the Little Red Reviewer

The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Posted on: April 14, 2012

The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published in March 2012 from Orbit Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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George is sixteen years old – proud, naive, too talented for his own good, and a little too coddled by well meaning old ladies. And he wants what all teenagers want: validation. He wants his musical talents to be recognized by an applauding audience, and more than anything he wants to find his father. Currently employed as a pianist at a local Vaudeville theatre, George resigns the moment he learns the Silenus Troupe is in town. You see, George believes Heironomo Silenus is his long lost father. The moment he meets the man, his suspicions are confirmed, as George could easily be a younger, thinner Heironomo Silenus. Never the fatherly type, Silenus attempts to offer George what familial feelings he can.

George isn’t the only one looking for Silenus, and a new audience isn’t the only reason The Silenus Troupe moves on every few days. Tight on their heels are strange masked men dressed all in grey, creatures that aren’t quite human, aren’t quite of our world. There is something frightfully strange going on, and if Silenus isn’t going to tell George the truth, young George will just have to investigate and learn for himself.

Beyond the odd performances no one can rightly remember, in the Silenus Troupe nothing is as it seems, and yet, everything is sort of, exactly, as it seems. Their puppeteer Tyburn loves his puppets the way a saner person might adore children, their strongwoman Franny couldn’t possibly be able to lift the weights she does with her tiny frame, their singer Colette is mighty sensitive to racial issues for a royal Persian Princess, and their cellist Stanley never says a word. Their musical numbers are far more than musical numbers, and their magic show is something far darker and deeper than sleight of hand or visual trickery. Silenus is travelling the country looking for something specific, something he has obsessed about nearly his entire life.

George may have unwittingly brought Silenus a piece of what the troupe has been searching for. It’s certainly reason to celebrate, but this is a secret that’s best kept underwraps, best kept out of the spotlight and protected under lock and key. If the Men in Grey sniff him out, this could be the end of The Silenus Troupe. But as I said, George is young, proud, and sometimes infuriatingly naive. Like we all were at that age. George so craves his moment in the spotlight, but once he gets it, will he know what to do with it?

Part mystery, part coming of age, part horror and part urban fantasy, The Troupe is a very special book, the kind of book that sticks with you. The first twist comes pretty early, but after that it’s one unexpected surprise after another. An emotional roller coaster, with kindnesses gone wrong  sandwiched between cthonic horrors beyond description. Bennett’s prose reads easy and smooth, like a polished mirror reflecting a haunted version of reality.

Compelling, heart wrenching, deep and beautiful, I didn’t want to put this book down. I lost sleep over it, I nearly missed appointments because I was so engrossed in the reading of it. Like reading Gene Wolfe’s The Sorcerer’s House, now I want to read the entire thing again, both forwards and backwards, because I expect all the hints where there, staring me in the face, all along. I reference Gene Wolfe, but don’t think this is some heavy complicated tomb that you need a doctorate to figure out. No dictionary or wikipedia required, The Troupe required only that I sit back, engage my senses, and enjoy the show.

So many books I read have beautiful physical descriptions, of people and cities and clothing and castles, and as readers, we all love that kind of thing. The Troupe had all of that, and then Bennett took it the extra step of offering more than just the physical, far more than just the visual, giving the book a deeper texture than I expected. Wrapped in George’s oversensitive senses of smell and hearing, many scenes are peppered with the sounds and smells of confusion and pride and beauty and fear and all the sounds of creation.

That texture thing with the sounds and smells and the everything? It really, really spoke to me, on a tactile level.

As the story progresses it turns from coming of age story to a fight for well, everything, and I know I’m not the first reviewer who was reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and American Gods. If you liked either of those books, you’ll probably like The Troupe even more, as Bennett doesn’t stick the ending. Also, the scariest, best written, most disturbing fey court I’ve had the demented pleasure to come across.

This is the third novel for the award winning Bennett, and it is a tragedy he is so far under the radar. If you are going to read one new-to-you author this year, make it Robert Jackson Bennett.

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12 Responses to "The Troupe, by Robert Jackson Bennett"

You had me at ‘hello’ and then you went and threw in Neverwhere and Gaiman and so now I’m bowled over! I have to have this book – it sounds amazing – thriller/horror/gothic – the cover would have sucked me in anyways but your description has sealed the deal!
Lynn :D

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Lynn, you are totally going to love this one!

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Ha, how totally bloody cool are my library – they have a copy of this due in and I’m the first to reserve it – yes! Punches air!! (Can’t buy everything – I’d need to have a second mortgage or sell off body parts!)
Lynn :D

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I really liked this one too, although I thought it was much better than American Gods (which i found a bit lame). Great characters.
And Tyburn’s puppets! *shudder*

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see, I LOVED American Gods, and I still thought this was better!

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I am so glad you enjoyed this. I have it on my list, but I haven’t bought a copy yet. I wish I had pre-ordered!

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Just added this to the amazon shopping cart. Thanks for an excellent review.

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you’re welcome, and thanks for visiting! :D

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Adding this to my To Read list. I actually have a copy of The Company Man by RJB that I’ve been wanting to get to soon. Hopefully it’s as well written as this one is!

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[...] The Little Red Reviewer reviews THE TROUPE! Compelling, heart wrenching, deep and beautiful, I didn’t want to put this book down. I lost sleep over it, I nearly missed appointments because I was so engrossed in the reading of it. [...]

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[...] Bennett’s newest novel, The Troupe, and it was absolutely incredible. Seriously, go read my review.  I’ll [...]

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[...] The Little Red Reviewer, whose recommendations I always value, told me that “If you are going to read one new-to-you author this year, make it Robert Jackson Bennett.” [...]

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