Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Title: Pantomime
Author: Laura Lam
Buy through Strange Chemistry
Amazon buy link
Cover Artist: Tom Bagshaw
Genre: fantasy, YA
Length: 392 pages (US paper edition), 4400 Kindle locations so I’m estimating about 130k words
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, print

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.


This book is not at all what the blurb makes it look like. That’s fine, we’ve seen star-crossed lovers before. We haven’t seen the premise of this book before.

There’s really no way to talk about this book without what I consider a small spoiler: Micah is Gene, Iphigenia, run away from her family before they perpetrate a massive act of betrayal upon her. This book earned its place in this review site by the gender-bending aspects of Gene’s makeup and how he chooses to deal with it. All the clues are there from the beginning, both voices are the same and in first person, so if they weren't the same person, it would be weird. The demands of being female in this society sit very uncomfortably upon Gene: being the androgynous Micah in the circus is a more comfortable if less affluent fit.

Micah takes to the circus life well, making friends, learning to be an aerialist, decoding the politics that simmer underneath the greasepaint, and even acquiring a girlfriend. The sexual aspects of their relationship are very low-key, as Micah and Aenaia keep what little they do off page. (Okay, the MM reader in me wanted more details, but this is YA and the reticence is appropriate.) His involvement in the politics of the realm, mostly as a pawn to be played, make him keep his head down and his secrets clutched to his chest, even if another sharp-eyed outcast puts two and two together.

It’s not a romance, but that’s okay, I read epic fantasy with QUILTBAG characters where romance isn’t the plot arc.

The language is lovely, the plot elements of the mysterious, departed Alder who have left remnants of their magic and their artifacts (which kind of look like advanced engineering, but here it’s magic), and the current unrest and how Micah fits into it blend together well, but more questions are raised than ever answered.

The plot crawls.

This book is 392 pages long. And it is the opening act of the story arc.

Everyone who remembers three act structure, raise your hand. The rest of you can peek here.

Some might say that this story ends on a major cliffie, but no, it doesn’t. What it ends on is the inciting incident that directs Act II. Absolutely nothing is resolved, no questions are answered, and a major plot element is resurrected at the end as actually being important rather than a bit of throwaway background. Dozens of plot elements have been introduced, nothing is done with them. Huge chunks of backstory, some only peripherally related to the current action. I read this book and finished all damned 392 pages in a fury, because I have been lied to. This is the opening book of what might be a two book arc, more probably three.

Nowhere on the publisher’s site is this disclosed. A teeny tiny note at the bottom of the listing states that there’s a second book in the series. Bullshit. It’s Act II.

The Amazon listing makes it look like “Strange Chemistry” is the series title. WTF? That’s the name of the publisher. Says so right here.

Regulars here know my feelings on undisclosed serials. Tell me what’s what and let me decide if I want to get involved. Lie to me and I will cut you.

This was sold to me as a complete, standalone story. It isn’t, and when I went to grab the blurb and publisher link off Goodreads, the truth is there to be seen, probably put there by another disgruntled reader. Book 1, book 2. Coming soon. I haven’t decided if I’m too angry to read it. I slogged through 392 pages of buildup, not complete story. And it was a slog, don't think it wasn't because each and every scene added buildup but no conclusion, no satisfaction.  It’s likely to take another 900 pages to work up acts II and III to a satisfying denouement. The payoff would have to be greater than getting that Ring through Mordor to Mount Doom.

What I’ve seen so far is okay but not nearly enough to make me anxious to spend another six or eight or ten hours plus a six month or year wait between volumes getting to whatever final resolution Laura Lam might get around to providing. I have no problem with one Really Big Book getting divided into manageable pieces. Just be open that’s what’s happening.

Life’s short. This fragment of a book is long.2.75 marbles

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