Take a fantastic gamble…
Smiler’s Fair is one of those places you wish existed so you could go there. Not to stay for long mind but just so you could see what it’s like. I have a feeling it would be a bit like a kind of portable Las Vegas with loads more mud and the threat of instant death once the fair has been in one place too long, because as well as the threat of being conned out of all your money or challenged by big-nosed but charming serial killer Marvan there’s the likelihood that the Worm Men will come out of the ground and eat you. You don’t get that sort of thrill from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
In the meantime, young Lady Nethmi negotiates a tricky arranged marriage, and it’s a mark of the ability of female fantasy authors to outgrim the boys that she extricates herself from that predicament with briskly psychopathic efficiency. There is an almost erotic intimacy to the sequence; a hallmark of Rebecca Levene’s skill in narrating less familiar sexualities.
Take Eric, the big-hearted rent boy who starts off at Smiler’s Fair and follows his dream, only to find himself in a position that makes the cheerfully sordid fair seem like utopia. There are a number of genuinely charming sex and love scenes between men, and the author reveals an admirable understanding of the camaraderie of male-on-male desire that renders these pieces not just erotic but quite normal. They are certainly more moving than the deliberately mechanical drug-induced orgies with the beautiful gold-skinned priestesses who worship the sun.
The real-world ‘different’, be it racial, sexual or supernatural, is the norm in the milieu of Smiler’s Fair. For instance, the heroes appear to inhabit roles that would be taken by villains in a more conventional tale. Krish the goat-herd, with his spooky silver eyes and affinity with the Worm Men, is clearly some sort of messiah but the horrific climax to the book suggests that he may not be the kind of messiah we would normally expect. This inversion seems especially pointed when he joins forces with last-of-his-race drunken warrior Dae Hyo whose catchphrase ‘I tell you what’ is one of the few instances of something getting funnier through repetition.
Rebecca Levene is a very talented writer and the complex, well-crafted story slips effortlessly into your mind. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends how broad your mind is.