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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Smiler's Fair: Book 1 of The Hollow Gods
Format: Hardcover|Change
Price:£14.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 7 June 2017
Got this on the spur of the moment mainly because I love the cover illustration! It's a really good read, and an excellent example of original world building. Expect the unexpected, this is not a book that follows the same tired fantasy path. ..liked it so much ii bought the sequel and will be looking forward to the final book!
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on 10 August 2015
really enjoyed this book. lots of diverse characters. will certainly buy the rest of the series.
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on 31 July 2014
What do we think of as the hallmarks of 'good' epic fantasy?

Strong characterisation - Smiler's Fair has a half dozen, from a disenfranchised noble with a bloody habit, a woman in the unhappiest of marriages, a sex worker with a succession of unusual clients, the last warrior of his clan (keen on vengeance, drinking) and even the 'traditional' orphan with a mysterious fate (and it is).

Compelling magic system - Smiler's Fair only scratches the surface, but from prophesy to sorcery, there's clearly magic of all sorts lurking behind the scenes (and a build-up that promises much more of the same).

Unusual world-building - In Smiler's Fair, the Sun and Moon fought, and the latter lost. Now the Moon's loyal followers have degenerated into a race of man-eating fiends that live deep underground. And the Sun's victory is a Pyrrhic one - because if anyone stays in one place too long, the underground creatures will sense them and start digging for the surface. As a result, a world where everything is transient - from cities on ships to the titular Fair. A world where people cannot afford to put down roots, and civilisation is slowly fading away.

The quest - And here we have several, as the war has left its legacy in many ways. A half-dozen powers all struggle to wrest control of the world (and its gods) (and its magics), and our heroes are integral to their plans...

And yet...

Smiler's Fair also has what it takes to be more than good - it is great. Magnificent, even.

Because epic fantasy isn't just about the size and the grandeur and the spectacle (although that's all there a-plenty), it is about adventure. And you can't get that without surprise. It doesn't matter how spectacular the road is, if you already know what's around the corner, there's no adventure to it.

Smiler's Fair has everything that I know and love about epic fantasy, yet re-interpreted and presented in a way that kept me rapt from start to finish - pardon the cliche, but 'on the edge of my seat'. This is a book that holds your attention in so many ways - a fascinating world, brilliant characters, twisty plot and, best of all, a genuinely wonderful and surprising story.

Smiler's Fair is the epic fantasy I've been waiting for - riveting, compelling and adventurous.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 August 2014
I enjoyed this book, although I don't normally go for out-and-out fantasy which it certainly is.

While some - or many - of the features may seem familiar: the humble villager who's really born to be King, the unwilling princess packed off to a cold, unwanted marriage, the drunken swordsman - Levene puts a twist on each and undermines naive "fantasy" expectations at every turn. For example, while there is a fair bit of sex, it's mostly between men: and though there's incessant attention to a bewildering range of gods, one doesn't get the sense that they're going to amount to much.

Tying together the distinct strands of story in this book is the eponymous Fair, which proceeds across the continent, offering diversions of all kinds at it proceeds, and, at different times, providing refuge of different kinds to most of the characters. The fair can't stay in any place too long because, in this world, "worm-men" who live underground will eventually notice the warm flesh above and begin to feast. None of the buildings in the worlds are static - fortresses float on the surfaces of lakes, drawn round and round by mammoths: in small towns, the buildings are mounted on rails so they can be periodically moved on. This has a bearing on the theology and history of the continent and the struggle between sun and moon gods which is, we're led to believe, central to the plot.

Telling a story through four or five central characters who (mostly) don't interact is a difficult feat which could go badly wrong, but Levene manages it well (the device of the Fair helps a lot here) and while an awful lot of the book is used to establish her world there is a satisfying balance between this and action. It's a good set-up, I think, for the rest of the series.
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on 27 September 2014
Just finished reading Smiler’s Fair which was very enjoyable. Now, perhaps I’m inclined to excess generosity, being an holiday read, but I genuinely don’t think so. This was a very readable combination of dead (and potentially reborn) deities and prophecies regarding a first born son.

The world here is a strange mix of people, places and cultures ranging, from those who have conquered and believe themselves to be terribly civilised to the tribes that they lord it over. I’m not going to go into all the different races and tribes as their individual histories and cultures are explored well during the tale (although not, I hasten to add, overdone).

My description, briefly is as follows. Many, many (and maybe yet one more ‘many’ for good measure) years ago there were two Gods. The Sun and the Moon. Sister and brother. Unfortunately their opinion differed regarding the creation of their servants and as a result they went to war. The Moon died and his servants were driven underground, unable to live in the Sun’s light. The moon’s servants became known as Worm Men. They also became greatly feared as wherever they appear death usually follows.

Consequently, in order to not give the worm men chance to appear, which they are more likely to do once any structure has been in place long enough to expel the light for a certain period, most villages have become mobile. Basically, if you create any sort of structure upon the earth then the darkness this creates will eventually be found. Caves and mining are a positive no no! Some villages are almost like floating rafts, some little more than encampments that regularly adjust positions if only for the sake of a few paces, and others, such as Smiler’s Fair are fully collapsible structures that fold down into a wagon and can be transported using huge beasts of burden.

