Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: The Troupe

Review: The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett (for Chunkster challenge)

I enjoy backstage novels, particularly ones about theater, vaudeville and magic -- think of Lives of the Circus Animals, Carter Beats the Devil and Niagara Falls All Over Again. Also, I have a taste for urban or alternative-history fantasy. So The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett, was up my alley. The book held my attention and drew me into a world framed by the impossibility of order -- and a chaos surrounding and attempting to disrupt and destroy that order. And, of course, it's set during the era of turn-of-the-century vaudeville. A young pianist sets out from his Ohio town to find a troupe of performers whose act borders on the other-worldly; audience members can't quite seem to remember what they have seen, but they like what they saw. Complicating the matter is the fact that the pianist believes his father is the leader of the troupe, and a strange set of nearly faceless men are pursuing the same troupe. The characters within the troupe -- particularly a singer claiming to be from Persia and an especially odd ventriloquist -- are exceptionally well-drawn; these are flawed people fighting a fight in ways that may not be the most effective. The hero is tested, and he discovers more about himself than he ever suspected. Bennett evokes the period without burying the plot in research, and his prose style is accessible and energetic. The novel isn't particularly deep, but fans of The Magician King will appreciate its tone.

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