Alex Bledsoe) recently recommended the book Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine and once I read that the story was about a "steampunk-flavored circus," I was in.
Mechanique is a meandering story, much like the circus it depicts. Set some time in a distant future in a world torn apart by bombs and fractured into townships led by petty government men, the Circus Tresaulti comes to town amid a minor fanfare of colorful posters and a parade through town to display their magnificent mechanical parts. You won't notice the slightly tattered condition of the circus tents as you marvel as the strongman with a clock set in his scrap-metal spine or the men who use their long, powerful steel arms as the swinging trapeze.
This isn't your usual circus in more than the obvious ways. It isn't the gears that sets these performers apart, it's their hollow, copper bones and the strange agelessness that comes with them. There's a magic that the ringmaster possesses, with her griffin tattoos, that no one quite understands. She weaves her spell over acrobats and jugglers, but it's the musical, haunted wings that really draw in the crowds-- at least they did once upon a time. Now the wings are a dream to those who fight over them.
But a larger enemy has an eye on the circus now... and he wants the boss's secrets to built the perfect army.
"Mechanique" is one of the most unique stories I have ever read because of the way it was written. When I say 'meandering' I mean it. The narrative jumps around quite a bit and the timeline is rather confusing at first. It took me a good fifty pages to get a grip on the story. And it isn't just the timeline that's confusing. Valentine uses a parenthesis throughout the book to offer asides in the story and it confusing until you catch on to the rhythm of the book. But then a strange thing happens; you get caught up in the story and the confusion melts away.
Everything about this story skips around, perhaps in sympathy with the nomadic lives of the circus performers themselves: Boss, the ringleader with the mysterious capability to grant hollow bones and immortality; Panadrome, the one-man band who is never without his instruments; Elena, the hard leader of the trapeze artists who may or may not hide a caring heart behind a cold exterior; Little George, the barker who desperately wants to get his bones and belong to the circus once and for all; Ayar, who took the bones against his will to save his partner Jonah; and Alec, the man who wore the musical wings crafted of bone and gold who slowly went mad with their tormented legacy. Many of the performers are former soldiers who take to the unsettled life in the circus because it has it's own stability and sense of family.
The things that could be a detriment to the book end up being its strength because the unusual style adds to the sense of magic. It has a flair and flow that's hard to describe but easy to recommend. It's not one of those books that bombards you with action, though it has more than its share. Valentine parcels out the accounts of the characters and their histories and leaves enough of the setting as a blank page for us to fill in with our imagination. Some things never change, like the character of the "government man"-- some truths are obvious to any reader. Just as the cost of war is also universal at any time and any place. And it's the combination of the surreal circus superimposed over the dystopian landscape that makes "Mechanique" stand out in such a memorable way.
I really liked "Mechanique." The combination of the circus with the steampunk elements works so well. It's just a genius combination. And I think that the marriage of style and substance utilized in this work takes it beyond something interesting and turns it into something special.
4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.