Mongrel

Title: Mongrel
Author: K.Z. Snow
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M steampunk romance
Length: 202 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Jenre

Summary Review
Counteract the Christmas sweetness with this well written, dark and grizzly tale set in an imaginative steampunk setting.

THE BLURB

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.

THE REVIEW

As a big fan of K.Z. Snow’s writing I was looking forward to this new release. I like fantasy and steampunk so I was interested to see whether this story would work for me. It did, but be warned the grizzly contents may not be to everyone’s taste.

The story itself revolves around a steam operated mechanical circus and the plans the odious owner has for a new exhibit. This is linked to the disappearance of many Mongrels (who are part human, part something else and therefore outcasts) who have either gone missing or have been arrested on trumped up charges. Fan is the nominated leader of the Mongrels and is determined to discover the truth, no matter how much danger he gets into. When he meets Will, who sells a restorative elixir at the circus, there is an attraction between them and it isn’t long before Will finds himself helping Fan.

As with all fantasy stories it’s important to get the balance right in the setting and world building. In the case of Mongrel, the setting is very detailed in its description. Perhaps too detailed, as I found my attention drifting a little with some of the descriptive passages. This is probably because I was impatient to get on with a story which had thoroughly gripped me and so the parts containing lots of description were frustrating in that they slowed the pace slightly. Having said that, the detail in the description meant that I was thoroughly immersed in the world that the author had created, in all its dim, murky and dirty glory. The vividness of the steampunk setting perfectly complemented the story which deals with oppression, racism, and conspiracies.

In amongst this dark tale is that of the relationship between Fan and Will which shines out from all the murky goings on. It’s a surprisingly sweet tale of two very different men – in looks and personality – and how they fall in love despite all that may be against them. I found Will to be a wonderful character in that he’s 100% human, young and idealistic; a hard worker and optimistic, despite his loneliness. In contrast Fan is a Mongrel, older and suffers from Bipolar depression, as well as a terrible past. The lightness in Will counteracts the darkness in Fan and I found this thoroughly delightful. I also liked how the heroes are taken aback at how quickly and forcefully their attraction for each other grows.

Another aspect I thought worked well was in the portrayal of Fan’s illness. He’s endlessly frustrated with the sudden changes in mood as he swings from a kind of mania to the depths of crippling depression. We see him in both moods during the story and both times the descriptions were sympathetic and considerate. I liked how, as the book progressed and Fan gained more friends, he was better able to control his moods through medication and their kind attentions. It’s not often that mental illness is covered in an m/m book, and in the case of Mongrel I felt that it was handled with realism and dignity.

Alongside the characters of Will and Fan there are quite a number of secondary characters. I especially liked the characters of Simon and Marrowbone, both of whom kept to the shadowy line between good and bad guy. It was nice to see such nuanced characteristics in secondary characters. There are others too which flit in and out of the book to either aide or hinder our heroes in their quest, and all of them were well drawn.

I said earlier that this was a tale of dark deeds, and those who don’t have a strong stomach many find themselves turning a little green over some aspects of the story. This didn’t bother me, because I do have a strong stomach and a love of the macabre, but if you aren’t like me then count yourself warned!

Overall this was a complex story with a richly realised setting. If you like steampunk, or even fantasy then this book should appeal to you. Once again K.Z. Snow has shown us what a wonderful versatile author she is and I can’t wait to read her next book!

OVERALL

13 comments

  • Thanks for the review

    KZ Snow previous titles at times could distract my mind as her style can be a little heavy handed for this light reader

    To me, Mongrel is one of the better ebooks released in 2010. The theme is refreshing and she manage to balance both romance and plot to grasp my attention from the beginning to the end.Even the cover brings out the right theme of this story. Punk indeed.

    A Thumbs Up from this reader!

    Reply
  • Thanks for the review Jenre – this sounds like a great read and is definitely on my looooooong TBR list! Love the imaginative sound of the characters and the setting. Macabre is fine by me – (it’s sheer gratuitous violence that offends me.)

    Reply
    • Hi Dianne

      No gratuitous violence here just the sort of story which appeals to my twisted imagination and love of grim tales. Hope you enjoy it too :).

      Reply
      • Just finished this and LOVED it (not surprised as everything about it was right up my alley!). Wonderful imaginative setting and plot, excellent cast of characters and a great romance between two very different, vulnerable, yet very strong men. Also, the cover just completely rocks and is very fitting of the main character, right down to the violet/green eye color 😉 My only whine is that I would have loved more depth to every component of the story – dialogue between Fan and Will, history of the world and the mongrels,etc. I did see on another site that KZ is considering a sequel – I hope so!

        Reply
  • Great review, Jen! I enjoyed this story so much — I found it one of the best I’ve read this year. K.Z. really had me eager to read it since she put her first chapter on her LiveJournal back in November and I thought,”Whoa, this is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury or China Mieville!” And I’m not even that big a fan of steampunk. 😉

    I’m especially glad you mentioned the sweetness of the romance and how surprised Fan and Will were to be overcome by it. Those things stood out for me as well, plus the realism of Fan’s bipolar disorder. She handled that so well!

    I’m really hoping we can talk her into writing more fiction set in this world. 😀 I’d love to find out more about the origins of the Mongrels.

    Reply
    • Hi Val

      I’m really hoping we can talk her into writing more fiction set in this world. I’d love to find out more about the origins of the Mongrels.

      Oh me too! I found all the different variations of Mongrel abilities and physiology really interesting.

      Reply
  • Oh, dear… I’m looking at my TBB list and it’s growing and growing and growing… every day when I visit this site. *sigh*

    There are several things you mentioned in your review that I like (steampunk, realistic description of mental illness, opposites attract story… Well, gritty works for me too. XD) and I enjoyed several K.Z. Snow’s books. One more for the list, I guess. Thank you for the review!

    Reply
  • What a great review, Jen! I have to admit that I’ve been wanting to read a steampunk novel for a while now, but I’ve been a little nervous about it. I don’t really know why. But this one caught my eye and I do like gritty stories. Thankfully I have a strong stomach as well.

    Very good review. I think it has enticed me to go ahead and buy this 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks, Cole :). I’m not sure why you’ve been nervous about steampunk, but this is definitely a good place to start! I’m glad I’ve managed to entice you 🙂 and hope you enjoy the book.

      Reply

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