By Stephanie Feldman
Author: Stephanie Feldman
Publisher: Verve Books
- ISBN: 9781951213640
- Published: October 2022
- Pages: 238
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 06/11/2023
- Language: English
What happens when the world ends? Do we as a species rally together to save the day at the last possible moment, or do we fiddle whilst Rome burns? If recent history has shown us nothing else, the rich will party, and the poor will die. Nothing new there then. Stephanie Feldman does not see the trend stopping anytime soon, in Saturnalia the US is in the death grip of global warming, diseased summers and frozen winters. Why try and save the world when you can drink instead?
Parts of Philidelphia have survived the tumultuous weather conditions of the recent years. These parts are invariably home to the rich and powerful. Rather than seek to reverse the global changes the wealthy instead are celebrating the annual Saturnalia carnival. The place to be is the Saturn Club and after years of exile, Nina is back. She is not there to mingle, but to find a hidden package and steal it. The contents will show that while some rich are idle, others are investigating antient and arcane magics to save at least themselves from the end of the world.
Saturnalia is an intoxicating mix of genres, near future dystopia, urban fantasy, and magical realism. It is a concoction that works well together, especially in Feldman’s flawed future. The book could have been set in the present day or in a fantasy world, but it is set in a twisted version of our own future. The bleak outlook for humankind is not impossible and perhaps even probable. Rather than write a depressed future tale, Feldman layers the story with a sense of magic and wonder.
The Saturn Club itself is the starting point and Nina’s reintroduction into that world is perfect for the reader to get a grip of the excess of the place. The juxtaposition of Nina’s own family at home struggling and the rich playing games is stark. Her own father lost an arm to a simple bacterial infection as antibiotics are no longer working. Meanwhile, a masked ball is taking place in a club where food is wasted.
Nina is not portrayed as a good person. Many of her choices are selfish and aimed to better her own life. However, as the story progresses, she evolves and learns to do better. We also start to learn that this is a world of real magic. The Saturn Club may be a façade, but it hides a dark secret. Nina and her friends are all disciples of the club, and they have some form of magical powers. Nina is tasked with finding a package that will reveal some of what is happening.
At this point, the book opens wider than just the club and becomes about the city. Nina meets old friends and cannot trust them all. We also learn that the Saturn Club is just one of many. Followers of Saturn wish to ascend to a higher and more powerful groups. They will do anything to achieve this. The book becomes an action thriller as Nina must take the package whilst being chased by a strange and immovable force.
Saturnalia is a fascinating mixture of genre types that works because Feldman fills the book with a sense of mystery from the way the world has crumbled to the backhanded powerplays. It is a bleak book that does not present the best side of humanity, but Nina and some others do show compassion and give the reader hope. You enter the book feeling like it is a Bacchanalia dreamscape and you exit it in a similar fashion, a different urban fantasy for you to try.
Written on 6th November 2023 by Sam Tyler .