Mixed views - good characters and storyline but slow to start and dull in places,
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This review is from: The Troupe (Paperback)
This is my first experience of reading one of Robert Jackson Bennett's books and I have to say I'm not sure if I'll read another one. For a start I almost gave up on reading this book just before Christmas (which would have been a first for me), but I returned to it in January determined to finish it.
George Carole is an accomplished Pianist playing within the Vaudeville scene. The book starts with George, out of the blue, quitting his current job where he his highly respected and established. He does this in order to chase the famous Silenus Troupe, a mystical, strange, and difficult to pin down group that travels the circuit. George does this because he believes the one and only Heironomo Silenus, the leader of the troupe, may be his long, lost father. George has never seen the Silenus Troupe perform so when he catches up with them he buys a ticket, in order to see for himself just what it is they do.
Even before George sees them perform he notices things just aren't quite `normal'. This only continues as the shows starts. The acts aren't quite what they seem and neither are the props. That's when George notices the effects the performance is having on the audience too - everyone seems to be in a trance. Everyone that is, except George, he remains unaffected. Whilst the audience leave under the spell weaved by the Troupe's performance, George goes to confront his Father.
This sends George tumbling head first into a world of magic, confusion and origins he didn't know existed. A world where nothing is quite what it seems: doors can move and reappear across towns; props, for all intents and purposes are alive and real; even inanimate objects such as light and dark have their own personalities and agendas. George learns of the fight to maintain the existence of humanity through delivering the First Song and maintaining the light, whilst the wolves of the darkness fight back in an attempt to plunge existence into nothingness.
Bennett explores a world filled with abstract ideas and workings, mythological and fantasy creatures, as well as personal attachments and emotions. All with the end goal of saving the world from the dark.
Or is it? Bennett adds a great twist towards the end of the book where we find out that motives may have been skewed for alternative gains.
The twists and additions within the plot definitely enhanced and enriched the story. However, I didn't feel these were explored enough or utilised to their full potential. For example, the introduction of the Four Shepherds. I found this to be a nice addition and particularly enjoyed their opposing elements and opinions. Bennett takes great time to include this and to fully map out their contrasts in being and personality. It's clear that this will be needed later on in the story. However, when the time comes, Bennett only uses a fragment of that which he built up earlier. For me I was hoping/expecting much more from it, and would have thought it would have been an exciting extra. Instead it just seemed to be a pointless addition. But that's just me!
The way in which Bennett has constructed his world leaves it open to the possibility of other creatures: fantasy, mythological and made up. With the exception of the fairies (another nice twist!), he didn't really explore these suggested avenues. The same could be said about the storyline itself. There was so much potential that I felt Bennett just didn't explore or incorporate into his narrative. Given that it was a fight for survival, a necessity for the Light to conquer the Dark, the depth and pace Bennett used didn't replicate that.
As mentioned above, I struggled with this book. The first third seems to drag, the pace was slow and the content was sparse. The prose Bennett used was also very matter-of-fact. It failed to enchant or draw me into the story. As a result I was bored and disinterested and almost decided not to continue reading, which is a shame because it does pick up. Although the style of Bennett's writing doesn't change much, slowly the pace seemed to pick up filling the book with more action, more content and more twists! However, for me it just wasn't enough, it felt as though Bennett wasn't enthused by the story he was telling. There needed to be more action, more urgency and greater enchantment. Given the topic, there was certainly scope for it!
On a positive note, Bennett's characters were well defined and interesting. I really enjoyed the contrasting and vastly differing elements to all the characters and how they added to the storyline, maintaining the unknown and mystery. They had clear, established roles, personalities and abilities that complimented the story well. The Characters were also the basis of the major twists within the story. As they were well written, these twists worked. For me the characters salvaged this story, and had the prose been better, it could have been phenomenal.
As you can see, I have mixed views of this book. My only advice being, if you decide to read this book, stick with because it does get better. Who knows, it could be just your thing!