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The Hollow Gods #1

Smiler's Fair

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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.

404 pages, Hardcover

First published July 31, 2014

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About the author

Rebecca Levene

44 books76 followers
British author, editor and tv storyliner.
Educated at Clare College, Cambridge.
She has written books for Virgin's Doctor Who line, Abbadon books and Black Flame.
She also writes for Doctor Who Magazine and SFX.

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5 stars
184 (19%)
4 stars
368 (38%)
3 stars
263 (27%)
2 stars
116 (12%)
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33 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 176 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,099 reviews44.1k followers
August 21, 2015
There have been so many absurd comparisons between this book, A Game of Thrones and The Night Circus. Let me make it very clear, this book bares no resemblance to either. Yes, there is a fair that is nothing like Morgenstern’s circus; yes, there are noble houses that squabble, but name me a book of this type that has no fighting nobility. So, there are no real solid comparisons. Ill thought out labels, such as this, can only lead to someone being disappointed in an otherwise enjoyable novel. So, I think it’s best to ignore these completely when approaching this book.

Diverse characters

Indeed, this book is a very enjoyable work of fantasy and, like most fantasy, it has many point of view characters. At the start of the book they didn’t quite connect to each other; they seemed very far apart, but as the novel progressed their relevance in the plot began to emerge. This really helped drive the narrative forward and also created a reason for me to carry on reading because I wanted to know what connected a cutthroat, a male prostitute, a noble’s daughter and a goat herder. More importantly, though, I wanted to know how Smiler’s fair fitted into it all.

The descriptions of the fair of vague and given sparingly. It is a tool the author used to create a platform that brought all her diverse characters together, and I think it worked very well. What better way than a travelling fair of debauchery to bring together characters that would not normally be in the same room as each other? The characters form unlikely friendships that, no doubt, will span this excellent series. Moreover, all of the point of view characters are well written because they have a lot of room for future development.

It has only just begun

When this book ended I realised how open this series has become. Krish has broken the boundaries of his old life and has just realised who and what he may become; he is in a unique situation because his life could go anywhere. But, one man’s hero is another man’s villain, as suggested by the epilogue. By the looks of things in the second novel a new protagonist wants to destroy this novel’s hero. I think that’s quite an interesting deviation from the standard plot path novels like this seem to follow. So this seems to becoming something quite unique.

One thing that I commend the author on is writing with an even hand regarding gender roles and sexuality. The female characters are as strong as the males, and have the same role in same of the societies. I though the reversal of roles with the character Eric was quite amusing. He is a prostitute, a sellcock, that is forced into a situation that makes him the sexual victim at the hands of a group of women. This is a deviation from what is the normal gender for a character of this type, and I thought it created an interesting dynamic to the writing that was, again, quite unique.

This novel was a very strong series opener; it has created a situation that could go in a multitude of angles. The book is original, fresh and interesting. I look forward to reading the next book. I can’t wait to see where the author takes it.

An even handed four stars
Profile Image for Emma.
2,385 reviews810 followers
July 18, 2017
4.5 nearly 5 stars. This was excellent- full of surprises. I've had this on my kindle for a long time and I'm kicking myself now for having waited so long. It's grim, it's dark, its fantastical. The world building is great and so are some of the creatures who inhabit it :Carrion, worm men, mammoths, lizard monkeys, winged horses... there are many tribes and peoples coming from regions like the Moon Forest or across the Rune Wastes.
A prophecy, an infant prince whisked from danger, cults of sun and moon worshippers, serial killers, and a great plot that just barely comes to fruition by the end of the book, ready for the next.
Recommended for all fantasy lovers.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,544 reviews2,931 followers
May 5, 2015
I'm giving this book a 4.5*s and I was very surprised by this never having heard of the book or author before. I received this free from Hodderscape, but that doesn't affect my views or opinions on it, it was genuinely really engaging and exciting, and here's why...

This is a story which has been compared to The Night Circus many times, and indeed it does focus on a fair, however this is much darker, grittier and more down to earth than The Night Circus. This story features a couple of different characters whose paths all either start, pass through or end at Smiler's Fair and each of their plot's is somehow connected.

First we have Nethmi who is the daughter of a an Ashane Lord and she's being sent away to the Tribe to marry a man she's never met. Her Uncle is the one who has sent her, he's not a very nice guy (she believes he might have killed her father), and it's a political move for friendship with the Tribes on his part. Nethmi is a character who took a while to grow on me because I felt that she was a little bit naive and irritating at times, but this certainly didn't last and as the story went on she did become someone whose story I enjoyed, and who grew as a character.
I liked seeing the way that she was forced to make decisions she;d never envisioned, the way that she had to conquer her fears, and how she became a stronger character for the things she went through.

Next we have Eric who is my favourite character, Eric is a molly, or a male whore, at Smiler's and he's pretty happy with his life, but there's a new whore who's a bit better than him, and he's not too happy about that. He has had a hard beginning to life and Smiler's is a place where he felt that he could settle and live a safe life, but when a new Patron takes a fancy to him he thinks maybe it's time to change.
Eric was one of the sweetest and most entertaining characters in the book and his story line was great too. I instantly connected with him and sympathised with his plight, he was certainly put in some rather bad situations! I think his personality and resolve was tested a lot over the course of this book and he learned a lot about the ways of the world and the cruelty of people. I think his story will be extremely interesting in book 2 and can't wait to see what happens with him!

