Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith
Hellequin, last of the HawkEye military elite, is desperate to escape the legacy of Soul Food, the miraculous plant food that leeched the soil, destroyed his family, and instigated a bloody civil war. For a man awaiting the inevitable madness brought on by his enforced biomorph implant, there’s only one choice. Run away with the circus…
Drifting above a poisoned landscape, Cyber Circus and her exotic acrobats and bioengineered freaks bring a welcome splash of colour into folk’s drab lives. None more so than escaped courtesan turned-dancer Desirous Nim. When Nim’s freedom and her very life are threatened, Hellequin is forced to fight again. But, even united, will the weird troupe and their strange skills be enough to save Nim and keep their home aloft? That’s assuming, of course, that Zan City’s Blood Worms, mute stowaways, or the swarms don’t manage to bring them down first…
Welcome to the greatest show on Sore Earth!
Last year I read Tourniquet and thoroughly enjoyed the author’s iconoclastic take on a neo-gothic future Nottingham. Based on that experience, I made a promise to myself that I would definitely read Kim Lakin-Smith’s next novel when it was published. I’m embarrassed to say that due to other commitments I have been denied that chance up until now.
The Cyber Circus is constantly travelling, scratching out a living wherever and whenever they can. Hot on their heels is the pimp D’Angelus. He’s determined to reclaim what he sees as his property, Desirous Nim. In addition to that he is also lusting after Rust, the wolf girl. His growing obsession forces the circus to keep on moving as they try to avoid the mercenaries that D’Angelus has hired to track them down.
One of my favourite things about this novel is the wonderful characterisation. As you read, it becomes evident that Lakin-Smith has taken care to give each of her creations their own fully developed backstory. There are just so many great characters to discover and enjoy. Though Hellequin and Nim take centre stage, I have to admit I developed a bit of a fondness for the chief pitchman, Pig Heart, and a group of children known as The Scuttlers. I can see Hellequin becoming a fan favourite though, as he takes it on himself to protect the Circus and most specifically, Nim. There are some brilliant moments where he cracks heads and causes no end of grief for his enemies.
Reading Cyber Circus feels like a steampunk mash-up of two, sadly short lived but excellent, genre television shows – Firefly and Carnivale. Lakin-Smith has effortlessly captured the detail of the lives of the carnival folk (carnies). Like Carnivale, you get genuine insight into how the circus functions, the reader gets to see what goes on behind the curtains that lead to back stage.
The carnies are one big dysfunctional family. They may not always get on but they look out for one another when push comes to shove. It’s the interactions between them all that make this a very readable ensemble piece.
After the main story is finished, there is a second tale that acts as almost a Wizard of Oz-esque prequel. It’s a genuine strength of the writing that I was starting to imagine the events unfolding in a grainy black and white as opposed to the vivid technicolour of the narrative that preceded it. This prequel also hints that there are many more voices from Sore Earth still left to be heard, next time I certainly won’t wait months to discover them. Highly recommended.
Cyber Circus is published by NewCon Press and is available now.