Book Reviews

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan: How Can Something with So Much Magic be So Boring?

♦Warning: This review contains major sass and minor (possible) spoilers.♦ 

I told you the 100-Rule would return, and this book here is the very reason it exists.

First Impressions

Dany (née Andy) is a pre-teen boy on the cusp of puberty with a helicopter mom and a marmalade-selling dad who has begun sleeping on the couch. On an impromptu trip to a carnival, Andy enters a mirror maze and becomes trapped inside the mirror, while his reflection–the changeling version of him–goes home with his parents. Meanwhile, Andy is renamed Dany (because mirrors) and rescued from the mirror by manic-pixie-dream-trapeze-artist Mona. He is then a part of the carnival forever and slowly, ever so slowly, begins to learn the secrets of the carnies’ magical existence. 

A Valiant Effort

Okay, look, I tried, I really did. I wanted to like this so badly. When I first picked it up, it had everything I look for, including being in my favorite genre, urban fantasy. It appeared to follow the no-first-novel rule, and the sound-byte rule (what are these rules you ask? All in good time, my friends). I had every reason to expect something good from this title.

But it’s so dang boring.

I gave this book the benefit of the doubt and read past 100-pages to page 135, which is almost the halfway point. I did this because it kept promising to get better and reveal a big pay off, but it never stopped being overwhelmingly dull.

Analysis Paralysis

I have a sense that Jordan was painting a metaphor for growing up and trying to figure out your identity as an adolescent (why else change the protagonist’s name?). I feel like there’s a lot an opportunity to dive into the text and analyze it into next Tuesday, but my mind wandered away from every page, so I’m not up for the task.

What Went Wrong?

I loved that this title jumped right into the action. Andy is kidnapped on page 7, so there’s no dilly-dallying on getting to the plot, and that’s super exciting. But then the plot takes a nap for a bit:

We visit a flashback of Andy’s mother in which she meets the maker of the mirror maze that would kidnap her son in the future. This happens as she’s struggling to conceive, and the man tells her she will, and seals her future son’s fate à la the wizard in the Broadway version of “Wicked.” She then takes a walk on the beach. Back in present day she notices a change in her son and rues that kids grow up so fast and wishes her husband wasn’t so obsessed with marmalade. Back at the carnival, Dany eats cotton candy and sleeps in straw.

(Not) Walking the Line

We learn that carnies live forever and fly and read thoughts, but this is all revealed in language so didactic it may as well be a chemistry lecture (no offense to science, but you were my least favorite subject in school). Jordan, however, attempts to didactically show and not tell, but really all he does in withhold information.

There’s a thin line between coddling your reader and not giving enough, where showing and telling are in perfect balance and the reader’s imagination can fill in the blanks. This title jumped back and forth over that line while never walking it.

Overall, I wanted this book to be good so badly, but I’m out of patience.

2/5

Has anyone read this book all the way through? Should I give it another chance or am I making the right call?

 

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