Next we have Dae Hyo who is a member of the Dae Tribe. He's an older character and he's a very resentful and hardened character too. When he was a young boy the Chun (another tribe) came into his homeland and pillaged, raped and murdered. He was one of the few survivors of the Dae clan, and ever since that day he's wanted revenge.
Of course, revenge is all well and good, but after letting his hunger for revenge fester and grow over many years he's become a drunk and lost his way a bit. He has to come to some harsh realisations over the course of the book, and he certainly meets some very interesting people along the way who help and hinder his plight.
Whilst I liked his character for his intentions I felt he was another character who steadily grew on me and by the end I liked him. I think he's a fairly real interpretation of what such loss and grief can drive a man to do, and I loved the reality shown there.

We also follow Krish, a young goatherd who lives away from most of the Ashane society in a small village with his mother and pa. He and his father have a bad relationship due to his father's drinking problem and abuse of his mother so one day Krish decides to do something about it, and of course this leads to a lot more trouble than he could have ever anticipated.
I liked Krish as a character from the beginning too but he also developed a lot and became more interesting as the story went on. I loved seeing how he looked at the genes of his goats and worked out their lineage. I think he's a very intelligent character and with the way everything turns out in this book I look forward to seeing what more he can bring and affect in the future!

Finally we're following Marvan who lives within Smiler's fair, but is not exactly loved by the other people there because he harbours a dark secret. He's got a deadly and dark addiction to something rather grizzly, and whilst the others within the Fair know about him and his ways, they certainly don't approve and he constantly feels like an outcast.
I think his character was certainly the most ruthless and terrifying to read about, he was nasty, scary and remorseless and seeing him in the world really was great (in a terrifying way). I don't know if I'd call him a bad character because whilst he does do some really terrible things, he is a really well crafted character and I can say that his sections of the book were certainly filled with action and atrocities!

One thing I do want to mention in regards to this book is the wonderful world-building that we have going on. A large amount of this takes place in a desert but we do get hints of other landscapes such as an ice-ridden land, the plains and cliffs and the interior of Smiler's itself. I also loved that there was no hesitation within this book to use realistic language such as swearing, and address topics such as rape, murder, death and so on in a very direct and gritty way.

I love the Gods within this world too because there are so many types of people and each one has their own load of Gods who they worship. There's the Sun God and the Moon God who are a large focus for this book, yet many believe that their time has passed and they no longer rule. There's Prow Gods, an Ashane tradition of dreaming a god and carving it into a stone. There's the Gods of the Dae, the Hunter, and many many more for all the other cultures too. Of course the series is called the Hollow Gods, and I have to say that religion is something I love when it's well integrated into a book / series and I feel like this one does it very well.

The pacing, descriptions and plot for this were really fun too. Whilst some of the characters took a little while for me to get into and learn, I was constantly intrigued by the story and I loved seeing how the plotlines all interwove as the story went on. I felt like the ending of the book was explosive with a lot happening, and I really want to buy book 2 asap because I just know it's going to be great (or I hope so!). I will certainly be continuing on with this series when I can, and I can't wait! Highly recommended! 4.5*s (hopefully the next will be 5*s!)
Profile Image for Julia Sarene.
1,204 reviews127 followers
February 18, 2021
Argh, damn it! Another vanished review...

So again, though this time in less detail, as it's been a long while!

First off - this is Grimdark. This is not at all what the cover makes you expect. Not cute or fluffy or magical feel good.

This one is full of blood and gore and set in a rather bleak world.

I really loved the uniqueness of the world, where in some places you always have to keep moving. Stop and you might as well kill yourself! I loved how this shaped society and made for a fresh feel, while it was still handled in a way that didn't make it feel long winded or mired in too much descriptions or dry information.

The characters are grey and flawed and rough around the edges + and that exactly who I enjoyed them. Yes, they could have had a bit more depth around them at times, but I liked the more divers cast than in so many fantasy books, and I am always more happy to read about "people" than pure heroes or villains!

The plot was interesting, even though a bit meandering at times, and I was quickly immerged into the world instead of just reading it.
Profile Image for gio.
1,008 reviews387 followers
May 1, 2016

When I saw this book here on goodreads I was sooo excited. Read that plot, look at that cover; it screams "I am the perfect, unique book you were looking for." Well let me tell you, it lies. Smiler's fair it's not a bad book, it isn't horrible, it isn't awfully written or anything like that. But to me, it fell flat. When I saw it, I sent a message to a friend in which I was all about "hey have you seen it? It will be awesome!"
Uhm...dear me of two months ago, this is what I tell you:

Well, to be honest, the idea, the whole concept, is good. And that's what I was excited about. But in the end Smiler's fair, that "great moving carnival" didn't matter as much as I hoped it would. The plot here is all about that and I hoped and got the wrong idea by doing so, that this book would be almost completely focused on it. My mistake maybe.
The problem is, this is not what annoyed me in the end. What bugged me is that it's almost like this book didn't start at all. Nothing that relevant happens. Or at least, very little, considering that this is a 400 pages book with little character development and not even a lot of world-building. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of potential, like a huge amount of potential, and the writing is enjoyable, but to me that amazing concept could have turned into much more. There isn't much world-building, which is something I'm sad about, because what little I saw of it was good, and had a great premise. The Sun and the Moon Gods being rivals and the moon god return after years: good idea, great even. But I feel like I only got glimpses of this world and in my opinion there were too many characters and too little character development. So, I guess that the author has an amazing idea in her hands, and it still could turn out to be really good, however Smiler's fair express only part of its potential.

