Carnies by Martin Livings

Carnies by Martin Livings

Posted 2014-07-05 by Jennifer Muirheadfollow
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Paul is a down and out amateur photographer, who has walked with a limp since an accident some years earlier. His older brother, David, is a journalist fighting to hold on to his job in a changing work environment. When an anonymous note invites him to a mysterious, tiny carnival in the small town of Tillbrook, David smells a story and invites Paul along to take the photos. The two brothers quickly discover that all is not what it seems with the Dervish Carnival. Paul finds himself drawn to the beautiful fortune teller, Rachel, and trespasses at the carnival after hours. When he doesn't return, David, who has always tried to protect his much younger brother, tries to rescue Paul and bring him home but it may already be too late for both of them.

It's difficult to say too much more about the book without spoiling it. In fact, I will give a minor spoiler, look away now if you're worried about it. Ready?


Carnies is a werewolf story, though I don't think the word “werewolf” is ever actually mentioned. Martin Livings has a fresh take on werewolf lore, and the change was handled differently than I have ever seen it done before. There's no guy on girl biting-as-metaphor-for-rape, as comes up all too often in werewolf books. It's more of a sins of Eve vs gift from the mother kind of vibe, with the propensity to become a werewolf being passed down only through the female line, so that a bite is not enough to change a person unless the wolf was already in their blood. Instead of changing back and forth, on reaching adulthood the werewolves choose one form, usually human, and remain that way all the time, though with the gifts of enhanced senses and healing ability. However, it's not all fun and games since they are of course allergic to silver, and are forced to live as outcasts apart from human civilisation. Rightly so, since superpowers are a bit boring if they don't come with a price.

I enjoyed the book overall, but I did have one or two issues with it. I think I have I really dislike it when female characters are offhandedly murdered to make a point, as happens in Carnies, but then so were some of the men so I suppose all is fair in love and war. There are other female characters in the story who are actually given something to do and actively try to improve their lot, namely Rachel, the alpha female and Jasmine, the feisty young woman who brings Paul into the pack.

It makes a nice change to read a horror story set in Australia, though the setting is not really important to the story. In fact it's only due to a few little language clues that you'd notice it was set here. That will probably give the book more of an international appeal since there's nothing in there that an overseas reader wouldn't understand. If anyone wanted to pick it to turn into the next Hollywood blockbuster it would be nice and easy to move it to the American midwest and cast all Australian actors but make them all speak in American accents for no good reason. Naomi Watts could play Jasmine.

There's quite a bit of gore, so squeamish folk beware. There's also a sex scene and a fair bit of coarse language. I found some aspects of the plot a bit implausible, but I could overlook those while immersed in the story. There was some really spooky imagery, as well as an emotional story about two brothers trying to find their place in the world and transcend their terrible upbringing.

Carnies is a quick read from a fresh new voice in Australian horror writing. It was nominated for both the Ditmar and Aurealis awards and is available in ebook format through Cohesion Press .


253478 - 2023-07-19 07:45:46


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