Book Review: Smiler's Fair

Smiler's Fair by Rebecca Levene, The Hollow Gods #1

Yron the moon god died, but now he's reborn in the false king's son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He'll return one day to claim his birthright. He'll change your life.

He'll change everything.

Smiler's Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you're willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler's Fair. They say it'll change your life. For five people, Smiler's Fair will change everything.

In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people - Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept - will discover just how much Smiler's Fair changes everything.

One trope that always works for me in Epic Fantasy are gods and deities. When they are involved it always broadens the scope of the story and what I have come to understand from my reading ventures so far is that they can turn the story into unexpected directions. There are so many interpretations possible of gods that it will always turn into a unique story and Smiler's Fair is no exception. Rebecca Levene craftily uses the god aspect and weaves it to new heights and produces a terrific story in Smiler's Fair and start of an exciting new Epic Fantasy series. Rebecca Levene has worked on several Doctor Who books and has written for Abbadon Books and SFX Magazine, Smiler's Fair is her first ever Epic Fantasy series.

The story of Smiler's Fair picks up with the birth of a baby and if you already read the synopsis more closely you can see that one of the gods, in particular the moon god Yron is being reborn and that a prophecy has been cast about him. He is the bringer of change and his father the King fear him greatly and wanted to kill him but failed in the attempt... How exactly this all took place remains obscure because after this tasty prologue with a lot of information and many more raised question the story focuses on four different perspectives. You get introduced to each of the characters one by one and in the start up of the story it was hard to pinpoint which of the four makes up for the main protagonist rule but later it does become more clear as to who will make up the lead. The four different perspectives consists of those of Nethmi, Krish, Eric and Dae Hyo. Each of these characters have a completely different background and offers some great insights into the enigmatic world of Smiler's Fair. 

In the beginning of the story each of these four perspectives start of individually and there isn't on main storyline to Smiler's Fair but the four smaller ones. For Nethmi's part, she is a young women and princess to a shiplord, (I will get back to what this shiplord and nomadic lifestyle means in a bit). Early on in the story Nethmi gets given away for marriage to a warlord in the frozen highlands. However she doesn't know her to be husband and this makes loving him a hard job. Nethmi's part of the story offers a great many of intrigue seen normally in Epic Fantasy at the courts. I liked how she was shown by Rebecca Levene all along the story, she really grows into her part and learns soon enough that the world is a harsh place and that having allies and people to rely on will make everything much easier. Her involvement with several characters and mainly Marvan offer a lot to like. 

Secondly you have Krishanjit or shortened simply Krish. He is a simple goatherd and his life isn't actually that exciting, he talks with his parents and his goats, feeds them and milks them. But this sort of "boring" life does make a great play with your imagination, because why would Rebecca Levene offer a perspective of just a simple, be it very smart, goatherd? Well that is because Krish's life is about to change and go into a completely different direction. Krish uncovers his true heritage and finds out that his parents have lied to him and that they aren't his real parents. Krish's father also abuses his mother often and this is something that he can no longer accept and when he sees his goats eating berries that make them terribly sick he decides to put them in the stew... However as each action has a it own reaction, Krish sets into motion several things that put him in the spotlight and not in a good way. His action make that Krish has to flee and with his departure his mother tells him one thing... he is the prophecy, he is the kings son... (yes for us) I was mightly impressed with this twist of events and how Rebecca Levene further build on his character and the things he was planning. 

As a third you have Dae Hyo, a downright skillful and feared warrior coming from the Dae clan. Dae Hyo is the last surviving member of the clan as they were brutally murdered. This latter part hasn't helped him and with being grief stricken he seeks escape in the form of alcohol. However with being drunk, Dae Hyo still holds up to his virtues and when he, by chance, meets up with Krish and reveals his nature. Krish talks to Dae Hyo and appeals to his higher motives, Krish wants him to be his general. The "funny" part for me, well if you can call it that was between both of them where Dae Hyo said that Krish had to come into shape. He didn't have the stamina nor the skill to even dare to challenge his father for the throne. This single action bolstered a clear coming-of-age aspect. 

Last but definitely not least is the perspective of Eric. Eric works at the Smiler's Fair as a male prostitute. He has been doing this since he was a young boy and found that he was rather good at it. One thing that actually never should happen between him and a client is falling in love, unfortunately for Eric this just happens to him and drives him mad. Eric makes perhaps his most boldest move at all and he decides to leave the comforts and stability of the Smiler's Fair in order to pursue his one true love that with another man. This sounds exactly like a true love story and in essence it is, the wife of said person that Eric loves finds out and suddenly everything for Eric changes and he finds himself winding up in a completely different environment than he first had thought, not the live of two lovers at all... I do have to say that I am actually not that big a fan of a too heavy and explicit sexual display in fantasy, the scenes in Smiler's Fair regarding Eric can turn rather graphic though... 

All in all I was very pleased with four storyline that Rebecca Levene introduced, the character are well fleshed out and they have all problems of their own that they have to conquer to get further in life. After finishing the book there still isn't one big storyline to follow you into the sequel, instead some storyline have collided with each other at the Smiler's Fair while others remain a bit individual, but saying this doesn't make it any less enjoyable. More on the contrary as Rebecca Levene inspires a feeling that you will have absolutely no clue as to where this story will be picked up from. We know one thing though. Krish is the big player and yes the Moon God was destroyed once, will Krish meet an untimely death... ?

One thing where the Smiler's Fair draws a definite strength from is the world in which the story takes place. I often mention that writes can make either a dynamic or static world, one that is always in motion by its characters etc or a really bland one. Rebecca Levene takes the former on a more literal note. In her world it is dangerous to stay too long at one place. In the part of Nethmi I mentioned that I would come back to the shiplord - nomadic bit. Well here it is. Everyone in the world of Smiler's Fair leads a nomadic life style be it on land of mammals or on foot or on sea in ships. The Smiler's Fair is the first example where you learn this. When you stay in one place too long, will give a call out to the worm men, these are the trusty followers to Yron the moon god, who will wreck havoc where ever they can. These worm men live in the shadows and when you cast your shadow too long on one place they will rise... Now this interference of the worm men is dark business but don't think that the Smiler's Fair is a happy place to live in, Rebecca Levene casts a very dark shroud on it, it's a place of dark pleasure, you can get everything you want but at a high and sinister cost. Sometimes you want to look away but at the same time you will oddly drawn to some of the absurdities.

With the Smiler's Fair Rebecca Levene has definitely placed her name on the map of Epic Fantasy. Though the premise of the story of Smiler's Fair might sound straightforward, it soon proves that it is far from it. All that Rebecca Levene involves in building up her world with the Smiler's Fair itself, the never moving world, the gods; reincarnate at that and her characters really leaves a mark. Its one great thing after the other that will get you addicted page after page. The action in the book be it from sword fights or strong intrigue or even the complex relation of Eric is non stop, there is never a dull moment in the book. In this first book Rebecca Levene only lifts one small part of the veil of her world and her many characters, you do get to learn the basics of them all but there are no direct links towards the sequel, which makes thinking about where the story will pick up very interesting. Everything will be possible and with the imaginative mind set of Rebecca Levene, I think we will be in for quite a surprise. What is even better is the fact that The Hallow Gods series has already been bought for a quadrilogy, this means three more great stories to read!


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