The beginning of The Darker Carnival put me in mind of one of the most poetically harrowing carnivals ever, the carnival of Something Wicked This Way Comes (my review), particularly when a traveling salesman pitches a lightning rod to Markhat. It took me a chapter or two to shake off the echoes, but it helped that Markhat is an adult married man, guardian to a banshee, and generally more of curmudgeonous sort than twelve year-olds filled with wonder. It wasn’t long before I sank into the city of Rannit and the malice of the carnival. It proved to be a fine installment in the series.
Markhat has a new commission, courtesy once again of Mama Hog, neighbor and crone extraordinaire. A rural couple’s young daughter has been missing ever since the family attended the carnival and she caught the attention of the Master. That night she disappeared, and though her father followed the carnival and searched, just once was able to catch a glimpse of her, in a tent advertising a “living dead girl.” The parents have tracked the show to the city of Rannit and would like Markhat to Find her. The task pulls in much of the usual gang: Mama Hog, Buttercup the banshee, and Markhat’s wife, Darla, with token appearances from his apprentice Gertriss and Evis the vampire. The investigation brings Markhat more strangeness than anyone could have expected.
“All right. We regroup. Devise a new strategy. Put on fresh pants and round up bigger guns. Then what?” Mama Hog has a solution: “I reckon,” she said, “we’ll have to go about things like they done in olden days.” “Which was?” “Cut throats till ye run out of necks.”
One of the things I enjoy about the series is the playfulness of the writing. To integrate humor and yet achieve the edges of fear and horror, such as when Markhat deals with the Dark Carnival, is one of the reasons I keep reading this series.
“The newly-cleared path ran a mile before reaching the river. I passed all manner of horrors and wonders, most of them engaged in ill-advised acts or flirtation with ladies who weren’t dressed for winter, but not a single one of the waybills or posters advertised a living dead girl.”
“‘May I ask what wage you are paid, to mock and demean?’
‘Five coppers a word,’ I said. “Six, if I manage to fit in ridicule.’
He laughed. The sound was abrupt and dry and harsh… Thorkel’s laughter sounded like a jackal’s cry, humorless and cruel.”
I appreciated how Tuttle put some constraints on Markhat’s powers, as well as his powerful allies. It can be a challenge to create an antagonist that holds up to the abilities of the team, particularly when Markhat has allies such as the Corpsemater and vampires with gunpowder. I admit, I’m a bit disappointed to see that guns are still making a one-sided appearance in the series, giving a particularly convenient way out. It also occurs to me that Markhat doesn’t do as much mystical ‘finding’ anymore as much as using common sense and dogged spirit, much like detectives everywhere. Not that I mind, but it does leave me remembering questions about his skills that were raised early in the series. There are some scenes where it is apparent his powers are changing, but he blames it on events in prior books, not necessarily skills intrinsic to him. So I’m left wondering, and puzzling why he seems to be failing to ask himself questions when he’s a questioning kind of guy. I also find myself agreeing with Carly (her review) in noting that the justification provided in the finale didn’t quite match the level of malevolence in the carnival. Personally, I was disappointed that Markhat seemed determined to give himself a solid guilt trip over the necessary outcome.
Overall, though, it is a pleasurable book to read, and a solid series installment that leaves me interested in reading more about Markhat’s adventures. And even re-reading some of the earlier books.
Thanks to NetGalley and Samhain Publishing for the advanced reader copy.