Many Gods seem to now be worshipped, although whether any of them have any real foundation is debatable.

At the start of the story we read of the birth of a newborn condemned to death by his own father. The newborn will be Prince and it has been prophesied that he will kill his father. The King doesn’t wish to sit around waiting for his own death and therefore decrees the death of the prince. However the king’s plans go wrong and the newborn infant is smuggled out from under his nose. Years later he will discover his own true beginnings and decide to return. Here starts the story.

There are a number of characters all going off on their own adventures, even whilst their paths sometimes cross. The main characters are Nethmi, who is promised in wedlock and most move from her own town. She’s hopeful for a fresh start. Dae Hyo. From a tribe of warriors that were largely massacred by marauders. Eric, basically, a prostitute or sellcock from Smiler’s Fair whose visions of love spur his actions. Krish, a goat herder from a poor village whose mother and father have a rather violent relationship and Marvan, also of Smiler’s Fair. Something of a twisted individual with a lust for blood.

I am fond of a character driven plot and so in that respect this story is very interesting, although I admit that I had reservations about the actions of most of the characters, barring a couple. I guess you could call them flawed and in one particular character a bit puzzling, or almost out of character. However, and this may seem strange but Smiler’s Fair almost felt like a character itself. It’s central to the plot in fact everything revolves around it. It’s basically a moving carnival. Everything can be found at the fair. It’s a den of iniquity. Debauched, violent and full of gambling and other vices. However, what happens in the Fair, stays in the Fair. It’s almost become a mythical thing in that nobody can predict where it will next show up or halt its progresses. Every morning a roll call is taken and when the first body disappears the Fair moves out!

This is an excellent start to what promises to be an epic series. It perhaps doesn’t bring anything too new to the scene of fantasy, although I thought the concept of the Worm People and the result they have on the lives of all was fairly new (to me anyways).

Magic, mages, murderers, Warriors, gods, giant beast, huge ass flying and talking bats, not to mention pretty creepy worm people! What’s not to love?

A very easy to read book with an intriguing plot and an easy writing style that flows and keeps the pages turning swiftly.

Colour me happy and tell me when the next instalment is due!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 February 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Rebecca Levene has set herself a challenging task, by attempting to lay the foundation of a great fantasy epic that can sustain a cycle of novels. By and large, she managed a competent execution. It's just... I think she might be attempting to do something that can't realistically be done any more. There is no conceivable fantasy world now that doesn't seem hackneyed and cliched, no matter how much you may shuffle around the bits. Smiler's Fair is a spirited attempt to create something new, but it does so in an environment where the narrative bones have been picked fairly clean. It has elements of eroticism, but that ground has already been well and truly claimed by Game of Thrones. It has a seedy, vaguely carnivalesque moving city, but in that can be heard the echoes of the Forgotten Realms. There is secret royalty, but that was so predictable a fantasy trope that Terry Pratchett was mercilessly satirising it years ago. It's not that it seems to be intentionally (or unintentionally) derivative. It's just there are very few fruits to pluck from the branches now. It all comes across as 'same as it ever was'.

Don't get me wrong - it's a competent book, and if you're not over-saturated yet on fantasy worlds you might find something of value in here. For me, there was nothing that ignited a sense of wonder or mystery, and as a result each page turn felt like a chore rather than a prospect of wonders to come.
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Well, this is definitely not what I was expecting. If like me,you have been away from fantasy for a while you might have thought that it was all about the Elves. If this is anything to go by then it certainly isn't. Within the first 100 pages, your senses will be assaulted with about as much violence, gore and sex as it is possible to fit into the printed page. I don't know if this is a good thing. None of the aforementioned repulsed me; The story drives along at a good pace is well written and involving, I just wonder if it needed to be quite so explicit. I really cant make up my mind. Regardless, and With the caveat I mention, if you enjoy a good story set in a fantasy medieval world this might be for you.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 April 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've been into the fantasy genre since first reading Lord of the Rings in my early teens and I've been seeking something to compare with that seminal work ever since.

Well Rebecca Levine may not be quite up there with Tolkien, but she certainly knows the secret of writing a compelling fantasy novel - making the reader truly want to know what's around the next turn of the road or lurking down the next dark tunnel.

Smiler's Fair is full of epic journeys - each of the main characters are forced, through various events, to leave the cosy world they know and head out into hostile and mysterious badlands, where their paths may well be destined to cross.

The characterisation throughout is pretty strong, with some delightfully nuanced characters - things certainly aren't a simplistic black and white in Smiler's Fair!

Whilst there is plenty of humour herein, don't expect light-hearted folderol throughout - there is brutal gore aplenty and some fairly explicit sex scenes. I was reminded of the style of Joe Abercrombie on several occasions and, if you enjoyed his novels, I'm sure you will love Smiler's Fair.

