Galveston: The Eternal Carnival

18 Sep

It feels odd to be saying that a book which, not so long ago, won the World Fantasy Award is little known, but unfortunately that seems to be the case with Sean Stewart’s Galveston (I was amazed to see that Amazon does not even have a review of this book on its UK website!).

Galveston is a real town in Texas, described in the book as a ‘thin ribbon of sand’ not far from the Gulf of Mexico. Due to its position it has always been vulnerable to the elements and in 1900 it was hit by a Katrina-sized hurricane which basically obliterated everything in its path, leaving no structures standing and one-sixth of the population dead. Galveston the book imagines a time in the near future when the town is drowned not by water but by magic, when reason and rationality are washed away to be replaced by gods, ghosts and monsters in a bizarre and deadly Mardi Gras. This cataclysm, called the Flood, basically splits Galveston in two, with one half of the town trying to carry on their lives as normal while the other half is trapped in an endless carnival ruled by the malevolent entity known as Momus, who is part clown and part devil – a sort of psychotic version of the Greek god of mockery from whom he takes his name. Life away from Momus is not much better since the ‘free’ half of Galveston is overrun by dangerous and unpredictable ‘Krewes’ (basically gangs, but run by criminals who love dressing up in carnival gear). Eventually someone decides to take on both Momus and the Krewes and that’s when the fun really begins!

This book is literally bursting to the seams with ideas and stands virtually in a genre of its own in terms of its uniqueness. Part post-apocalytic novel, part modern fairy-tale, Galveston combines humour, fantasy, horror, romance and a splash of science fiction in a satisfyingly complex cocktail that is as dark and sultry as Southern whisky. The characters are also anything but conventional – the book has a heroine who is as selfish as they come and a hero that is equally unpleasant but both somehow seem to always retain our sympathies; while the gallery of supporting players who are by turns amusing, grotesque and downright nasty really come alive in your imagination due to the skill of Stewart’s characterisation. The ending is also anything but predictable.

Stewart never wrote a sequel to Galveston as far as I’m aware so it stands alone as a little-known masterpiece that lingers in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page. Such is the novel’s depth and the intricacy of its plotting, however, that it holds up to repeated re-reading better than almost any book I’ve ever read and I for one get something new out of it at each sitting. If you’re ever tempted to buy this book I hope you do too…

3 Responses to “Galveston: The Eternal Carnival”

  1. MonsterJournalist September 18, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    This sounds like a really interesting book — thank for bringing it to my attention.
    (Just as a really tiny side note, Galveston is on the Gulf of Mexico, not the Pacific).
    I look forward to reading more reviews!

  2. anilbalan September 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Thanks (and thanks for the correction!)

  3. belleofthecarnival September 19, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    I’m adding this to my fall reading list – it sounds really good!

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