reviewed by Simon Logan
Kicking off the Warmed and Bound anthology is Death Juggler by Axel Taiari and it sets the tone and intent for the story, and indeed the whole collection, right from the opening line.
“It’s all laughter and nervous giggles until the bombs explode for real.”
“Death Juggler” is the story of Asher Marok, a circus artist whose act involves killing himself on stage every night in a variety of ways. He blows himself up, allows himself to be consumed by poison gas and shoots himself in the chest with a shotgun – then is patched up by the mysterious surgeon Callahan ready for the next performance. Early on we learn that Asher is owed a debt to a local mafia boss and this debt is about to be called in. Asher, therefore, decides to perform one final time, tricking a rival crime boss into helping him.
Taiari’s world, populated by squid people(shub’nar), mutants, criminals and artists, reminds me heavily of the work of China Mieville and Jeffrey Thomas as well as fellow contributor Paul Tremblay. Taiari has obviously put a lot of time and thought into the creation of the places which he describes but he manages to avoid the common problem of those who world-build and that is to feel the need to shoe-horn in every little detail they have sketched our whether there is a natural place for it in the story or not. Instead, Taiari’s touch is deft and light, describing only what is necessary and leaving the reader to fill in the gaps and this goes for the actual plot as well as the sentence structure. In “Death Juggler” you get enough of a sense of the world to support the story without being confused.
Taiari’s prose is slick and gentle and possesses an occasional lyrical quality to it. In addition the stylistic decision to avoid the usage of speech marks, instead just describing what each character says, was a welcome one. The main characters are, for the most, part well-rounded and believable, though I could have done with a little more information on Callahan the surgeon to further develop his relationship with Asher and the crime bosses come off more as archetypes than clichés. And although there was nothing startlingly unique about the story or setting I’m certain that, as Taiari’s confidence grows, so will the power and originality of the stories which he creates.
Overall “Death Juggler” is a great little tale, dynamic, skilfully presented, and, perhaps most importantly, leaving me wanting to read more from the author.