The Carnival of Ash Review: Tickets to my downfall - SciFiNow

The Carnival of Ash Review: Tickets to my downfall

A writer is forced to reevaluate his plans when he stumbles into the troubled city of Cadenza in Tom Beckerlegge’s The Carnival of Ash. Here’s our review…

carnival of ash

Set in a literary landscape populated by poets, The Carnival of Ash tells the story of Cadenza, a city whose trade is poetry and whose taverns are overrun with wannabe wordsmiths. When Carlo Mazzoni arrives at the gates in the hope of becoming the next lauded laureate, he does so on the day of the death of the city’s greatest writer. Unwittingly stumbling into a restless city, stricken with grief, and on the cusp of war with its neighbour Venice, Carlo soon sees his plans derailed and is forced to evaluate what it is he’s writing for.

More of an alt-history novel than your traditional fantasy romp about enchanted libraries, The Carnival of Ash tells its story in multiple cantos rather than chapters, each from a new perspective. The literary trick is effectively utilised as a way to build a complex and textured political landscape, and the sweeping scope of the book’s protagonists are all contained within the bubble of Cadenza, serving to build a pressurised melting pot of intrigue.

The meandering method of storytelling delicately builds like a house of cards, with each character’s story interwoven with its neighbour’s, which on its own is less impressive than the sum of its parts.

Fans of effusively detailed world-building will relish author Tom Beckerlegge’s evocative descriptions and Shakespearean wordplay, though this stylistic choice places a rather steep barrier of entry into his world of words.

The Carnival of Ash is a delicate study of the demise of society and the slow erosion of self from dissolute corruption. While it doesn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, it shares similar touchstone themes of wretched futility and impactful political machinations. Dense, yet rewarding, The Carnival of Ash will suit fans of linguist acrobatics and lovers of historical fiction.

The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge is out now from Solaris. Read an excerpt of the novel here.