Sometimes, the hardest thing to review is a genuinely good book, at least, without resorting to meaningless fluff words like "gripping", "great" and "brilliant". But they need to be reviewed, if only to bring them to the attention of other readers.
Here are three books that deserve better reviews than they're about to receive. Sadly, this is less a serious critical evaluation than a "lookit!". These are all terrific, and, dare I say it, "gripping".
Robert Jackson Bennett is quietly building up an impressive body of work. Mr. Shivers was genuinely creepy, The Company Man was a great SF/noir cross-overs (although the ending really disappointed me) and The Troupe (2012) may be his best yet. Circuses are a hot topic right now, and The Troupe's vaudevillian theme runs the risk of getting it lost in the crowd. But, although there are similarities with Cyber Circus, Mechanique and (especially) The Night Circus, The Troupe takes a different tack: this is an epic fantasy, set against the background of the Depression. George Carole is a young (and talented) pianist, off on a search to find his father, the great performer Hieronomo Silenus. When he does, he finds himself entangled in a greater quest: Silenus is piecing together fragments of the Great Song, in the hopes of fighting off the forces of darkness.
It sounds silly (and, to be honest, it is), but Mr. Bennett quietly utilises the tropes of the traditional high fantasy epic to create a clever and oddly heart-warming story. George is a precocious, likable protagonist, even as he makes all the wrong decisions. Silenus is a Machiavellian grump, and the forces of darkness are alternately creepy and charming. The Troupe is a well-produced show, with all the bit players getting their time under the spotlight. And that's where it varies the most (and the most interestingly) from the fantasy tradition: George may be the protagonist, but everyone is the hero of their own story.