5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Smiler’s Fair is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. Opening with a rather gory and graphic birth scene, the gruesome detail continues without, showing the reader that this world is not an easy one to live in. Whilst ‘Smiler’s Fair’ may sound like a pleasant place, this is but a front for the grim reality. Prostitution, gambling, brawls and duels, all the seedy parts of life gather at the Fair. This is most definitely an adult fantasy novel, and all the more fun for it.
We meet each main character in their own introductory chapter – all start at Smiler’s Fair, and all begin this new page of their lives because of it. There is Marven, a man who loves killing a little too much; Nethmi, a young woman who is about to be married off to a minor lord; Krish, a goatherd who feels his parents are hiding something from him; Eric, a male prostitute who is tiring of his current lifestyle and wants something more permanent; and Dae Hyo, hellbent on revenge for the slaughter of his people. With such a variety of characters, the reader is bound to find someone they feel for. However, with the characters changing as they went on their own personal journeys, I found my own allegiances changing, and my feelings towards two characters radically reversing. It was well done and completely drew me in, one minute I was hoping for a success and the next I couldn’t believe I’d liked that character at all.
Each of the characters are united by both Smiler’s Fair, and death. Whether it be an outright murder, a revenge killing or a desperate attempt to free themselves, there is something they all have in common. And like some of the authors of current popular fantasy series, Rebecca Levene is unafraid to kill off characters, whether they be minor or major. For example, one character I really liked was fine and dandy one moment, and the next he was gone, just like that. When an author can shock you like that, and leave you feeling genuinely sad or upset, you know they’re doing something right. She also has a talent for creating a wide cast of characters, each with their own personalities and aims, and with their own clear tones of voice.
Some authors have a writing style that just flows off the page, allowing the reader to read quickly without missing a thing. Rebecca Levene is definitely one of those authors. Although the world building was not as rich in detail as some other fantasy series and I never got an all encompassing feel of the world, it was still enough to flesh out the lands and their inhabitants. Whilst the first half is a little slow, taking its time to weave together various storylines and paths, the second half really picks up in terms of action and pace – and the ending opens up for book two very nicely.
A fantastic beginning to a new, highly original fantasy series, and highly recommended for fans of authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Robert Jordan. I have a theory about a link between the various different pantheons and characters, and I’d like to see if the next book will confirm it in any way…