CS Johnson: ‘Carnival Row’ Requires Some Life Experience

‘Carnival Row’ is one of Amazon Prime’s latest original series, starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. Through Amazon’s mass-marketing-media, there’s been a big push to get people to watch it, and with the amount of resources at their disposal, it’s hard to ignore them when they want you to do something.


Set in an alternative historical/steampunk world, reminiscent of a progressive Victorian London, a nation known as “The Burgue” has found the fae world of Tirnanog, and began a war with “The Pact,” another nation, over it. Refugees, including magical species like pucks, werewolves, and fae (fairies), come to the Burgue and live in “Carnival Row,” as immigrants. A fae who has helped the Burgue in its war efforts, Vingette (Delevinge) arrives in Carnival Row just as harsh attacks and grisly murderers are being investigated by Inspector Rycroft “Philo,” Philostrate (Bloom). Vingette and Philo have a past together, but their future is less certain as the nation’s government and family secrets tie in with the murderers happening across Carnival Row.


The worldbuilding is beautiful and solid. There are different species of magical creatures and different socio-economic levels of society presented that allow for a nuanced look of a mixed society in a setting like Burgue. The characters consistently deliver wonderful performances and all of them do what they are supposed to according to the script (which is why the areas where the writing is subpar are particularly grating). The history of Tirnanog and Burgue are evident and inescapable, as are the changes that have occurred throughout their histories together.

There are some areas of weakness, mostly having to do with setting up expectations and then failing to deliver on them. The last battle at the climax, for example, was barely two minutes for the seven and a half hours that had preceded it, and the revelation of the villain is hardly a surprise by the time we get to the end; this isn’t so bad in itself, but the series has a few good twists before this, so this one is “meh” in comparison. Some storylines are dropped or downplayed after their main conflicts are settled. While season 2 is supposed to come, there’s no indication it will come soon.


This is easily an R-rated series, despite the listed PG-14 rating. There’s a lot of swearing (f-bombs galore), drug use, species-based racism, grisly violence, sex, and sexual-related nudity.

For violence, there’s a lot of attacks, shots fired, brutal street-fighting, blood wounds, a werewolf attack, animal attacks on people, and blatant animal sacrifice for witchcraft. In regards to sex, there is attempted rape, male-female sex, and prostitution. There’s also some homosexuality included in the storyline (gay characters and bisexual/lesbian kissing) and incest.

The religion presented has a man hung from a noose as its patron saint (a step-less violent than crucifixion, perhaps, but some Christians, in particular, might find that imagery distasteful) as well as some violent zealous followers who twist their version of it into more of a cult. There is also witchcraft from the fae, with potions, and darker forms of this as the series progresses.

Some, including Orlando Bloom himself, have noted that it is a commentary about today’s political clime, especially in regard to immigration. This is both a strength and weakness of the show, since many of the characters represent a side on the fate of the refugees in the story, allowing all sides to be presented, but there is a lack of nuance in working their choices out (some will disagree with this, as “realism” might mean a lack of hope.

I would easily not recommend this to anyone under 18 (I fast-forwarded through a lot of the sex and violence). The series requires some life experience and understanding of the human nature, especially with the different tensions of cause and effect, distribution of resources, class systems, and so on.


If you’re 18 or over, you can, sure. Doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it. But if you enjoy a mismatch of magic, historical revisionism, monster/horror, and crime, Carnival Row would be something you would like, especially if you’re not bothered by the R-rating.

If you’d prefer romantic mysteries set in a steampunk veneer that are not rated R, check out my book, One Flew Through the Dragon Heart (Favan and Flew, #1).

Check out the trailer below:

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of this blog’s Chief Editor, but more than like it is because he has never seen the show.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my movie review of Point Blank. and my article ‘The X-Men Belong On TV, Not The Big Screen’ Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.

Did you know my new fantasy novel “The Seven Royals: All Good Things” is now available on Barnes and Noble and Amazon? You can get your e-book copy at BookLocker.

You can find me on everywhere on social media! Facebook: Author Jacob Airey | Instagram: realjacobairey| Twitter: @realJacobAirey | YouTube: StudioJake


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