(2017) Amanda Hocking, Pan, £7.99, pbk, 387pp, ISBN 978-1-509-80765-9
Some magical fantasy from Amanda Hocking in the form of a standalone novel from the million copy author of the Trylle trilogy, as well as being the author of The Watersong Series and The Kanin Chronicles. We are way back in time, well thirty years ago, to 1987 when Gideon Dovorinís Travelling Sideshow comes to the small town of Caudry, Louisiana. Then events take a dangerous turn. For Mara, Carnival is home. Itís also a place of secrets, hidden powers and a buried past, making it harder to connect with outsiders. However, sparks fly when she meets a local boy. But as their relationship grows Mara realises the boy has his own secrets and his familyís legacy could destroy Maraís world.
I do like carnival stories, especially when they come to town and things turn dark. Ray Bradbury obviously wrote the grand-daddy of them all with Something Wicked Comes This Way (which Iím surprised someone hasnít turned into a TV series by now giving us a whole load of back story that Bradbury didnít write about), and Tom Monteleone gave us The Travelling Gallery, the late Richard Laymon wrote about The Travelling Vampire Show and Dean Koontz was on top form in Twilight Eyes. Recently, Scottish writer, Kirsty Logan gave us a floating circus in her (more gentle) novel The Gracekeepers. What Hocking offers here is a carnival full of characters with all sorts of abilities, except for lead character Mara, who yearns for a normal life Ė to stay in one place, have a decent bed of her own, and not be surrounded by people who have powers and abilities such as telekinesis, mind-reading and even talking to the dead - which just happens to be Maraís motherís own ability. Sheís the odd-one-out in the carnival as she doesnít have any powers and just helps out everyone else who does. When the carnival accepts an invitation to perform at a town called Caudry, she meets local boy, Gabe and as romance blossoms she begins to think that this might be her chance to settle down. Unfortunately, one of her sideshow friends goes missing and others start to get attacked, even put in hospital. There is clearly a darker side to Caudry, but could there also be a darker side to Gabe as well? Well, of course there is, we are in juvenile fiction supernatural romance territory after all.
Here, Hocking has written a reasonable fast-paced dark romance told over a series of nine days which splits the novel into sections, each one illustrated by a tarot card that foreshadows what is to follow in that section. Probably the Hanged Man card is the most familiar to a non-Tarot devotee like me. The nine days are further broken down into sixty chapters and a starting prologue which makes my sort of easy reading book.
One of the strengths is the carnival settings with its host of different characters and by Mara not having any sort of supernatural ability she spends her days helping everyone else which is a good device for introducing everyone she travels with, and by setting things way back in 1987, Hocking avoids the technological world we are used to these days with its mobile phones and easy internet access to have information at your fingertips. I did feel the romance was a bit rushed, a bit too unbelievable in this love at first fright tale, and it is too similar to the romances on offer elsewhere with the girl falling for the slightly different guy with a secret (the other standard being the love triangle with either two boys or two girls to choose from, depending on the gender of the lead), but then an old geezer like me isnít the target market. Iím sure Hockingís fans will enjoy this. Itís not a five out of five book, but it easily gets a pass mark from me.
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