Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do anything to get it? Something that captivated you from the first moment you saw it--and you knew that this thing would either make you happier than you ever thought possible, or it would destroy you. Would you work and wait an unknown amount of time? Work and live with people you did not like, who did not like you either? Suffer? Die? What if you were the creator of something that affected the people around you like this? Would bestowing your creation be a blessing or a curse? And how would you choose the recipients? These are just some of the questions explored in Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique: a tale of the Circus Tresaulti.
The Circus Tresaulti exists on the fringes of remaining civilization. It is one of the few beautiful things left in a post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged world in which cities are burned and crumbling shells of their former glory. The circus travels around the country visiting cities (or their remains) just once within a lifetime. It dazzles and amazes those in attendance, who may never see anything quite like it ever again, but will wish and hope for the chance. For the performers, it is a good but difficult life, and as long as the circus stays away from the fledgling governments that spring up--and often just as quickly burn out--it is relatively safe for them to travel and perform.
The circus has secrets: the performers who seem to be part human and part machine (some seeming to be more machine than would be thought possible); the aerialists who move more lightly than anyone possibly could do; and the mysterious Ringmaster, whose control over the performers appears to extend beyond their performances. And then there are the wings--a set of brass wings that Boss, the Ringmaster, created for her lover, Alec. They are beautiful, magical, and deadly. Alec died wearing them, and each person who witnessed that event has his or her own interpretation of what happened, how it happened, and why.
Tensions are building between two of the performers, who are at odds over the wings. Since Alec's death, the wings have hung in Boss's workshop and, while they have not been touched, they have become a source of great contention. What, if anything, is Boss going to do with the wings? And what will happen if she ever chooses to give them to someone else?
This is a dark, brutal, beautifully written fantasy novel with tinges of steampunk and the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world struggling to rebuild itself. The characters are richly drawn and detailed, and the story is presented in a series of short vignettes, ranging from part of a single page to a few pages in length. The prose is strong and at points almost lyrical. The narrative is not told in a linear fashion, but rather unfolds as the reader progresses, jumping back and forth in time to fill in the details. The first few chapters are both challenging and intriguing, as Valentine leaves a trail of literary breadcrumbs and urges the reader to follow them until he or she finds the narrative trail and, eventually, a clearing of greater understanding of the characters, their world and, most importantly, the circus itself.