Bacchanal takes the dark carnival/circus setting and reinvigorates it
Henry crafts a rich blend of historical fiction and dark fantasy. Bacchanal is a strong debut novel, providing the reader with excellent magical realism.
In 1930s America, the Bacchanal travelling carnival stops at Eliza Meeks’ town. Eliza, a young black woman estranged from her family, is scouted by workers from the carnival due to her strange affinity with animals.
Eliza isn't the only one in Bacchanal with unique gifts; a series of vignettes reveal more and more of the supernatural nature of the carnival and its mysterious owner.
The central threat comes from the owner, who having made a deal with a demon, uses the carnival as a means to both the demon’s and her own goals.
Henry fills the novel with captivating characters and seamlessly shows their backgrounds without falling into exposition heavy back-stories. This allows the sub-plots to propel momentum and give the main plot space to breathe; the reader stays one step ahead of the protagonist during the slow burn to climax, maintaining tension.
It is clear that Henry has researched history and folklore. As a result, she is able to root the magical elements of the book in a sense of realism. This gives the darker aspects of the book a distinct sense of foreboding. It is also a refreshing delight to see non-European magic and folklore not sensationalised or othered.
Bacchanal takes the dark carnival/circus setting and reinvigorates it, blending the fantastic and the mundane with a perfect touch of horror.
Review by Bindi Lavelle
9/10 from 1 reviews
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