on March 15th 2022
An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.
Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.
Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…
Thank you to The Write Reads and the publisher for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The first thing I heard about The Carnival of Ash was ‘a city about poets and librarians’. I loved it and saw great potential. Sadly, it didn’t feel like a lyrical fantasy, as the blurb said. It’s an alternative history book set in Italy, focusing on the fictional city Cadenza. I haven’t discovered any fantastical magic, only the power of words and greed.
The book is divided into twelve parts, each its own story, but since they’re all set in the same city, you’ll see the characters making a cameo in each other’s stories. Carlo is the first protagonist we meet and an unlikeable character. He comes across as an entitled brat who feels the world has wronged him and death is the only solution. After finishing this part and thinking about it a little more, I came to the conclusion it read like a fable where characters are caricatures, weaknesses blown out of proportion for comedic effect. Or maybe just effect.
It’s written in a specific literary style. Lyrical, purple prose, old fashioned. If someone had given me this book without knowing its release date, I wouldn’t say it was published this century or even last century. If you’re looking for something like this, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re expecting a sweeping fantasy story about words becoming magic, you’ll be disappointed. I’d recommend you do your research before getting this. Read the sample, request it from a library, borrow it from a friend. Get a taste of the writing so you know if it’s for you or not.
I’ll be honest, I was disappointed when I found out it’s more alternative history than fantasy. Not because of what it is, but what the same premise with fantastical elements could be. Throw in that magic, some dragons, or other mythical creatures. The muses or other gods even. As a fantasy book, I would rate it much lower than I’ll do now.
I give The Carnival of Ash four stars. This rating is based on the book itself and not the marketing behind it. I’ll only recommend it to fans of (alternative) historical fiction or maybe even literary fiction. It’s definitely not a book for everyone and I think the marketing is a little deceiving, but I’m sure some people will enjoy this one a lot.