If the second book comes out I'll read it, to give another chance to what could be a good series.
Profile Image for Rinn.
286 reviews216 followers
November 23, 2022
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.

Smiler’s Fair is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. Opening with a rather gory and graphic birth scene, the gruesome detail continues without, showing the reader that this world is not an easy one to live in. Whilst ‘Smiler’s Fair’ may sound like a pleasant place, this is but a front for the grim reality. Prostitution, gambling, brawls and duels, all the seedy parts of life gather at the Fair. This is most definitely an adult fantasy novel, and all the more fun for it.

We meet each main character in their own introductory chapter – all start at Smiler’s Fair, and all begin this new page of their lives because of it. There is Marven, a man who loves killing a little too much; Nethmi, a young woman who is about to be married off to a minor lord; Krish, a goatherd who feels his parents are hiding something from him; Eric, a male prostitute who is tiring of his current lifestyle and wants something more permanent; and Dae Hyo, hellbent on revenge for the slaughter of his people. With such a variety of characters, the reader is bound to find someone they feel for. However, with the characters changing as they went on their own personal journeys, I found my own allegiances changing, and my feelings towards two characters radically reversing. It was well done and completely drew me in, one minute I was hoping for a success and the next I couldn’t believe I’d liked that character at all.

Each of the characters are united by both Smiler’s Fair, and death. Whether it be an outright murder, a revenge killing or a desperate attempt to free themselves, there is something they all have in common. And like some of the authors of current popular fantasy series, Rebecca Levene is unafraid to kill off characters, whether they be minor or major. For example, one character I really liked was fine and dandy one moment, and the next he was gone, just like that. When an author can shock you like that, and leave you feeling genuinely sad or upset, you know they’re doing something right. She also has a talent for creating a wide cast of characters, each with their own personalities and aims, and with their own clear tones of voice.

Some authors have a writing style that just flows off the page, allowing the reader to read quickly without missing a thing. Rebecca Levene is definitely one of those authors. Although the world building was not as rich in detail as some other fantasy series and I never got an all encompassing feel of the world, it was still enough to flesh out the lands and their inhabitants. Whilst the first half is a little slow, taking its time to weave together various storylines and paths, the second half really picks up in terms of action and pace – and the ending opens up for book two very nicely.

A fantastic beginning to a new, highly original fantasy series, and highly recommended for fans of authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Robert Jordan. I have a theory about a link between the various different pantheons and characters, and I’d like to see if the next book will confirm it in any way…
Profile Image for Laura Hughes.
Author 4 books254 followers
July 19, 2014
Never judge a book by its cover. I went straight into Smiler’s Fair believing it to be a light YA fantasy. Instead I got one of the most gory and shocking beginnings I’ve ever read, followed by a series of events that rarely failed to include some form of death, sex or violence. Aside from this, book #1 in the Hollow Gods series is pretty much your quintessential run-of-the-mill fantasy fare.

The author has created a fairly well-imagined world with some nicely original quirks, such as cities pulled by mammoths, civilisations that are constantly on the move, and the eponymous Fair itself. However, despite the book’s title, Smiler’s Fair doesn’t actually feature as prominently as you might expect; and many other features of the book are disappointingly generic, from the unimaginative fantasy tropes (gods, magic runes, giant birds) to the lacklustre title of the series itself. Although, I did like that the author had thought about how the fantastical elements would affect everyday life, such as the fact that metal is a rarity because the worm men make it almost impossible to mine properly.

The story itself is average, and is pretty much evenly paced throughout. As with most fantasy novels, it’s written from several different characters’ POVs, which unfortunately don’t really gel together all that well. Though most of them start out well, the characters don’t always go in the directions you’d expect, or even in any particular direction at all, which put me in mind of the somewhat dreary A Dance with Dragons. The characters, rather than developing perceptibly, simply each undergo a sequence of events that serves to get them from A to B, and character development is often seemingly pushed aside in favour of ‘shock value’ character turns. Indeed, the novel as a whole becomes needlessly darker as it progresses, and it feels like the author is trying to force the story into the ‘grimdark’ category, which doesn’t suit it very well at all.

As for the characters, it’s unfortunate that there just isn’t that much to like about most of them; and the ones who do start out likeable (or at least promising) end up being dislikeable or just plain dead. One particular gripe I had was that the author seems to have fallen into the trap of so many female authors who create gay male characters: that is, defining them solely by their sexuality. Not only is Eric gay, but he is also a whore, and almost every one of his thoughts is of a sexual nature, even in extreme situations (although admittedly his situation at the end of the book does seem to imply that his character will be developed more in the future). I did like that Krish the prophesied ‘hero’ is somewhat weak and unconventional; however, he’s also fairly bland and two-dimensional, which makes him about as unsympathetic as most of the other characters. That’s not to say I disliked all the characters, though ironically the ones I found most interesting were the more peripheral ones, particularly Sang Ki and Olufemi.

