When Game of Thrones ended, it left a vac­uum that many shows hoped to fill. Who wouldn’t want to be the next cul­tural phe­nom­e­non?

The eas­i­est path is to be an ex­pen­sive and grand fan­tasy se­ries with con­vo­luted plots and mo­ral grey­ness. Hol­ly­wood knows the gen­res that used to be at the mar­gins – fan­tasy, sci-fi – are now thor­oughly in the main­stream.

Want au­di­ences? CGI in a dragon and add in some char­ac­ters with names like Ry­croft Philostrad­e and Vignette Stonemoss.

Well, there are no dragons in Car­ni­val Row, but there are fairies, horned crea­tures called pucks and sor­cer­ers who can work dark magic. Plus, fam­ily se­crets. Oh yes, we do love those fam­ily se­crets and solv­ing the mys­te­ri­ous parent­age of our or­phaned hero. Sound fa­mil­iar?

Bor­row­ing its steam­punk aes­thetic from Victorian Eng­land, Car­ni­val Row is set in a be­lea­guered city called The Bur­gue. Sim­mer­ing ten­sion be­tween its hu­man res­i­dents and its mag­i­cal refugees are about to boil over.

It’s an un­mis­take­able anal­ogy for not just our present-day so­ciopo­lit­i­cal cli­mate around im­mi­gra­tion, but re­ally, pick any mo­ment in his­tory and you’ll find that tus­sle.

Or­lando Bloom plays Philostrad­e or, as he’s known, Philo, a de­tec­tive in­spec­tor in­ves­ti­gat­ing a se­ries of grisly mur­ders in which the vic­tims’ in­sides are splayed out. Philo is the one with the mys­te­ri­ous parent­age, hav­ing been aban­doned as a baby.

To its credit, Car­ni­val Row is an orig­i­nal work in that it’s not a re­make, re­boot or even adap­ta­tion from a comic book or novel.

That’s rare form in 2019.

The se­ries is quite adept at world build­ing, but it takes a long time to get go­ing with its con­vo­luted sub­plots. It only hits its stride around episode four, and when there are only eight episodes in the first se­ries, that’s an in­dul­gence it didn’t have the right to ask.

If you do stick around past the mid­way mark, there’s some re­ward in it. Char­ac­ters who start off as one-note car­i­ca­tures re­veal themselves as more lay­ered.

Car­ni­val Row is stream­ing on Ama­zon Prime Video now.

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