I've read little horror this year, or lately at all. I'm much more picky now when it comes to the stories, styles, bells and whistles that accompany the genre. This one looked fascinating as I usually love all things circus: TV shows (canceling Carnivale was a sin), campy music pieces, movies, and books. I haven't read many books that focus on the cirus or canivale...they're either not easy to find or I just miss most of them. Whatever approach the author uses, circuses can provide easy setting for cheap thrills or serious ones.
It's quickly obvious Smith chose cheesiness and gore-punch for this one. The plots unique enough (trust me, it's not just any freakshow that's come to town), creative, and quickly paced. Things happen fast, there's plenty of POV skipping around, and the ending is a giant battle. Insanity starts from the beginning not just in the events, but the bizarre characters on all sides - bad or good.
Unfortunately for me this book just wore me out - there was too much in-your-face shock factor, a bit too much torture/dread, without many pauses to ingest and digest or care about characters much. Sure, there's suspense up the nose, no one would want to be caught by any of these freaks, but I felt some of it was put in just for the shock effect and this can cheapen the experience.
Even though it's a completely plot based book, and you don't care about the characters as much (one reason being there are so many, and the POV skipping is used quite a bit), they were written well and convincing. The heros of the story were a surprise in a way, and the villains are completely bad-ass, creepy, powerful, and things you wouldn't want to mess with in your wildest imagination.
Smith writes with a style which is a joy to read as well, and even if this book wasn't something I enjoyed as much as I'd hope despite the cool elements surrounding it, his prose sucks you in and is easy to follow. Sometimes dialogue was frustrating though, and a particular character stood out with his as a little cardboardish because of it.
If you're in the mood for some shock-effect horror, this should serve the purpose nicely. The ringleader woman is a creepy villain, there's plenty of violence and brutal imagery, it has a tightly wound doomsday appeal, and it's not a book that's easy to forget. On the negative side there's a bunch of random violence shoved into this book, along with bizarre sex, over-the top torture and dread, and a mishmash that isn't overly enjoyable with characters you don't really want to latch onto.