Book Review: SMILER’S FAIR by Rebecca Levene

Title in navy on a two-tone moon on navy
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 2 stars
Series: yes - first book of trilogy
CW: rape, gore


Book cover for SMILER'S FAIR: title on a moon on blue sky

Yron the moon god died, but now he’s reborn in the false king’s son. His human father wanted to kill him, but his mother sacrificed her life to save him. He’ll return one day to claim his birthright. He’ll change your life.

He’ll change everything.

Smiler’s Fair: the great moving carnival where any pleasure can be had, if you’re willing to pay the price. They say all paths cross at Smiler’s Fair. They say it’ll change your life. For five people, Smiler’s Fair will change everything.

In a land where unimaginable horror lurks in the shadows, where the very sun and moon are at war, five people – Nethmi, the orphaned daughter of a murdered nobleman, who in desperation commits an act that will haunt her forever. Dae Hyo, the skilled warrior, who discovers that a lifetime of bravery cannot make up for a single mistake. Eric, who follows his heart only to find that love exacts a terrible price. Marvan, the master swordsman, who takes more pleasure from killing than he should. And Krish, the humble goatherd, with a destiny he hardly understands and can never accept – will discover just how much Smiler’s Fair changes everything.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


If I’d seen the back cover quotes, and not just a blurb online, I probably wouldn’t have read this book. One of the quotes calls it “a little bit grimdark.” It’s a lot more than a little bit and confirmation that the sub-genre is not for me.

The thing that really gets me with grimdark is all the sexual violence that’s not interrogated – it simply feels like sexual violence is being used “to show the world is dark and sexual violence is just the way of things and nothing can be done about it.” This book at least doesn’t show women being raped (but DOES talk about it an awful lot in a casual, offhand way, either just “this is how it is” or as motivation for men to get revenge.) There is also sexual violence against one of the male characters (who’s a prostitute.)

The sub-genre’s overuse and almost reliance on sexual violence (predominantly against women) for (male) motivation and to show the world is dark just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. There are so many other ways to show a world is dark and “gritty”, and to give characters motivation that don’t feel like their trivialising the trauma people go through.

SMILER’S FAIR is also one of those epic fantasies that has unconnected POVs, which I always struggle with. There are 5 POVs who only start to vaguely link up in the second half, and then in pairs and not really together. I wasn’t really sure who I was meant to latch onto and care about as the primary POV, as it feels like it should have been Krish, but he was dull.

There was then a sixth POV added at page 150, unconnected to all the rest other than searching for Krish. Yet another POV came in around page 200, who had at least been seen in another POV and was also searching for Krish. Still, it was a lot of POVs in 400 pages (that’s barely more than an average of 55 pages per person, which is not enough time to get to know them. The main 5 had more pages, but still.)

They don’t even really link for the finale. One is somewhere else entirely and the others are in pairs of threes, some more loosely linked (by being in the same place, for example) than others. It’s just not satisfying, because it doesn’t feel like the book every builds to anything or goes anywhere as no one’s really progressed in any of their very loosely defined goals.

I will not be continuing this series.

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