Thursday, 12 April 2012

Review | The Troupe - Robert J. Bennett

An urban fantasy - and quite possibly the best such I've read this year - The Troupe is the story of, well, just what it says on the tin. George Carole, a pianist, leaves his theatre and home for the eponymous troupe. Why? He believes its leader, Silenus himself, to be his father - but what he finds is far stranger. The troupe are on the run, Silenus and Stanley are hiding something (well, the Silenus Troupe is hiding a number of somethings), and George's horizons are about to expand far beyond vaudeville.

The Troupe is an urban fantasy, yes, but it's not in the tradition of the recent generation; not the hard, rule-based fantasy of Butcher and similar authors. The closest comparison I can make is to a Guy Gavriel Kay novel set slightly less historically than his habit: The Troupe's world is a mysterious, dying era - introduced in a lyrical Kay-esque fashion, and featuring a similar element of tragedy. Because The Troupe is not a happy book. It's not light, 'fun fantasy', as I've previously described novels such as The Accidental Sorcerer - it's the story of a battered troupe with a goal, and naturally, of George himself. Who makes just as many mistakes, bad decisions, and cringe-inducing statements as you might expect of any young man in reality - but in a worse context. That's not to say it's all tragic, or at all unenjoyable: it's far from monotonous. And naturally, there is success as well.

I'd rather not spoil certain elements of the characters and worldbuilding for potential readers, but as I've mentioned, Bennett's world here follows an older urban fantasy tradition: mystery. By the novel's end, we're extremely familiar with certain fantastical elements, but others meanwhile are merely suggested, or just glimpsed. It's clear that there's a lot more of the fantastic out there than we get to see in the novel, and I like that - the world of The Troupe feels far from empty even when the story's done. Similarly, the characters of Silenus' company have hidden depths, and Frannie in particular became rather intriguing. Stanley, silent and simultaneously the most likeable character there, was also an engaging addition - and Silenus himself was a rather more ambiguous character.

The typical fantasy adolescent is a rare breed - apparently temperamental, while simultaneously being brilliant, faultless, and skilled at just about everything (not to mention the Chosen One). Thankfully, The Troupe averts this: George is just as flawed as any real chracter, and perhaps more so. He's not, however, that likeable in my mind. Though certainly sympathetic, his convictions and character changed too rapidly for my taste, and my only criticism would perhaps be that his actions are almost universally flawed, and a more even (and less wince-inducing!) balance could have been achieved. But that's a matter of personal taste.

The ending, however, is where The Troupe excels. I absolutely loved it - it's at times bittersweet, completely fitting, and simultaneously makes it clear that this is not a 'happily ever after'. Things will go on in the novel's setting. It's a pet peeve of mine when a novel succeeds in eradicating all loose ends from its own setting, and it's to The Troupe's credit that with such an easily-conveyed premise (which sorry, you'll just have to read and find out!) it doesn't do this. If you're looking for something Kay-esque with a more modern bent, I highly recommend this.


  1. Excellent! *adds to basket* :)

    1. Hehe, I'll look out for your review - I think you'll enjoy this one. :)

  2. arrghh, all my favorite bloggers are getting their reviews of The Troupe up before me! ya'll suck, but I love you anyway.

    and I LOVED The Troupe! Everything about it, I just couldn't get enough of. I want an entire series of these books.

    and I sort of felt that it did have a happy ending. Or as happy as possible, given the circumstances.

    1. Do I get an evil cackle there? I think I do. :P

      Yes, it was great! The ending itself, yes, was rather happy - have to agree there. But what I mean was that it wasn't a 'everything is settled, happily ever after'-style ending! Actually, it's one of the most satisfying endings I've read for a while.

    2. total evil cackle moment for you there. ;)

      and yes, now I completely get what you meant about the ending. :D