreme decisions. Instead they felt like stock characters in fairy tales. The time and place are ambiguous – and I liked that – but I felt like it needed some sharply human figures to anchor it.
On the other hand, there were things about the book I liked very much. I thought that the war-torn land, in near-eternal conflict, with the circus endlessly making its circuit, worked very well. I ended up really liking the Boss – and the thwarted feelings of her musician for her were understated and effective. Nice themes of dependency, independence, sacrifice, oppression, responsibility, loyalty. And the final conflict, where it comes down to a choice between letting herself and those who personally depend on her die… or potentially destroying all of her larger dreams – it’s horribly effective.


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