To sum up: Smiler’s Fair was a pleasant surprise for the first 50 pages or so. After its strong beginning, however, it was distinctly average, and after a while it was merely disappointing. A story that looked to have a lot of potential quickly degenerated into a collection of unsympathetic characters undergoing improbable and sometimes ridiculous events . . . most of which had nothing at all to do with Smiler’s Fair.
Profile Image for Kimberley de Jong.
74 reviews21 followers
June 1, 2016
”Rebecca Levene has written the most stunning first volume epic fantasy since Game of Thrones. It’s a little bit grim dark, a little bit epic, and a whole lot of incredible. If George R.R. Martin wrote The Night Circus, Smiler’s Fair would be the result.” - Cover Blurb.

Now I haven’t read The Night Circus (yet), but I don’t really understand the need to compare it to Game of Thrones. It’s probably a great eye catcher. And yes, there’s noble houses, there’s sex and crude violence, characters you grow to like get relentlessly killed.. but that doesn’t make it Game of Thrones, does it? It’s probably not a good vision to have of the book as you dive in.

What ’Smiler’s Fair’ is, however, is a great fantasy series opening novel with unique world building and diverse characters. It all starts at the equally named moving carnival Smiler’s Fair. It sounds pleasant at first, but turns out to be a gruesome place where your sins are forgotten, as long as you pay the price. There’s mention of duelling, gambling, prostitution and merciless killing. It gives the novel a very adult grim dark feel that I enjoy. Life isn’t all roses after all.

The Fair is where we meet our cast of characters, diverse in genders, roles, personalities and ancestry. The author makes clear that everyone is equal, something I truly admire. She makes no difference between genders. One character for example is a male prostitute, Eric. He’s thrown into situations that usually don’t fit characters of his type. It was very refreshing.

The characters seem far away from each other at first, plot wise. They have their own adventures, motives and stories that drive the novel forward. Allegiances towards characters change, and slowly the pieces of the puzzle come together, but never predictably so.

The first half tends to be a little slow at times, which was the reason ‘Smiler’s Fair’ took me a lot longer to read than I had hoped. The second half definitely picks up the pace, this is where I began to blast through the pages.

Rebecca Levene’s writing style turns this all into fantastic, original beginning of a series, making me look forward greatly towards part two.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,385 reviews977 followers
July 16, 2014
Before I talk about this one I have a little secret to tell you. I mostly dislike Epic Fantasy. You are looking at the girl who detested the Game of Thrones novels (too much death, not clever anymore just irritating) who after several attempts gave up on Lord of the Rings as endlessly dull and although I read a lot of it trying to find the love, it doesnt happen often. I was however highly intrigued by this one when the lovely peeps over at Hodderscape told me I’d love it. They know what they are talking about and the blurb did make me go “ooh” so I thought..well..maybe this time. Anyway a happy reading dance of joy ensued and the rest as they say…is history.

This is a magnificent sprawling tale, set in a beautifully built world that has something for everyone. No really, something for everyone. A bit of love, a bit of life, some magic, some mayhem…a touch of irony and a whole plethora of superbly drawn characters for you to love, hate, root for and want to throw off a cliff. There are different landscapes to explore, a fantastic mythology to unravel, its pretty much a Road Trip in book form that will take you on an exciting and fun filled journey of discovery. Simply stunning.

From the opening pages, where you will find an emotionally compelling act of motherly love, to the meeting of the characters you will come to know well, you will be immediately hooked into this strange and remarkable place…and once you enter Smilers Fair all bets are off. All roads lead there, with a subtle twist of penmanship Rebecca Levene will take you by the hand and show you the way. Often surprising, always compelling and with a fabulous writing style that invokes a real sense and feeling for all that is going on, I have absolutely no problem in saying this is the best novel of its kind I have read in years. Perhaps ever.

I could talk a bit more about the plot – but I would truly hate to destroy the magic for the next reader. There is a lot going on, all of it relevant to the heart of the story, and this is most definitely a perfect Part One. A complete and well rounded tale, setting up what and who you need to know in order to take the next steps – in fact that is the ONLY downside of this book for me, its going to be a long long wait until I can get back on that road. Sigh. Still there was that happy reading dance…

I love to read. I loved reading this. These are the stories that remind us why we reading addicts devour book after book – because sometimes you get one like Smilers Fair. An adventure to have without leaving your chair, one that absorbs you, takes over your life for a while and lets you live elsewhere, somewhere unimaginable until there it is. Right in your living room. Awesomesauce!

Read it. Live it. Love it.

**Thank you to the author and publisher for the ARC***
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 56 books7,646 followers
August 27, 2014
It's been a while since I read any epic fantasy. This is a big sprawling canvas of a book, where the stories really only start to intersect very late on. Very much the first in a series, we've only just started getting into the proper story. Excellent worldbuilding and some really fascinating ideas, brilliant set up, and how nice to see a fantasy world that doesn't just base its morals on one real-world usually medieval doctrine.

