In the far future Earth-based Coalition, Michaelangelo Kusanagi-Jones and Vincent Katherinessen were once the top spy team. But years before Carnival begins their partnership and careers were torn apart by a catastrophic mission failure. What's more, their homosexual relationship is forbidden by the government. When they are reunited for a mission they had not seen each other for seventeen years.
Michaelangelo and Vincent are sent to New Amazonia to infiltrate the government and uncover their seemingly inexhaustible source of energy. New Amazonia is a female controlled government and so require any ambassadors from the Coalition be "gentle males" making their past relationship an asset. As a cover, Michaelangelo and Vincent are there to negotiate the return of New Amazonian art but key players on both sides have ulterior motives. Lisa Pretotia, their contact, is a part of an underground movement to undermine the current political climate and grant males more rights. Another complication is the presence of a sentient alien on the planet, presumably the ascended essence of the original inhabitant.
Many layers of deception weave through Carnival, so many that at times it got a bit difficult to follow who was on which side and motivations were often nebulous. I liked the characters of Michaelangelo and Vincent but their personalities often got lost in the quick moving pace. The most notable part of Carnival is the world it inhabits. The Coalition is spreading it's fascism across the universe, controlled by alien overseers who decide who should be eliminated to control the population and it's drain on the ecosystems. But many factions are plotting against the coalitions creeping control, including it's own spies. New Amazonia has it's own problems. To stem aggression the government has restrictions on all males. Even the physical existence of New Amazonia's cities is unique. The buildings are alive in a way, creating spaces as the people need them, reacting to their needs.
Carnival by Elizabeth Bear is a multi layered novel of social science fiction dealing with basic human rights. Although hard to follow at times, I give this novel a good recommendation. While I wouldn't name Carnival among my favorites, it was well worth a reading and makes me look forward to reading other titles by Elizabeth Bear.
Carnival by Elizabeth Bear is available at Amazon.com
I reviewed Carnival from my own personal library