Carnival of Ash

Written by Tom Beckerlegge
Review by Marilyn Pemberton

Sometime in the Renaissance era, Cadenza is a fictional city located in Italy, near enough to Venice for the inhabitants to be under constant fear of invasion. Cadenza is a city of words, where it is the poets who lead, poets who are worshipped, poets who have the power over life and death. Not all the inhabitants in the city are poets, but their occupations are all part of the process from the capturing of words from mouth to paper, their printing, their binding, their proclamation and their archiving.

The word “cadenza” can mean an exceptionally brilliant part of a literary work but also, in musical terms, it can mean an elaborate flourish introduced near the end of a movement. The book is split into twelve cantos, each one describing different inhabitants of Cadenza who contribute not only to the city’s brilliance but also to its final downfall. Beckerlegge has created a city where words are powerful, and like all artefacts of power they can be used to corrupt, deceive and even kill.

This is a fabulous book, and Beckerlegge uses words exquisitely to describe a world that is sometimes romantic but mostly damaged, carnal and ultimately dystopian. I loved this book, and so will any reader who enjoys beautifully written alternate historical fiction with a dash of fantasy and a smattering of blood. Highly recommended.