Monday, May 9, 2016

Carousel - a comedia dell'arte fantasy - by Jennifer Renson

Morning, commies!
I am thrilled to host an award-winning YA fantasy author, Jennifer Renson. I read her fantasy novel Carousel in one gulp. 
After living in the countryside for years, Princio returns to his homeland, the tiny yet prosperous Kingdom of Lucca, upon the orders of his dying grandfather. Living alone in the annexed building next to the palace, Princio is discovered by the kingdom’s chief doll maker, Feletti, who purposely withholds his knowledge of Princio’s past in order to gain his trust and friendship. Princio believes Feletti to be a true friend until he meets Marian, a girl with a penchant for cooking and a natural curiosity, and their chance meeting in the kingdom’s carousel sets off a series of events with the potential to change everything. As Princio, Marian, and Feletti’s dark secrets begin to unfurl, their lives slowly come to light – as love hangs delicately in the balance...

My thoughts
Every fantasy realm has its roots in a particular ethnic tradition. Lord of the Rings is rooted in Norse mythology. Jennifer Renson draws her inspiration from the comedia dell'arte aesthetics. I have not seen many fantasy tales set in southern Europe, so I am delighted to a fantasy novella set in pseudo-Romanesque universe. You have Feletti, an enigmatic, pseudo-demonic doll maker/puppet master, and Marian, his creation. If you are a fan of The Nutcracker, you probably will compare Feletti to Drosselmeyer. The whole concept of a doll coming to life is archetypal and universal. (For a brief moment, I had a flashback to Ridley Scott's Bladerunner.) There is a touch of the Pygmalion myth, the creator falling in love with his own creation.

Masks are a running motif. Interestingly, it is a romantic hero who believes himself to be ugly and therefore hides his faced underneath the mask. In the western tradition, it is the female who suffers from the body dysmorphic disorder. Although, there are several timeless tales of a deformed male with a noble soul. I guess, the western world can accept a deformed hero - or one who perceives himself to be deformed - but for a woman, being anything less than doll-like is unacceptable.  Hence, the prevalence of BDD among western women.

There are references to various Christian holidays and Catholic practices. So while this is not a "Christian" or "inspirational" fantasy, it is a fantasy set in the context of Catholicism. The Pope and the Catholic church provide an esthetic backdrop. The tone is not evangelical in the least.

Overall, I adore how boldly the author flirts with the traditional fairy-tale archetypes, turning them topsy-turvy and rearranging them. The author's clean, innocent, forward "once upon a time" narrative makes the novella accessible for younger readers yet sophisticated enough for older readers. I would be delighted to see it as a graphic novel. I can only imagine what a gifted illustrator could do with all the rich imagery.

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