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The Allure of the Circus

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“There were always tears of joy; a man so beautifully married to machine was something that people needed to see after a war like they had been through. The technology in those days was weapons and radio signals; people needed to remember the art of the machine.”

Since the age of 9, Genevieve Valentine has been a fan of Circus du Soleil. What drew her in was the seemingly impossible artistry and athleticism of the performers. As an author of short fantasy stories, it wasn’t too far a leap to see the fantastical elements in this real-life traveling troupe. When asked by Prime Books founder and publisher, Chris Wallace, if she had any dark-fantasy ideas she wanted to flesh out, Genevieve went to her list and found Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, the story of a supernatural circus set in a post apocalyptic world.

Valentine’s Circus Tresaulti is one of the few travelling entities left in the war-torn world of walled cities, receded governments, and bombed out buildings. The group is composed of body-modified performers fitted out and led by their ringleader—a woman known only as Boss.

Through complex story structure, one that plays with point of view and time, the reader is given slivers of information from alternating perspectives. The details come in pieces, forcing one to hold them together in their mind until they can be taken as a whole. As the story moves forward, the circus begins to fall apart. Traumas of the past and current internal battles envelope the group—their relationships rife with competition and emotional inconsistencies.

The story of Alec, the beloved aerial performer last to possess a set of beautiful wings made of pipe and bone, who plunged, willingly, to his death, haunts those who knew him and who were there to witness his end. The reason for Alec’s self-destruction is shrouded in mystery and can only be surmised by a select few. The repetitive remembering of his fall is a warning, a foreshadowing, of what might come to whoever wears them next. The two newcomers, Bird and Steno, covet those wings, now stored in Boss’s workshop, not knowing the power they wield.

Genevieve creates an interesting contrast to the destruction of the circus as she moves the story backwards in time. In these interweaving vignettes she retells each performer’s beginnings, showing how the community was built out of the wreckage of war.

We’re introduced to Ayer, the strongman whose skeleton is externally reinforced with metal junk, and his assistant, Jonah, who was brought, near-death, to the circus and saved with clockwork lungs; Panadrome, a conductor of an opera in his previous life, a victim of a bombing, is now a self-contained one man band; and the aerialists, hollowed out, their bones replaced with copper pipes, are made light and easy to reconstruct if ever they fall. After the performers are modified, all are given new names, as if starting anew, leaving their old lives behind.

Throughout the story, in addition to the tension brewing inside, the circus faces an outside threat from a shadowy figure known as the government man. He hopes to co-opt Boss’s body-modifying talents to build an indestructible mechanical army. All comes to a head when Boss is taken to an undisclosed location and the troupe is split into two ideological camps—those who think they should flee the city before the others are captured and those who want to wait for her return.

Little George, the main narrator of the story and Boss’s apprentice who’s been with the troupe since the age of 5, reluctantly takes the reigns, finds his footing, and goes from mere helper to leader in a matter of hours. It’s a mini coming-of-age tale surrounded by a larger story of survival.

The driving force of Mechanique is the intrigue. You’re never given the full story, only brief glimpses, as if looking at a landscape through squinted eyes. The unknown creates a sense of unease and with it a sense of urgency; but Mechanique, although easily devoured, is a book whose every word is meant to be digested.

In his review, Jeff VanderMeer said Mechanique “represent[s] the future of fantastical fiction.” One can hope.

Read three stories based on the world of Circus Tresaulti (not spoilery): Bread and Circuses, The Finest Spectacle Anywhere, and Study, for Solo Piano

Buy Mechanique at IndieBound
Visit Genevieve’s website where she blogs regularly
Visit the official Circus Tresaulti site
Follow Genevieve on Twitter @GLValentine
Listen to her interview on io9’s Geeks Guide to the Galaxy

Written by Gabrielle

November 8, 2011 at 5:43 am

2 Responses

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  1. Wow, that sounds incredibly unique and fabulous. I’ll have to add it to my TBR list.


    November 8, 2011 at 10:39 am

    • so good! i loved it.


      November 8, 2011 at 10:41 am

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