Carnival Row (on Amazon Prime) is one of the shows I was really looking forward to. I expected it to be full-blown steam fantasy, which it turned out not to be. Rather, the setting is Victorian low fantasy. The technology level is Victorian and there are mild magical variances compared to our world, in this case: Necromancy is possible (Hurray!) and there are fairy creatures of various kinds around.
Also, I was not thrilled to read the lead actors were going to be Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom. Both had been rather bland in their performances the last few times I saw them. Orlando Bloom was particularly forgettable in the Hobbit trilogy. But I need not have worried. Both perform excellently in this series.
Plot and Main Characters
The show revolves around a series of murders that are very reminiscent of Jack the Ripper in the capital city of the Republic of the Burgue. The city is sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots, very much like London is and was. But unlike London, there are fairy creatures living in the city, refugees from a war the Republic was involved in years ago, and their descendants, and there is dark magic being practiced in the shadows. Rycroft Philostrate, played by Orlando Bloom, is a constable with the Burgueish police, having signed up with them after serving in the war. He is investigating these murders. Unbeknownst to him, his former fae lover Vignette, played by Cara Delevingne, is also living in the city now, having arrived as a refugee.
Side Plots and Supporting Characters
The main plot is straightforward, although there are a few dark twists, but it is the things happening along the way that make this series interesting.
There is the upper-class daughter who is ruled over by her incompetent elder brother, just as society would have it, but revolts and falls in love in one fell swoop with someone her brother utterly disapproves of but upon whom he is absolutely dependent.
Correspondingly, there is the insanely rich puck businessman who finds more than just a way into polite society.
There is the son of the chancellor who at first seems like a typical upper-class twit but who comes into his own and gets tangled up in something that would make George R.R. Martin proud.
There is the street performer who (spoiler alert) I suspected for a long time to be Rycroft’s father, he is not, but he has a key part in this affair.
There is the haruspex/necromancer who is played by the magnificent Alice Krige and who gave us the first look onto something that was clearly influenced by the Great Old One Cthulhu.
There is the fae prostitute and former lover of Vignette, who works in a brothel that is far more relevant to the plot then one might think.
And there is a puck cult who manages to absolutely mess things up for everybody else.
Things I liked and things I did not like
The plot itself is well paced but has a few stretches but then the side stories do their part to make things entertaining and suspenseful again.
The plot elements of classism, racism, women’s rights, and religious fundamentalism and how they all play into the story are a bit too obvious a mirror of our own world, but they are not overt or blatant enough to spoil the enjoyment of watching the series.
The chemistry between the characters is excellent, especially between the ones that do the most illicit things, and the plot twists in the last episodes of the season are just stunning and make you wonder what other dark reveals will happen in the future.
The season ends in a double cliff hanger and now I am looking forward to season 2.
Season 1 of Carnival Row gets 8 out of 10 puffs of fairy dust.