Release Date: 15/3/22
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 57
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free ARC copy from Rebellion in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. I was then invited on the blog tour by The Write Reads
An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.
Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.
Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…
There are a vast number of trigger warnings in this book: suicidal thoughts, gore/body horror, violence, sexual violence, torture, rape, murder, grotesque styled descriptions featuring – ableism, sexism, misogyny, fatphobia, which are centred in the style of prose chosen.
This book is almost indescribable. It is just truly outstanding. I read it when I was first sent the ARC in early 2022 to then be invited on the blog tour and I had to re-read it to try and collate my thoughts other than Wow!
This book is completely unique. I adored the way it was structured. Told through a series of vignettes, or Cantos as they are called in the book, each of which is told from a new perspective, which on its own can for its own stand alone tale but they also mix and weave together to tell a greater story of the city. It is a commedia dell’arte, with the same 17th century feel. It even follows the same themes of old age, sex, love, jealousy all interweaving to tell expose the city. Its about the dark and ugly thoughts of the cities inhabitants and how those thoughts and actions have coalesced to form the city, and its dark shadows hiding behind its shining colonnades.
The descriptions of the city itself are very vivid, you would be remiss not to believe Cadenza was not a real place at one time. The descriptions of the towers, streets, rivers and piazzas mirrored with those of its arch nemesis Venice give it a real solid feeling. Like you have dove into a text written in the 17th century accounting the revelry and debauchery of the city and exposing all its secrets.
The characters are not loveable, they are vile and despicable, each out for their own motives. The stories are dark and uncomfortable, there is no majesty in any of their pursuits. This is what I loved so much. As each story in the city progresses it gets darker and more and more of the interweaving narratives and the passage of time in the city is exposed. There is as much unwritten and inferred story as there is story told and I really really enjoyed that. This became even more evident to me how the details of each story played off one another on my second read and I am so glad I did as there was just such a rich tapestry unfolding quietly in the background of each tale.
The use of language is very thick and luscious. It is in keeping with the classical renaissance setting of the book adding so much more to the worldbuilding. I found it very absorbing, drawing you into the darkness in the city and exposing the nature of it all behind the shining library towers. I can see why some may find this off putting it is very heavy prose. It can be read as being grotesque in its descriptions, particularly of women and the elderly, there is a lot of body horror, for me this was more a literary device. These descriptions are often of the characters themselves and they hold a mirror to the city exposing the dark currents underneath, much like the grotesques found on classical architecture or the twisting of characters like Punchinello (Punch) it has that commedia dell’arte feel about it. Therefore, this book not fantasy in the more modern sense of the genre, it again is fantasy in the way is an alternate history that is structured similarly to the styles of a Punch and Judy script, or the classical Italian comedies, with its mockery of its subjects. I know many will find that distasteful which is a shame as it is a phenomenally well constructed and written book.
Overall, I just thought this was stunning. It is unlike anything I have read recently. multiple layers of story just told in the most fitting way and painting a phenomenal picture of this fictional city. It is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.