This is by far one of my favorite series of all time. When you head over to Dreamspinner Press to get yours, get them all, because, like all the best things, you can’t stop at just one.
Hunzinger's Mechanical Circus, a rollicking seaside carnival where imagination meets machinery, shines as the only bright spot in the dreary city of Purinton. A shadow is cast there one day when a tall, cloaked figure approaches the stand of Will Marchman, a young patent-medicine salesman. Fanule Perfidor, commonly known as the Dog King, isn't welcome at the Circus. No resident of Taintwell is; they're all Branded Mongrels, officially shunned. But Will is beguiled by the stunning, mysterious Perfidor. Their mutual wariness soon gives way to desire, and a bond forms.Soon the naive but plucky pitchman becomes embroiled in a dangerous quest. Fanule suspects Alphonse Hunzinger and Purinton's civic leaders are responsible for the disappearance or incarceration of countless Branded Mongrels. But why? As Will's passion and regard for his tormented lover grow, he's determined to help Fanule get answers and prevent any further persecution... or worse. They just have to stay together-and stay alive long enough-to see their plan through.
When vampire Clancy Marrowbone returns to Purin province after nearly two years, he intends only to visit with his dear friend, Fanule Perfidor, and find out how his former lover, the unfortunately mortal Simon Bentcross, is faring. But two developments change Marrowbone’s itinerary: the appearance of a drastically altered man from his past, and the reawakening of his passion for Simon.
Both of these unexpected reunions become increasingly complicated. The connection between Simon’s new creation, a bathysphere-like submersible, and a clandestine underwater-research project results in Marrowbone and Bentcross becoming hunted men. But sometimes, it takes danger to make a star-crossed affair seem worth saving.
The closing-day flea market at the Marvelous Mechanical Circus always draws a colorful crowd, but salesman Will Marchman doesn’t expect to see a large, elaborate gold wagon on the plaza—especially one called the Spiritorium. The wagon’s exotic looking owner claims he can perform “cleansings and siphonings” via a miracle-working machine housed within. He can supposedly flush the wickedness out of people and places.
The Spiritorium appears in the Mongrel village of Taintwell the next day, setting off a potentially tragic chain of events that begins with a shocking revelation. To make matters worse, Fanule Perfidor, de facto mayor and Will’s lover, has been neglecting to take the tonic that stabilizes his moods. Besieged by his illness, Fan drives Will away. Then Fan’s best friend, vampire Clancy Marrowbone, vanishes, causing a rift between him and his mortal lover. Then Will disappears.
As Fan regains control of his mind, he knows what he must do to save his village and the people most important to him. He must solve the mystery of the Spiritorium and confront a man he’d hoped never to see again.
The whole series is amazingly descriptive and I didn’t even feel like I was reading anymore because I was so wrapped up in the world the author built. I was just so happy to be along for the ride. While this is definitely in the steampunk genre, its balance with fantasy and romance is keeps it from being trope-y, the author didn’t just throw a gear at it and call it steampunk. It’s easy for steampunk/fantasy/sci-fi books can overdo it with the world building so you get taken out of the story as you try and keep up with all the terminology, geography and characters. Or they are made so campy that it can’t be taken seriously. It absolutely should be fun and lyrical, but not at the expense of the story. And the Mongrel trilogy is a perfect balance.
The characters are so strong, unique and best of all, every hero was flawed. I love a flawed hero more than any other. All of them were complex enough to feel realistic even if half of them weren’t human. So, there are humans and there are Mongrels. Humans mostly live in Purinton while the Mongrels, the branded Mongrels, mostly live in Taintwell. As the bloodlines of the non-humans have been diluted over the generations, they were ordered to be tattooed with their blood ratios by the AIA, Alien Identification Agency. The Mongrels have been seen as lesser beings, but Taintwell is their safe place.
Fanule Perfidor is their leader, and oh man, I love him. The first story, Mongrel, focuses on him and Will, the human he meets at Hunziger’s Mechanical Circus. The backstory was fascinating and the two of them ended up complimenting each other perfectly, bringing out the best traits in one another. While the story focused on Fan and Will, it also set up the meaningful friendships and potential relationships amongst some very lonely characters.
Which brings me to Simon and Merman. Like I said, I love Fan, but Simon, I have such a soft spot for that man. He’s a lot crass, a little lost and completely charming as hell. Simon works with his hands and has no bothers about getting dirty. I love me a hands on man who’s rough around the edges but has a hidden soft heart and an accidental sense of humor. He and Clancy Marrowbone, Fan’s very dear friend, and resident vampire who has come to visit have taken a bit of a shine to one another. But Merman also has a lot of great mystery to it and of course a Merman. So yeah, WIN.
The third in the trilogy, Machine, brings all the characters we’ve met in the first two back together and explains some history about Fan that was enlightening and heartbreaking. All the people that Fan cares most about in the world are in danger. Will and Clancy have been abducted and then returned as just husks of their former selves and Simon is completely devastated about Clancy. Fan blames himself, especially after failing to take his tonic that keeps him level and then saying some awful things to Will and even more so when he sees who has done the damage to his loved ones with his machine, the Spiritorium.
I found the writing in Machine especially fascinating, particularly towards the end. When Fan is having the conversation with the man behind the Machine I got sucked into their exchange and reread many paragraphs. The man’s motives seem to be in the name of ancient religions, but what comes to light is the narcissism of a truly psychotic individual. And while this story takes place in an alternate universe, the theme is relevant to all of humanity and how man can be capable of bastardizing organized religion in such a way that he satisfies his own selfish desires. Truly well done dialog.
A special shout out to Betty, the best non-corporeal friend that Fan could ever ask for. She may not be all in one piece anymore, but she’s a solid friend and supporter to Fan in particular and all of Taintwell in general. I loved her character.
Finally, the language in the whole trilogy is just a character in itself. I swooned over the beauty of it many times. It’s not flowery in a romantic sense (although there were plenty of romantic conversations that benefitted with how the language flowed) the names of the people and places were perfectly fitting for the genre without being over the top. The descriptions of specific event as well as daily life painted a vivid picture of the story and I could total ‘see’ every scene that was described.
I’ll always keep this series in my back pocket to reread. I had put off reading the final, Machine, just because I didn’t want it to be over. It’s a perfect mix of so many things I love and the author nailed every bit of detail in the best way. I really can’t recommend it enough.
Go visit Dreamspinner Press to get your copy of the Mongrel Trilogy.
**a copy of this trilogy was provided for an honest review, but to also be honest, I had already bought the whole set before and read the first two, this request just motivated me to keep reading even if it did mean the end of my time with these characters. But I can always reread, amiright???**