Having read an uncorrected proof, I do hope the typos and occasional silly mistakes (a donkey changes to a mule and Nethmi manages to dismount it twice without remounting first!) get corrected before the final version goes to print, because this is a highly readable page-turner and I was determined not to let such minor bugs ruin my enjoyment.

I look forward very much to the next instalment of The Hollow Gods.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 5 September 2014
Smiler's Fair is an unassuming looking book. It's a fantasy, which at first I found difficult to believe as there's no heavily cloaked man on the cover. The blurb promises goatherds, orphans, lonely warriors and inescapable destiny. Hardly the stuff of original fiction, yet the book is garnering some stellar reviews. So what's the deal?

This is a secondary world fantasy with a varied host of characters, whose stories gradually entwine. I love this device, so I was predisposed to enjoy the book, but all the same I am confident in proclaiming that Rebecca Levene has created something very special . Special and highly original. Original yet comfortingly familiar. The individual stories here are not particularly remarkable, nor is there a huge amount of excitement attached to each one. It's the way in which they are bound together that makes the book so refreshing.

Levene has taken lots of tired tropes and created something innovative and interesting. There are six characters all with unique (and often peculiar) outlooks on life. From each of their stories the reader experiences a little more of Levene's world. A world that is painstakingly created. Not so much geographically and historically but more socio- and psychologically. Levene does not map rivers and mountain ranges, instead she charts morals and beliefs. She's a Tolkien of ethics and human frailty.

The Smiler's Fair at the centre of the book is a travelling fair, continually moving, bringing delights and vice wherever it travels. All the players intersect with the Fair at some point in the novel and its continual motion gives the novel an additional dynamic dimension. The unfaltering progression of the fair propels the novel towards its portentous and momentous conclusion. I don't want too say much more than that. The books is textured, nuanced and best explored with few preconceptions.

Reading the book I was put in mind of reading the Belgariad for the first time, almost thirty years ago. The characters and writing style are similar, but Levene has infused Smiler's Fair with modern and realistic dilemma. Characterisation is excellent. Characters react in ways you would never expect, and interact with each other in ways which took me completely by surprise. The ethical questions that stand at the centre of the book, the nature of good and evil and the power of myth and belief, are fascinating. I've never seen moral ambiguities addressed so well in fantasy fiction and I found myself greatly envious of Levene's talent. A sense of dread permeates the book, and after it wells up to the top of the story, the outcome is totally unexpected. The ending is awesome; as painful a cliffhanger as I've read in many a year. I haven't awaited a sequel this much for a very long time.

Are you going to Smiler's Fair? It's unique and utterly brilliant, so you should probably catch up with it fast. Once more the goatherd is king (maybe...)
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 November 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There's something strangely compelling about this book, considering it's pretty slow to start and each of the character strands seem to take ages to actually get into their stride. Then again this world is wonderfully complicated and definitely needed time to be set up. I particularly enjoyed the idea of the ship-forts, great (and not so great) floating manor houses that are endlessly moved around the edges of their lakes by teams of mammoths. Even away from those forts, most folk don't stay put in one place for long, moving their homes on wheels or rails, or in travelling caravans. All because of the fearsome worm men who hide from the sun and strike from beneath. People have learned the hard way never to stay put in one place for too long, and to stay out of the shadows.

It's a clever idea, helping create images of this vivid world with its numerous gods and the idea of an ancient war between the Sun and the Moon, in which the Sun was victorious, but now the Moon is born again. True, the idea of prophecy, a cast out prince and a reborn god isn't unheard of in the fantasy genre, but this world has some truly original touches that make it feel fresher.

However, despite the great world-building and the need to keep reading, I think there are possibly just too many POV characters here (I remember eight, but there might have been one or two more). Since the characters don't really start meeting up until the second half of the book, there are a lot of separate plotlines running alongside each other, to the point where some get left behind and almost forgotten. One moment the story might be dealing with Nethmi's marriage, the next it skips to Dae Hyo's drinking, and then perhaps might trail back to see what Krish is up to. I found myself getting so caught up in one or two characters' stories that I almost resented a switch to one of the others - until I got caught up with them, only to skip somewhere else.

The focus of this story is wide, and this is only the first of the series, so I think I would have preferred maybe one or two fewer characters to focus on. Add in the fact that I didn't particularly warm to any of them, and it was just a bit much. I did like Nethmi at first, but I lost interest as her story developed, and while Krish is kind of sweet, he's also a bit dull. The others are all full of good points and bad - mostly bad - and I was so busy trying to remember who was who and why I was supposed to care about them that I ended up not caring about any of them.

Which is a shame, really, because there is potential here. The world is vivid, the characters are well developed (if not always sympathetically so) and I'm sure the plot will eventually drag itself together long enough to make itself known beyond the clichés. This book is clearly setting the scene for an epic tale, with a wide and sweeping story arc, I just think I would have preferred it to have started a little smaller and a bit more focused.

There's a lot of promise here, and no matter what else this story aims to do, no doubt it'll be big and epic and probably destroy lots of stuff. The world is vast and vivid, the characters are gritty and not particularly nice, and the plot is aiming high. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then jump in and enjoy.
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