My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We’ve come a long way, you and I. You’ve listened to me obsess over the nuances of the Chalet School, the way Clara Vulliamy is so perfect in her picture book construction and the way I get slightly evangelical when somebody tells me that Children’s Literature does not matter and if any of that counts for anything, I would ask that you do not read the blurb on this book.
Because this book is not about that blurb.
Pantomime is one of those curious fantasy books that worked for me, and it worked very well. There’s a sensitivity to it, a humanity, that translates through genre to deliver a nuanced and engrossing read that moved me. Hugely. I’m not one of those people who can read fantasy easily. Tolkien, Trudi Caravan (lolz), the odd Marion Zimmer Bradley (is she officially fantasy? Can you tell how much I do not know about this genre?) are about the limit for me. A lot of my feelings about the genre are summed up in this fascinating review of Urgle.
There’s a part of that review that I want to draw attention to. Bradman says that: “Good fantasy is such a hard act to bring off. If your characters are two-dimensional and your plot uncompelling, it won’t matter how incredibly detailed and believable your fantasy world might be. Equally, the slightest suspicion that you haven’t expended enough effort on building your world can bring the whole thing down like a house of cards.”
That’s what works here for me in Pantomime. The way that, when it all comes down to it, Lam is writing about people, and choices, and being who we are and not who we’re wanted to be. It’s a brave, thoroughly fascinating novel that deserves a lot more attention outside of its genre because it’s very quietly delivering one of the most complex and fascinating protagonists I’ve ever read.
Just don’t judge it on that blurb.