Some say you only get one chance to visit Smiler’s Fair. When first death comes, the fair moves on, its buildings drawn around the land by mammoths. As the fair nears a small goat-herding settlement, one of the herders is about to learn the truth of who he is. He has eyes the colour of the moon and a fate bound with that of the kingdom.
Smiler’s Fair is happily lacking in many of the things that put me off epic fiction; it’s a decent length and there isn’t a cast of millions, with complicated relationships or confusing names. There are a fair number of characters but soon their narratives weave together and I can see the point of them all by the end of book one. The book is split into two parts, partings and meetings, which I think works quite well with the forever in motion cast of characters.
It doesn’t get too bogged down with politics of the rulers. Yes, we have a king who wished to murder his son and an arranged marriage to help a family’s position, but these acts move the plot into place. The story revolves around a boy who is part of a prophecy and the return of the moon god who has been missing for a considerable time.
The fair itself is a movable town. Its habits are that of a travelling circus but instead of performance, its wares consist of vice; gambling, drinking, sex. There’s also merchants and worshippers and a menagerie for visitors to gaze at unusual animals. Its movement throughout the land introduces us to different people and cultures, whilst providing a thread which ties everything together.
We’re afraid of the shadows, friends. We run into the light and we move. We always move, not because we want, but because that’s what the sun ordered.
I liked the nomadic culture of the various races. The ship-born are nobility and their castles are forever in motion, dragged around lakes by mammoths. The land-born, move around too, for there are unimaginable things in the darkness. If your home keeps the ground in darkness for too long, the worm men will come. There are some who form permanent settlements, but most think this is madness.
As for the races, the cast is diverse. For once, the ruling race isn’t based on white Europeans, they have dark skin and hair. Attitudes towards women and sexuality differ amongst cultures, but there is the feeling of a complete world with lots of different people in it. The people of the plains see women as those in charge, even to the point where they will castrate clever boys to stop them losing their brains as they grow into men. The whore’s point of view we see in the book is male and gay and there’s women sharing multiple husbands. The Ashane are little more medieval about their women, but this fits in amongst a multicultural world.
Dae Hyo made a horrifying snipping gesture at his privates. “A gelding, you know, so you never grow into a man and lose the brains you were born with.”
Eric’s story felt a little out of place to me. The world is one mostly without magic (we see it return alongside the return of the moon god’s presence). Yet where Eric ends up is such a contrast to the rest of the world-building. Perhaps, as the story moves on, and more world-building is added, it will become more real in my mind. I did like the giant bat character though!
On a final note, there are plenty of willies (honestly, I think every time my boyfriend looked over I was on a page with a penis) and not too much sexual violence. I would say the opening chapter is the goriest bit and it mellows a lot after that. The second instalment, The Hunter’s Kind, will definitely be heading onto my bookshelves.
Smiler’s Fair is published by Hodder and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Also reviewed @ A Fantastical Librarian
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
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