By Veronica G. Henry
While browsing through Kindle, this book cover immediately caught my eye. Who can resist that gorgeous cover? Add to that the first line of the jacket cover: “Evil lives in a traveling carnival roaming the Depression-era South.”
Carnival? Depression era? Evil? Yes, please!
The premise of the book is excellent but I’ll admit up front, I went into this book expecting something along the lines of The Midnight Circus. Which, I am aware, is a high bar. (That’s like me looking for another 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in every mystery I read – on some level, I’m going to be disappointed.) There was a lot to like about Bacchanal, but some things I wish had been handled differently.
Let’s start with what I liked. The story is a classic hero’s journey and Eliza is a sympathetic character who struggles with situations most of us will probably never find ourselves in – being abandoned by her family, having to come to terms with a powerful ability, and oh yes, finding out her grandmother was an African goddess and she must battle a demon. Sounds implausible but set against the circus controlled by said demon, where people go missing on a regular basis and dark magic abounds, the story line works. The secondary characters were well fleshed out and provided interesting subplots. I love learning something new in fiction and Henry gave me insight into African magic and spirit animals that served as a strong premise for the novel.
When looking at what I think might have been done differently, I am aware I was wearing a critiquer’s hat rather than a reader’s hat, and these nitpicks fall under structure rather than the story line. First, there is a prologue where Stephanie St. Clair, known as the Queen of Harlem, summons the demon Ahiku to take down her main competition in the criminal underworld. Although this serves as the springboard to bring Ahiku into the story, the link between the demon’s summoning and how she sets up the carnival, as well as Ahiku’s purpose for rooting out her own enemies, is weak. St. Clair only appears once again, about two thirds of the way through the book, trying to draw Jamey, her nephew, away from the carnival to return to New York. Seeing as the author included a brief biography of St. Clair, I have to wonder if she wasn’t the impetus behind the novel. However, she was barely mentioned and didn’t play into the final story and the prologue probably wasn’t necessary.
Another issue I had was the multitude of points of view (POVs). I know I harp on the use of multiple POVs often, which is odd because I love a lot of POVs. It’s rare I have less than three in my own novels and often use up to six. However, I only choose POV characters I think are necessary to tell the story, while still hiding enough to keep the reader guessing. I feel like Henry was trying to show everything, since there were several one-scene POVs just to show something that could have happened off-screen. For example, children regularly went missing when the carnival was in town, and Henry inserted the POV of a boy who became a victim. To me, it wasn’t necessary and robbed the book of tension – and easily could have been written in Ahiku’s POV, which figured prominently. I never had a sense of “What’s going on?” (in a good way that made me want to keep turning the page) because I was shown everything. The multiple short POVs might have served the story but I prefer a bit of mystery and an “a ha” moment when I figure out the off-screen action.
My last nitpick was the similes. This author apparently loves them. Here’s a few examples – “stoic as thousand-year-old redwoods,” “hot wind whipping his red hair all around his head like a band of ruptured vein,” “It crept up on her like the first inklings of a cold.” While there were some wonderful descriptions and turns of phrase, similes were used liberally to the point they stood out.
an As a reader, this book had a great premise and imaginative, transporting story. As a writer, I noticed several things I would have done differently that might have strengthened my enjoyment of the book. But overall, this was worth the read.
I rated it 3 stars.
Until next time, thank you for visiting.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.