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The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge ~ Housekeeping
The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge is an adult fantasy novel. Most readers would much rather call it an alternative history book. NetGalley decided to put it in the poetry section! This is probably why the Goodreads reviews are currently at 3.18, when this book is clearly a 5 star read!
The book was published on the 15th of March, 2022, by Rebellion Publishing, and is 528 pages long. It’s the second novel by Tom Beckerlegge, with the first being Cold Trap.
I was lucky enough to receive an e-galley via the wonderful NetGalley, but I’ll be honest, getting a paperback from The Write Reads did influence my review, because this is one of those books that just hits me better in paperback. There are some books I can read as an ebook, and still enjoy. This one I would have enjoyed, but I would have wanted a paperback pretty badly!
The city of Cadenza is known to be a city of words. We have ink maids, who write smut for you, plagiarists who kidnap writers and compete to write the most beautiful ransom notes, and poets who rule. The city is threatened by Venice whose inhabitants would gladly burn it down; if the poets of Cadenza don’t do it themselves.
Of course a city of words, ruled by poets, is steeped in madness.
The story is told through 14 chapters, each called a canto. If you’re thinking that’s a reference to Dante’s Inferno, then you’re right. The city was ruled by someone close to the devil (not literally, but you get what I mean), and with each chapter, you go deeper into the darkness of the city. With each chapter the fall becomes more and more inevitable. Of course, there is hope at the end and they discover what they thought was lost forever. Each canto is told from the point of view of a different character, and each is linked into the story of each another, from Carlo and Vittoria, to Lucia and the Duelling counts. We even hear from Fiametta at the end.
The story starts with young Carlo as he comes to the city to prove himself a poet. He is not welcomed, to say the least, and becomes friend with a gravedigger for his remaining days in the city. They’re not very many of those, but don’t worry, he doesn’t die, and he turns out to be a lot smarter than he looks, even if he isn’t a brilliant poet. He also has a lot of emotional intelligence, which, as it turns out, is not in abundance in a city of writers.
Do keep in mind, that this first chapter is interesting, but also one of the slowest ones in the book because you’re being told the history of how the city came to be. That being said, it’s also your first taste of how dramatic and lovely and funny this book will be!
There is a lot of stuff on goodreads about trigger warnings, and I am not the best person to comment on those, I think you do need to remember that this is a city that’s falling apart. This is the descent into hell and there will be violence in there. While I don’t think Tom Beckerlegge makes it particularly graphic, I would like to stress again that I am not the best person to judge.
Blurb for The Carnival of Ash
Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.
Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…
About the author:
Tom Beckerlegge grew up in the northwest of England in a house filled with books. Writing as Tom Becker, he won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize with his debut novel; The Carnival of Ash is his first adult book. He lives in Enfield with his wife and young son.
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