Criminy’s Clockwork Carnival was in full swing.
This is a novella, so the shorter page count (100ish pgs) hampers character and plot depth a bit, but I think the author did a fantastic job with what she had. This is listed in the Blud series as coming before Book 1 – Wicked as They Come but as the main couple from Wicked is already together, I wasn't sure why. Even if familiar or not, you'll get an introduction and refresher on the various characters that make up Master Criminy's Clockwork Carnival. The world building leaves a little bit to be desired as it isn't fully explained how Blud people and animals (vampire like creatures) exist in this other world; it is like Victorian time period Earth but not quite.
She stared down into the nest of books and hidden miracles. Before, the trunk had held hope. Now, in the wrong hands, it held evidence enough to hang her.
“If you’ll trust me, I think I know how best to keep your charges safe.”
Their eyes met over the trunk. She felt as if she stood on a precipice, one step away from freedom or doom. “I find that I trust you, Mr. Murdoch.”
“God help you, Madam Morpho.”
You'll feel for Imogen as you learn her story, Mr. Murdoch less so as I don't think he ever fully emerged from the shadows and fully showed up on the pages. He builds the clockworks and mechanics for the caravan carnival, I would have liked to have seen him interact more with his creations and what was the story behind his partner/friend Vil? They were a calm, cool, and tentative couple and I liked how they worked together but, again, the page count wasn't quite there to build their relationship.
Arm-in-arm, they watched Torno lift his weights, his strength defying physics thanks to Criminy’s magic. Emerlie juggled hedgehogs and rode her unicycle high up on the wire, her lime and magenta costume glowing against the velvety night sky. Next up came Abilene and Eblick and the two-headed Bludman, each waiting behind a curtain to amuse and entertain and, in the twins’case, terrify. A collection of bizarre creatures floating in large jars of liquid was surrounded by a crowd so deep that Imogen caught only a glimpse of the horrors within. They passed Letitia in her turban, telling fortunes in a sequin-spangled tent.
Even though the overall world building was somewhat absent, the immediate caravan carnival world was delightfully detailed and created. There was a sense of unknown, magic, wildness, freedom, jovial companionship, and troubles. I wish I could see the shows.
“Her name is Madam Morpho,” Henry said sharply. “And she doesn’t speak to the riff-raff.”
The main story thread comes from Imogen on the run from her former boss and hiding out in the caravan. I thought the sense of danger and romance was eclipsed by the descriptions of the people and clockworks that made up the caravan carnival. I also thought the magic and wonder of the butterflies Imogen stole got lost in the mix, they could have brought more sense of wonder if utilized more. The ending brought an extremely gruesome conclusion to the issue of Imogen being in danger. I suggest reading this in October to appreciate and enjoy the grisly ending, the spooky vampire like creatures, and the sense of magic and wonder.
“Imogen,” he said, voice ragged as he stepped closer to her, his feet brushing the wide swing of her skirts. “Are you aware that I haven’t seen a woman this close in more than six years?”
“That seems excessive,” she murmured. “Are we such fierce creatures?”