June 16, 2021

Book review: NO GODS, NO MONSTERS by Cadwell Turnbull

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

The official blurb:

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

Why I loved this book:

In 2019 I reviewed Cadwell Turnbull's alien invasion / colonization novel The Lesson for B&N's Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog (read the review) and it's a book I still think about a lot. Before that, I was already a fan of Turnbull's short fiction (there are links to his short stories at the end of this review). All this to say: when I got a chance to read an Advance Reading Copy of No Gods, No Monsters, I was thrilled. And once I started reading, I was enthralled.

No Gods, No Monsters is an audacious, powerful, and often mind-blowing novel that takes you on a dizzying ride into a hidden, ancient world of monsters existing just beneath the surface of human society. 

When I started reading, I foolishly thought I kind of knew what sort of monster story this was, and that I more or less understood what kind of world it takes place in, but wow, was I wrong. Page by page, chapter by chapter, Turnbull removes the walls, the ceiling, and the floor of the reality I thought I was exploring as a reader, until I was falling into the starlit depths of an entirely different, fearsome and awe-inspiring universe.

"You ever feel like there's a world beneath this one?"
"What do you mean?" Ridley's breath rises and falls, his heart beating steady as a drum.
Laina struggles for the words. "Like we are a speck on some larger thing that we only catch glimpses of."

No Gods, No Monsters is a riveting, sometimes harrowing book as Turnbull explores the unseen power structures and secret power struggles that underpin the reality humans thought they understood. In particular, the book is the story of what happens when those secrets are laid bare for all the world to see. Just like in The Lesson, Turnbull anchors the speculative fiction / horror part of his narrative in a nuanced understanding of the power dynamics at work in the real world, a world riven by racism, bigotry, media manipulation, repression and oppression, but also a world of communities, loyalties, and love. 

Beyond the monsters and the monstrous and the monstrosities (human and otherwise), this is very much a story about communities - in the human world, in the monster world, and at the points where those worlds intersect. It's also a book about family (found and otherwise), and the yearning to belong, to matter to someone, and to feel like we have a place in the world.

Turnbull tells his story from several different points of view, pulling us into the lives of characters that have varying degrees of knowledge and understanding of the monster-world. The characters' storylines sometimes intersect and collide, and the way these various points of view reveal the world and the story to us bit by bit, illuminating it from different angles, makes for a gripping narrative that is so good it occasionally left me giddy.

There is one moment in the book that literally made me do a double-take as I was reading. I won't give it away, because it's a spoiler (and also, it's too damn good!), but I will say that it's the kind of storytelling choice that knocked the wind out of me. The impact reminded me of the knock-out moment in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy when we finally understand who has been narrating part of the story in second person for us. In a similar way, Turnbull manages to flip our understanding of the story, and the story-telling, on its head.

No Gods, No Monsters is an intense, rich, and intricate book that puts a uniquely imagined spin on many familiar horror tropes and themes: secret societies, werewolves, magic, cosmic horror, and much more. It's out in September, and you should pre-order it now. 

This is the first instalment in Turnbull's Convergence Saga, so there will definitely be more books to look forward to.

Buy No Gods, No Monsters. 


For links to Cadwell Turnbull's short fiction and essays, check out his website.


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