There's a nice tendency to extreme violence that makes you genuinely fear for the characters, and I particularly enjoyed one character's journey from the point of sympathy, surviving in a harsh environment, to unrolling latent psychotic instincts and starting a new career as basically a serial killer. Didn't see that coming. :)

Will definitely be reading the next one!
Profile Image for Chantal.
291 reviews749 followers
February 22, 2019
2,75 ⭐
Questo libro è un classico esempio di come un autore/autrice può rovinare tutto nell'ultima metà del libro.
Il worldbuilding era valido, bellissimo, lo stesso vale per la mitologia e le divinità, le creature magiche e la trama. Mio dio la trama era bellissima, piena di potenziale! Quindi la prima parte anche se un po' lenta era piacevole, poi Levene ha deciso di buttare tutto alle ortiche nell'ultima parte. Ho letto roba insensata, volgarità a non finire, la parola "Cock" é ripetuta almeno 50 volte e non scherzo, personaggi che si comportano come burattini, orgie che boh, violenza immotivata, situazioni inverosimili anche per un fantasy.
Mi sanguinano gli occhi.
Comunque vabbè insomma non mi è piaciuto 😂
Profile Image for Emma Jones.
4 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2015
I probably got to about halfway 3 or 4 times before giving up.

I first walked past this book whilst I was in the UK; and didn't buy it as I had to lug any books I bought (too many already) back to Sydney - but I did give in and order it later on. It looks pretty; it sounds good.

Plus, I'm always in favour of a good epic fantasy series.

This one doesn't quite hit the mark - I feel like I'm in the minority here, but I just couldn't enjoy it. I tried, many times.

The writings decent; the characters are semi-developed, but they lack ... conviction I think it the word I'm looking for, I can see the plot that Levene wanted to develop here, but her characters don't seem to want to do it - it feel similar to dragging a child through a shopping center, the plot - whilst well written, falls strangely flat.

I love being able to connect with characters in books - but Smiler's Fair doesn't let you. The characters just aren't likable - which isn't an issue of itself, take many of Stephen Kings characters - you aren't supposed to like them, but they're still likable as characters. There just doesn't seem to be any connections in the novel at all; I can't identify at all with words on a page - the characters don't stand out, plus all the connections they seem to have with each other are limited to sex, fate and gore.
They just have no depth.

My main issue with the book it that it was too choppy. One paragraph I'm with one character, and before I can figure out where/who they are, we've jumped to another one.

That's all ignoring the logic holes that seem to crop up pretty constantly - but as I didn't actually finish, I can't really pick at those, as there may have been reasons given later on.

All in all - I may try it again sometime. Maybe after book 2 is released; but for now... Not something I'd recommend :(
Profile Image for Maja Ingrid.
442 reviews126 followers
February 5, 2019
4,5 stars but rounding up because it was a great book!

This book's been sitting on my shelf for years! I think I bought it sometime after reading The Troupe. I think I wanted more traveling circus/carnival/troupe and I thought Smiler's fair was that. It's not. (Well, there is a traveling carnival named Smiler's fair but the book is more than about that.) But, without even properly reading the back of it, I later thought it being young adult, mostly due to the cover, so i put off reading it. Now, lately people I follow here read it and liked it so I read reviews and not only was it NOT young adult but people used the word "grimdark". I cannot not say no to grimdark. So I read it. Also, when properly reading the back of the book words like "grimdark" was used, as well as big author name dropping.

While it took time to finish it, I actually spent several days not. reading. a. single. word (which was horrible) due to my brain being way to distracted and also I had several assignments for class to write. Spent two days reading 100 pages last week, then three days buried in schoolwork. 300 pages yesterday and today and I loved every single word. It's dark and grim and gory (and murderous characters), you know I love that shit.
Profile Image for Paul.
563 reviews152 followers
July 1, 2016
I wasn't really sure if this was grabbing me at the start , there was just so much going on and each chapter seemed to move to a completely new character , each in a different setting and background .
And then it all starts to click. It all losely rotates around the traveling smiler fair , and a Mary Sue goat herder character . Nothing ground breaking in that but the juggling of multiple threads , being a bit dark and sexual in content , and the introduction of interesting and complex character make this a worthwhile story.
The mythology developed throughout is well done, and even when it looks like its predictable the author suddenly veers away in an unexpected but well done twist on several occasions. Definitely will pick up the follow on.
Profile Image for Sarah.
3,323 reviews1,012 followers
August 1, 2015
Smiler's Fair was a fantastic start to a new series from British author Rebecca Levene and it left me desperate to dive straight into the next book The Hunter's Kind. This is the best kind of fantasy, one with rich world building, interesting mythology, a fantastic range of characters and plenty of secrets to keep you guessing.

Hundreds of years ago the moon god fought with the sun goddess and lost, after his death his servants fled underground and have since turned into monstrous creatures who will murder anyone they come across. The people above ground live in fear of the worm men and have had to adapt their way of life to try and avoid them. Staying in one place for too long draws the monster's attention so the wealthiest noble families live in huge floating homes built on lakes while villagers build their homes on wheels so they can keep them moving. Then there is Smiler's Fair, a huge travelling fair that is home to hundreds of people and has everything you could possibly wish for inside it's walls. The fair travels across the land only stopping for short periods of time before moving on at the first hint of trouble and a lot of our central characters cross paths with the fair at some point during the story.

I don't really want to say much about the plot because this is the kind of book you should really discover for yourselves but I'll give you a little hint about some of the characters. The book is told from multiple points of view and I loved getting to see so much of the land through different eyes. First you have Krish, a goatherd whose live is turned upside down when he finds out he is at the centre of a prophecy, then there is Nethmi, a young princess who is forced into marriage with a man old enough to be her father, Eric a boy who makes a terrible mistake by falling in love with the wrong person and Dae Hyo a warrior without a home who is searching for revenge. You'll meet plenty of others too, some you'll love, some you'll hate, ones who will impress you with their strength and integrity and others who will shock you by their epic betrayals.

Smiler's Fair is mostly character driven, there is a lot of world building and a huge amount of set up for the rest of the series so in some ways you could say that not a lot actually happens but I still enjoyed every minute of it. The mythology was interesting and richly developed, the characters all have strong personalities and love them or hate them you'll find yourself desperate to see what they do next and I am definitely invested enough to put the rest of the series at the top of my to be read pile. I can't wait to see what Rebecca Levene puts her characters through next.
Profile Image for James Latimer.
Author 1 book21 followers
August 9, 2017
This is a very good book, and there's a lot going for it, but I wonder if there's just something missing that explains why it didn't make an even bigger splash. Bags of creativity, wonderfully flawed & diverse characters, a grim world with plenty of action and darkness (who says women don't write grimdark?), epic stakes...and yet, it didn't quite blow me away. Some of that may be that it's a clear set-up book with many unanswered questions, a main cast of unheroic characters, not enough of whom were women (surprisingly), and few of which I really cared about, so it just may not have been for me - I'm not a huge fan of the grimdark tropes, after all. It is a very ambitious effort, however, with a lot left to discover over the next three (I think) books, so I may have to go back for more eventually.

(Andt if you want to see industry sexism in action, just look at the lovely cover of this dark, grim book and wonder why it didn't have bloody weaponry or darker colours or mysterious figures on it...)
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 17 books411 followers
January 31, 2022

This book first came out in 2014, and only in the UK with a publisher I did not, at the time, have connections with. Reader, I was so incredibly bummed that I did not get an ARC of this book. I heard amazing things about it, and I just really, really wanted to read it. I told myself I’d remember to read it when it was released in the US and I just… forgot… until a friend mentioned it a few weeks ago. I nabbed a copy on Amazon and plowed through this book so fast it was incredible.

Smiler’s Fair is dark, with some extremely unique worldbuilding. I will say, if you aren’t a fan of dark books, of grimdark specifically, you might want to steer clear of this one. The book itself seems to be pretty polarizing. When I scroll through reviews, the people who tend to really enjoy grimdark seem to love it, and the people who don’t… don’t, so keep that in mind.

The worldbuilding is really where this book shines, and it shines in a different way than you might expect. Let me explain.

There’re some incredibly unique aspects of development here that really intrigued me, from societies that are constantly on the move, to cities pulled by mammoths, and Smiler’s Fair itself. I enjoyed seeing how the author used magic and her world as two forces that impacted each other. Also, there are just so many different people in this world, and each different group has its own god, so there are lots of gods too. Cults and the like spring up. It was fascinating to see how Levene gathered all that together to create subtle (and not so subtle) friction throughout. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and Levine had a pretty good grasp of how, if you pull one thread somewhere, then it’s going to impact something somewhere else. In a world a fluid and moveable as this one, it really added a lot of nuance and texture to the book’s development that I truly appreciated.

However, there aren’t a lot of details about the fair itself. Levene doesn’t really lean into descriptions, and they are used sparingly. Sometimes it’s hard to get a “visual” of where the characters are. At first, this frustrated me. It made the novel feel a bit disjointed since I couldn’t “see” everything I wanted to see. Then, the further I got into the story, the more I realized what an innovative choice this was on the author’s part. The fair itself almost seems to be a different thing to everyone who goes there, and in this book, Levine is using it as a vehicle to connect a handful of characters that have nothing really to do with each other. I felt like the decision to not lean too heavily into descriptions in favor of leaving a lot of this open to interpretation actually made the fair a bit more powerful and immersive in the end. Odd to say that, but I think she made the right decision here.

In the style of epic/grimdark fantasy, this book is told from numerous points of view. The perspectives, at first, aren’t really attached to each other. They read more like stories tied together in a world they share. It takes time for the threads to bind together and for the characters to start telling one story, instead of a few different stories, if that makes sense. The benefit of this is, each character gets his or her own time, and you’ll become invested in them before they become invested in each other. When things really start rolling, you’ll be rooting for people. That being said, in the style of grimdark fantasy, the characters are darker. All of them flawed and emotionally tortured somehow, with pasts they drag around with them. They are loaded down with baggage and while I absolutely love that sort of thing, not everyone wants to read books about potentially unsympathetic characters.

I liked all the characters for one reason or another, but Krish’s personal growth over the story really impressed me. By the end, he’s broken the boundaries of his former life and has perfectly set himself up for whatever comes next. While I do think some of the characters could have used a little more depth, Krish’s evolution shows what Levene is capable of, and that really excites me. Is the book perfect? No, but the author made some very real choices in how she spun her yarn that made characters like Krish shine.

I need to take a moment to address diversity as well, because in this book, Levene has taken care to even out gender roles and sexuality so both men and women are equal in that regard, and it was really a breath of fresh air and very well done.

The plot itself is an interesting blend of epic fantasy and dark fantasy. There are some graphic scenes, some dark emotional depths, some gray morality, and situations that might make you uncomfortable. Paired with this, is a vibrant magical system, an absolutely fascinating world unlike I’ve ever seen before, and some characters you’ll love (or love to hate, depending). Also, add a dash of cults and serial killers and you’ve got a book basically written for me. The end of Smiler’s Fair is a perfect setup for the next installment of the series, which I plan on devouring ASAP. But there are elements (I dare say, tropes) that you’ll recognize from epic fantasy. A “chosen on” (of sorts), prophecy and the like. Touchstones to help guide you through.

You might see the cover and expect something light and fluffier, but this isn’t that. It’s not young adult, nor is it light and fluffy. This is a brutal, dark world full of flawed, sharp characters. The morality is murky, and there are very few redeeming qualities. This is how I like my dark fantasy. I want it to be brutal and knife-sharp. I want it to cut. But not everyone likes that sort of thing, so be aware going into it. I would say this one is solidly grimdark, and if you aren’t a grimdark reader, you might want to pass it by. 

But oh, grimdark readers, this is such a fantastic start to a series. It’s not perfect, but it’s really, really good and it’s absolutely worth your time.
Profile Image for Matthew.
502 reviews28 followers
February 25, 2017
Absolutely one of the best epic fantasies I've ever read. Similar to Joe Abercrombie or GRRM. Dark and brutal, don't let the cover deceive you.

You have the orphaned chosen one. The Moon god has been reborn in this young man and eventually it becomes a big hunt to find him by practically everyone. Most have different interests, but all the same goal.

There's the washed up warrior who just wants a final revenge for the slaughter of his people. A noble woman who is wedded to an unfortunate tribesman after her father dies (Dany, much?). The gay whore who is literally all over the place. Poor Eric. And Marvan. The man who is always hungry, and the only thing that satisfies his hunger is murder.

Profile Image for Metaphorosis.
691 reviews53 followers
August 10, 2014


3.5 stars

A baby is rescued from the death his father the king intends. Years later, Smiler's Fair draws together a diverse set of people, each with their own needs and destinies.

I'm not a Doctor Who fan, and I'd never heard of Rebecca Levene before this, but I enjoyed this fantasy novel. The writing is smooth, and the plot complex, but she does a pretty good job of keeping the many threads of her plot distinct.

Levene describes a mostly standard fantasy universe, with a trace of steampunk at the end. She follows the modern trend by dealing matter-of-factly with elements once elided from standard mainstream fantasy - sex, waste, prostitution, homosexuality, etc. What's more disappointing is that despite this relatively modern outlook, gender relations in the world of Smiler's Fair are not much different than they would have been in a fantasy from the '70s. Levene's far from unique in this, but where is it written that in a medieval world, men's muscles must dictate the shape of the world? It's fantasy.

That quibble aside, Levene does a nice job of establishing an intriguing, credible world, and of creating events with both individual and epic import. There are many characters, and for the most part they're well explored individuals with personalities and desires of their own. There are perhaps a few too many - Levene kills off one or two in such a way that I wondered why they existed at all; they were interesting, but seemed to add little to the overall arc of the story - red herrings, in a way. The story is large enough not to need that.

There are plenty of hints and mysteries laid out, with all sorts of puzzles laid out for future solution, but with enough pieces placed that we don't leave the book frustrated. The book makes no pretense of being a standalone piece, but it does beach the plot on a decent resting spot while we wait for the next book.

I will be reading that next book. I wasn't bowled over by this one, but I definitely enjoyed it, and particularly enjoyed exploring one fairly big corner of this world. Once Levene starts pulling all the strands together, I have the feeling that the next book will be even better and stronger than this. I hope so, and look forward to finding out.

NB: Received free copy from Net Galley. 
Profile Image for Bibliophile.
781 reviews72 followers
October 26, 2014
This first part in a series of four contains all the usual components of modern epic fantasy: the prince whose destiny is to kill his father and reclaim his birthright, the master swordsman, the pretty noble girl married off to an old dude, the medieval setting with a few fantastical elements added, and the prostitution, good lord, the prostitution. Did you know, sex work is just a job like any other! Making the swordsman a serial killer and the prostitute male doesn't really subvert expectations, it just comes across as contrived. Maybe because the serial killer has no personality and only thinks about serial killing, and Eric, the young sellcock (yes, that is what you think it is) only pouts and thinks about cocks all the time, because that's what those frisky gays do.

Traditional gender roles are snugly in place (the pretty girl only gets shit done by accident, the tall blonde priestess types are more interested in meaningsless rule-obeying and sun worshipping than exercising power, or even amusing themselves with their harem of hotties).

In other words, I won't be reading the next book. I'll give it three stars though, because a lower rating wouldn't be fair. I'm not the intended audience - this is definitely a YA novel (the sex and violence don't make this adult fiction and we all know what kids get up to nowadays). It's really not that bad. There are giant bats and mammoths.
Profile Image for Alice .
508 reviews37 followers
June 27, 2019
TW/CW : very gory "C-section" - as in : cut someone open to get her baby out - (first chapter), rape, domestic violence, a lot of fatphobia (in the narration so unchallenged), mention of terrible violence against women, slavery... There might be more and I'll add it if I remember something later.

Also one of the MC is a sex worker, he is also the only gay character in the story and I have no idea if the sex work aspect is well done. He isn't ashamed of it and is never really shamed for it either so that's good though.

4.5 / 5

Very dark, very imaginative, never going where you think it's about to go. The plot suddenly change like a carped pulled under your feet. I just can't give it 5 stars because of all the fatphobia and the very bad romances (see how awkward we feel when we watch the romance unfold in Star wars episode 2 ? Well it's like that. It happens just as suddenly as the plot twists and it never has any ground).
This book feels like it was written in the 90' or early 00' because of the tropes that are used (the young peasant is the chosen one, all the gore and rape etc.) and a lot of the problems that we don't see as often nowadays (very over the top fatphobia...) but no, it's from 2014, who would have thought ? Anyway I still can't explain why but I really enjoyed this book a lot, the story was compelling, I loved some of the characters (hated others but at least it got some emotions out of me), the writing was engaging... I only hope we get more female character in book 2 though because it's a bit lacking...

Anyway it's a very underrated story and you should really try it out ! (if the tw don't scare you away...)
Profile Image for Lyra (Cardan’s version).
69 reviews58 followers
January 18, 2023
—1 star—

This book shall now be know as the dead chicken book.

————about the book————

Age: Adult
Genres: Fantasy
Cliffhanger: meh
Writing: 2/10
Quotes: 1/10
World building: 2/10
Characters: 2/10
Romance: 1/10
My rating: 1/10

‼️spoilers below‼️

———my feelings———

I did it. I finished it. I don’t know how.
This book was complete fucking TORTURE. It was far too slow, too many side plots, and NOTHING HAPPENED!!!
It was far too grisly and gruesome (I had to put it down when I was reading at lunch). And don’t even get me started on the awkwardly written sex scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever cringed as much in my life.

———Characters ———

Nethmi: meh

Dae hyo: hate him

Marvan: Dead chicken man. Also meh

Eric: won the award of most annoying character THREE times!

Krish: t h e. M o s t B o r i n g. O n e

(I had to put it in)

“Marvan woke to see the glazed eye of a dead chicken staring back at him from his pillow.”

———Random extra thoughts———


Thanks for reading ❤️
Profile Image for Siobhan.
4,403 reviews463 followers
October 15, 2022
I’m always looking for a new fantasy series to devour, and I had high hopes for the Hollow Gods series. It promised so many things that I adore, and I went in with high hopes.

Unfortunately, Smiler’s Fair, the first book in the series, did not work for me. In fact, I found it very difficult to work through. While there were some interesting elements in the story, I found myself unable to connect to the characters. With so many storylines playing out, I should have felt a connection to one of them. There should have been something that kept me turning the pages, eager for more of that person’s story, but such did not exist. Thus, even those elements that I was curious about failed to hold me because I was unable to connect.

I’m sure this works for many, but I could not get into it. Sadly, due to this, I won’t be continuing the series to find out how it concludes.
Profile Image for Karen Rós.
326 reviews15 followers
April 1, 2016
I really liked this book. It was a bit confusing in the beginning when new people kept being introduced and it took a while before any of the people introduced reappeared. Not seeing any links between them, it was also difficult to decide who to care for. The person the book revolves around didn't actually have much screen time either.

That said, it got good once I got going, and I'm now really invested in seeing what happens next. The characters were all well fleshed out, even the unsympathetic ones. (I dislike Marvan so much, you have no idea...I really hope he's dead.) the plot took a couple of unexpected turns as well, and I really like that even the sympathetic characters aren't perfect. I'm not sure what to make of Krishanjit tbh. I'm not really rooting for him - he seems to be made of bad decisions and naivety. Maybe he'll take a bigger role in the next book?

I've already ordered the second book in the series and I'm hoping the following book (books? How many books will be in this series?) won't take too long to come out.
Profile Image for Maitrey.
148 reviews20 followers
February 5, 2015
I was hooked the minute when I realized many of the characters were brown-skinned and had Sanskrit names. Call me biased.

Smiler's Fair is hard to describe. It was a cross between grimdark and epic fantasy, a new genre if ever there was one. The characters are murky, and it's hard to pin down motive for most of them. There's a male prostitute, a serial killer who does't have a heart-of-gold, an orphaned noble-woman who shacks up with said serial killer, a perpetually drunk bad-ass tribesman; and oh, did I mention an avatar of the moon-god who is running for his life?

And yet, you want to read about every one of them. Levene has pulled off a great narrative trick.

I am really excited to see what happens next. The glimpses of the world we've seen look very promising. A nomadic fair where any vice can be purchased, mysterious long-lost tribes, ships that act as forts perennially anchored in lakes, the list goes on. Plus, there's a sun-god out for revenge.

Read it.
Profile Image for Claire.
525 reviews12 followers
December 21, 2014
An interesting premise but don't be too carried away by the 5 star reviews. This book takes a long time to get going, in fact I'm not sure it ever does. It reads like one giant prologue, and many of the plot lines and characters seemed pointless. There's a difference between subverting tropes and just plain random writing- Nethmi's arc for instance. It laid enough groundwork that I'll pick up book 2 but it's not a recommendation yet.
Profile Image for Monica.
387 reviews83 followers
August 15, 2014
This is a very dark book set in an extremely unique world. I really enjoyed it, and I will definitely be reading the rest of the Hollow Gods series when it comes out. My full review will come soon!
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