I had never heard of Genevieve Valentine until the whole Readercon debacle occurred, so had I seen Mechanique: a Tale of the Circus Tresaulti prominently displayed on the new fiction shelf of my local library, say, two months ago, I probably would've walked right past it without a second glance on my way to checking out the current issue of Fine Woodworking on the magazine racks. As it was, I stopped to look at it as soon as I noticed the name on the cover. I still almost put it back. I don't enjoy circuses. The acts presented rarely do much for me. On the other hand, I do seem to enjoy stories about the circus. I love Barry Longyear's Circus World books*, and Circus Boy, starring a very young Mickey Dolenz, not to mention Jim Rockford's pop, was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid. I figured what the heck.
* Once at an autograph signing, I mentioned to Longyear that I never really liked the circus, but that I really enjoyed his books about it. He replied that before he wrote the books he wasn't much of a fan, either.
It's the story of a small circus traveling through a post-apocalyptic world, although it much more steampunk fantasy than science fiction. Most of the performers are mechanically enhanced by Boss, the ringmaster, with the enhancements tailored to their acts. Boss's abilities catch the eye of the head of the local government, who imagines what those abilities could do for him, and trouble ensues.
It was a difficult book to get into. It has lots of very short (sometimes just a single paragraph) chapters, and the narrative is very non-linear, especially early on as the back story is brought out. It reminded me a bit of Vonnegut's Cats Cradle. In addition, the narrative point of view bounces from first person (for Little George's story, the main character), to third person (for the other characters' stories), and even occasionally to second person. The narrator also makes occasional parenthetical asides, much like video pop-ups. It takes some getting used to. The main plot takes awhile to get going as well. All that said, it was worth the effort. I was always interested and quite enjoyed it. I'm glad I picked it up.