As a book reviewer you encounter books of many different styles, some good, some bad, some generic, some not so, and some that defy you place a label on them. It is one of the reasons why you go on, the eternal quest for a book that piques your interest in a sea of banality. It happens not as often as you would like, and when it does you get a real buzz, you want to tell everyone how good it is, you want everyone to read it, and you want everyone to agree that it is the best book ever. Then you get a book like Clown Wars: Blood & Aspic, a book that doesn't so much as defy the reader from putting a label on it, it is more a case of the book stuffing all the labels in its clown sized pants and daring you to pull a label out from one of its pockets.
Bizarre, grim, and darkly funny, Clown Wars is an ambitious novel that honks its big red nose at the readers expectations.
Set in a version of our world that has taken a step to left into a deviant and freakish variant of the world we know and love. It is a world where normals and clowns have lived for as long as anyone can remember in an Entente Cordiale, with both clowns and normals thinking the other one is weird. However, the peace is about to be shattered when a series of Clown like terrorist attacks against the normals throws the whole world into torment, and into a war that threatens to destroy both species. It is down to a small band of clown "conscripts" to find out who is behind these attacks and bring peace back to the two bloodlines.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Clown Wars is just another "quest" type story where our band of merry adventurers go on a "Yellow Brick Road " style journey, but don't be fooled by simple summary of the novel, for Clown Wars is so much more than that.
Clown Wars is a brave and bombastic novel, its genre hoping narrative challenges the readers misconceptions towards genre boundaries, it mixes, fantasy, comedy, horror, thriller, and social commentary into one bizzaro novel that captivates the reader with its sideways glance at our own world.
The gripping and tight narrative just manages to reign in the majestically crazy ideas and themes of the story. This is a clever novel that hides its big ideas behind a greasepaint mask of fantastical dark humour. Taken at face value the thrilling story a sort of twisted urban fantasy that riffs on such classics as Gangs of New York, The Untouchables and Gotham. In fact Gotham is one of the closest touching points for how the world of Clown Wars impinges on our version of reality. It has that samesort of "almost our world" feel of Gotham, but Clown Wars has a much darker and bizarre feeling to it than Gotham. But wipe away the greasepaint and reveal the real story beneath the mask and you have a intelligent novel that deals sympathetically with issues such as racism, segregation and isolation of those who appear to be different to us, and just how easily we can be manipulated to hate those who are different from us. It is never preachy or in your face, in fact for most of the story you won't be aware of these themes, it's only when you think about what you have just read that it seeps into front of your consciousness. A bold move from the co writers and one that pays off really well.
Tight plotting and the inclusion of some wonderful characters also keeps the narrative firmly on the ground, it could have been easy for the story to become more of farce but while it does have a wicked vein of humour and some genuine laugh out loud moments the story never loses sight of its purpose. And when combined with fantastic world building that plants the reader firmly in the middle of a cartoonish version of our world, that has clown schools, castes of clowns, and where John Wayne Gacy Jr is regarded as some sort of hero messiah you just know that you are in for a wild ride.
Clown Wars is a rewarding novel, it is like nothing else you will read this year, gripping, scary, it manages to put a heart into the myth and mystery of clowns, while still keeping them as a figure of fear. If you have a fear of clowns this book might not be for you, but if you are looking for novel that takes bold risks with genre constraints and the readers expectations, then this is the novel for you.