Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mechanique, by Genevieve Valentine

Mechanique: a Tale of the Circus Tresaulti is a steampunk circus novel. I picked it up because it was on the list of well-recommended books that I could check out from the university library (which has a much longer loan period than the public library), but didn't expect to love it. I haven't had good luck with steampunk, and circuses don't sound intriguing to me.

But I really loved it after all. The circus was more Cirque du Soleil than three-ring clown cars, and the steampunk had just enough magic mixed in to activate my suspension of disbelief.* The circus performers have mechanical body parts, but the focus is less on how they work and more on how it affects their lives. Everyone who gets the bones pays a high price for it; no one gets them who wasn't already broken in some way; great care is taken to make them look frailer than they are, to keep outsiders from getting too interested in the possibilities of this magic. In particular, the Boss would like to avoid the notice of power-hungry government men, who want to rebuild the war-torn society back to its former glory - yet still carry on the wars, to achieve their own dominance. (The circus does not manage to avoid the latest government man.)

It has an interesting flow to it; it manages to slip from third-person to second- to first- and back again very smoothly, all in the same poetic voice, so you don't really notice that it's changed till well after it's happened. A bit odd, but it worked. It's very tragic and beautiful.

I think I liked Elena best. She's cold and hard and vicious, and you could never be friends with her, but there's a tiny sliver of good in her. It's all bottled up and buried, because she knows it doesn't belong in this kind of world: soft-hearted people don't survive. You never catch her doing anything nice, but there are vicious things she does that have strangely beneficent motives.

I liked Bird a lot, too. I think I have a soft spot for the crazies.

* It seriously bugs me when a story limits itself to clockwork and mechanics, yet accomplishes magnificent feats with these that would have been easier to pull off if they'd bothered learning about electricity and magnetism. It feels incredibly artificial to me - like somebody cares more about the aesthetics than about the functionality. To have that stand as a putatively scientific system offends the dregs of physics-student left in my soul. If you're going to do modern or futuristic feats with antiquated technology, I really prefer that there be magic involved somewhere.


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