TITLE: The Troupe
AUTHOR: Robert Jackson Bennett
PUBLISHER: Orbit, 2011

THE BOOK: In an undefined turn-of-the-last-century time when vaudeville was still going strong, we meet young George Carole, a piano player at a small Vaudeville theatre in the middle of America somewhere/nowhere. Sixteen-year-old George is working at Otterman’s theatre for only one reason:  he hopes his father will play there someday so he can finally meet the man. But when he does finally track down his father’s vaudevillian troupe, nothing goes as planned.  His father, Hieronymus Silenus, is involved in something bigger and scarier than a simple entertainment and when George see the Silenus troupe play, his life is changed forever. Between the creepy puppet act, the tantalising dancing of the beautiful Colette, and the mesmerizing song that ends the act, George is fascinated.  But it is his encounter after the show with a spooky gray man who sucks all the light out of the world around him that decides George to sign on with the Troupe. Because Silenus is somehow using his show to battle back all the evil of the world.  Or is he?

MY TAKE:  This is one of those HUGE stakes fantasy novels, but with many more shades of gray (pun intended) than you see in standard old-skool epic fantasy.  We get an amazing cast of characters, each an onion whose layers get revealed slowly. Except for George, who is always as he seems: an awkward adolescent, alternately cocky and afraid, dealing with issues as big as the universe. The vaudeville setting and trappings are fun, but the meat of the book quickly moves beyond the show to the purpose beyond the show. The troupe gathers pieces of a song – the First Song, the song of the Creator — and sings that song in performances that help hold at bay forces of darkness that want to cover the world. Despite this premise, the book doesn’t veer too far into any particular religious territory.  The feel of this book is very dark, very portentous.  It reminded me in the best ways of Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes crossed with Gaiman’s American Gods.

THE GENRES: Fantasy/Horror/Historical Fiction
Fantasy:  This is first world fantasy, in that the setting is recognizably our own recent past rather than a traditional fantasy world. But the feel of it is quite different from the most common first world fantasy genre of urban fantasy. For one, it is not really set in a city. It is set on the road, and in the smaller towns that the Troupe plays. The stakes of the story are so high (the fate of the universe) which is more often found in High Fantasy, and the struggle against evil forces give this novel a gravitas and weight.
Horror:  It is very difficult to say where Dark Fantasy leaves off and Horror picks up, so I would say this could work well for both fan bases.  It is light on the gruesome and the gory, but has a fairly effective level of creepiness.
Historical Fiction: This does have a historical setting, but really that seems to only be because the author wanted the specific plot element of the Vaudeville troupe.  There is a small amount of information sprinkled about the book giving interested readers background on how vaudeville in general worked, the circuits, the typical structure of the acts, etc.  There is also a feel for the period, but not enough of one that I would give this to someone looking for Historical Fiction.


WHERE DID I GET IT?: Bought new

WHERE CAN YOU GET IT?: Shop Indie Bookstores or Amazon

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