August 08, 2012

BOOKS: The Troupe, Robert Jackson Bennett (2012)

The Troupe is a horror-tinged fantasy set in the world of vaudeville, where 16-year-old George Carole works as the house pianist in a midwestern theater. He's only in vaudeville for one reason, though; he's waiting for the Silenus Troupe to come back to town. The Troupe is led by the mysterious impresario Heironomo Silenus, whom George believes to be the father he has never met.

When George does find Silenus and his company -- puppeteer, exotic soprano, strongwoman, and mute cellist -- he discovers that they are connected to a mysterious and ancient battle between good and evil, in which nothing less than (you guessed it) the very existence of the universe is at stake. And you will also have guessed that as a descendant of the Silenus line, George has a key role to play in that battle.

The Troupe could stand to be edited by 50 pages or so. It runs nearly 500 pages, and the cycle of danger resolved by some convenient, but heretofore unmentioned, bit of magic or folklore gets rather repetitive.

But the characters are charming and vivid, and Bennett is excellent at creating a mood of creepy dread. The prose flows easily, and is slightly formal and heightened without being overly florid or poetic. The horror elements are genuinely scary, and never tip too far into mere gore for gore's sake.

Bennett's depiction of the era's less enlightened social attitudes is appropriate without being gratuitously offensive; his use of one character's homophobia, in fact, is quite striking in the way it sets up a major plot point, keeping that character from recognizing the true nature of one key relationship.

An unexpected pleasure.


Bonnie said...

I really enjoy your reviews - you have a similar taste in books to mine, and I've enjoyed discovering new books through your recommendations. I'm putting this one on my wish list - it sounds a bit similar to The Night Circus, which I really enjoyed.

Keith said...

Welcome, and thanks for the kind words!

The Night Circus is on to my to-be-read stack, and I should get to it sometime in the next couple of weeks.