Carnival Row (Amazon Prime drama series) opens with a prologue, as a tale of strange places, peoples and creatures must. It’s spoken by Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne): “For generations we thrived peacefully in a land called Tirnanoc. We are fawns, trolls, centaurs and the stewards of riches and secrets your people will never know. We are Fae, and this is our land – until the empires of man brought us the chaos of war.”
Interesting, but Vignette’s accent and the uilleann pipes playing suggest that Tirnanoc is shorthand for Ireland. Readers of Yeats will not be bothered: the Sidhe and Cú Chulainn, the ocean and the green wood compose a virtual mosaic for mythic adventure and everything “Fae”.
The wars, courtesy of “empires of man”, have an analogue as well. If Tirnanoc sweetly smells of Ireland, the Burgue (the land of man) stinks of Victorian Britain. Once a smorgasbord of peoples who lived in harmony, it’s now flooded by – ahem – refugees. Consequently, the ruling Burguish, a pestilent congregation of xenophobes and crass imperialists, are upset – except for a few, one of whom is Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom). He joined the Burgue’s army to fight the Pact, a rapacious force of men and werewolves who were raping Tirnanoc.
The business sounds benevolent enough, but one quickly gets the sense that the Burguish army will, if victorious, take what it can – which it does, as the story makes clear in a later episode, with various Tiranocian treasures on display in a museum (a rather clumsy slap at the British Museum).
However, the main thing in war-torn faerieland is romance. Vignette, a keeper of the great library of Tirnanoc, meets Philostrate, and love blossoms rapidly – explicitly too. But when the army’s retreat takes him away, Vignette, who thinks that her beloved has died, remains to help escaping refugees before fleeing herself to the Burgue.
Meanwhile, Philostrate has become a Burguish inspector of police, trying to discover the culprit in a series of grisly murders in which the victims are horribly dissected for their livers. Is a werewolf from the Pact lurking in the sewers? Anything’s possible, and Philostrate must find out just how far the limits of possibility may be pushed as he investigates each new killing.
The sex scenes in the series leave very little to the imagination, right down to the orgasmic beating of faerie wings. As for the language, even though Vignette assures Philostrate that the Fae know more words than he can imagine, her vocabulary seems limited to about a hundred words, the most frequently used beginning with F. The excess on both of these counts may ruin the series for some, but lovers of fantasy probably won’t mind. It’s already scheduled for a second season.
Dr Carl C Curtis III is a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia