Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique: A Tale of the Circuis Tresaulti (2011) is one of those Not My Thing books that I’m glad I read anyway, because it’s amazing how often Not My Thing books turn out to be differently rewarding than Your Thing, and then suddenly, they are Your Thing.
Reading this one was a little like standing very close to an eerie, fascinating mosaic and then walking slowly backwards to see the bits and pieces resolve into a coherent, impressive whole. Taking place in a nebulous, steampunky, fantastical post apocalyse-y universe, the novel focuses on the lives and exploits of the Circus Tresaulti, a disfunctional troupe of performers traveling the war-ravaged landscape. The assorted aerialists and jugglers and acrobats and other performers of the circus revolve around a larger-than-life ringmaster known only as Boss, who wields powers both persuasive and…other. As the book progresses, the true nature of her leadership begins to become clear, as do the internal and external power struggles threatening to group’s very existence.
I found Mechanique’s early pages intriguing and evocative, but also slightly off-putting; it felt a bit like a novel-length work written in short story protocol, composed in well written, thoughtful bursts that shift disorientingly from viewpoint to viewpoint, from first to second to third person. But the technique works, and as the latter stages grow more conventionally plotty, those early atmospheric sections pay off with a deeper, more satisfying grasp of the world and how its components interconnect. It makes for an offbeat and wholly unique reading experience, one I enjoyed more than I was expecting.