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No Gods, No Monsters (Cadwell Turnbull) – Book Review

No Gods, No Monsters is the latest urban fantasy novel from Titan Books, one that is more than your average narrative of a person discovering that monsters and magic exist, as here the entire world finds out. But there are secret societies, and powerful people trying to keep the secret, lives being broken apart and new families being found, and a mysterious watcher seeing all from beyond this world that makes this book something a little different.

No Gods, No Monsters features a rather large cast of characters, and as such we don’t just follow one individual across the entire book. There are several characters that we meet along the way, all of who meet, interact, and move on into their own stories at various points, creating something of a complex web of points of view and stories. As such, it’s best to go into this book not expecting to get everything straight away. The first several chapters jump around from character to character, introducing us to new points-of-view to the point where you begin to believe that you’re not going to go back to those you’ve already met before. It’s only as the book gets into its second half and you begin to see these characters come together that you begin to realise that you don’t have to try and make sense of it all straight away, as the narrative doesn’t seem designed to give you much insight early on.

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This kind of reflects the actual content of the story. The book begins with Laina, a young woman living with her husband and working at a co-op owned and run bookstore. She gets the news that her estranged brother has died. She spends some time processing her feelings on this, looking back on the troubled life her brother had, and the incredibly strained relationship that existed between them. She has guilt over this past, over not trying to do more for him, of helping him, but she also blames others for the paths he went down, and the things that hurt him. It’s complex and messy and sums up the emotions of grief well. However, when a mysterious voice in the darkness of her apartment tells her that her brother wasn’t just shot and killed by police, that there’s more to it than that, it begins to open a world up to her that she never dreamed possible.

Laina receives a memory stick with a video file on it: the bodycam footage from a cop. Expecting to witness the moment the cop shot and killed her brother in cold blood she’s shocked to find the police officer chasing a large wolf-like creature. When he shoots the monster it falls to the ground, dead – as her brother. Laina learns that monsters are real, and releases the footage out to the world at the same time that her brother’s friends, his pack, perform a public demonstration of their powers. The news of monsters being real spreads, but then the footage gets altered, the witnesses vanish, and the fight for the truth begins.

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From this simple set-up the story begins to go out in other directions, introducing us to several people in this world. We meet other monsters, some involved in secret societies that are at war with each other, some that are simply trying to exist openly and proudly in the world. The cast expands as we learn more about this world, and we begin to see it from different angels that adds more depth and complexity to things. It becomes messy, hard to know who’s the heroes and who’s the villains, and it makes for a complex read.

One of the things that the book does well is to create complex characters. We return to several characters more than once during the book, and the ones that surround Laina are probably the most interesting. Laina herself, as mentioned before, is dealing with the complex grief over the loss of her brother, but is also trying to find a way to use the new knowledge and proof she has about monsters being real in a good way. Her husband, Ridley, is dealing with his own issues in the book, having to return to visit his family and dealing with the complexities of their relationship after his transition; he’s learning to balance his marriage with Laina when she starts dating another woman, Rebecca, and he learns startling truths about the monster world all on his own.

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There are other characters that circle the two of them, such as Rebecca and her pack of werewolves, but there’s also a secret society of monsters who seem to want to try and make the world a better place for all monsters, but it seems that whenever they come near Laina and those she loves terrible things start to happen. It’s complex and messy for those involved, and there are no easy solutions or simple ideas involved. This isn’t a clear cut good vs evil battle, it’s people, just people. Yes, some are monsters, but that doesn’t make them evil, and everyone in this is layered, everyone sees themselves as the hero, and everyone seems to have a kind of point worth listening to.

The biggest mystery in the book, which seems set to continue on into the next volume of this trilogy, is the mysterious watcher. There’s a figure who seems to exist outside the narrative, watching events, following all of our players, and it’s perhaps he who makes all these desperate threads make sense, as we only ever see what he’s seeing. A man with the ability to see other possibilities, other worlds, he exists on Earth 001, whilst the events of the book take place on Earth 0539. How this all works, whether it will all come together, and what it all means are all things that it seems we’re going to have to wait until the next book for, as Turnbull has created a narrative that simply can’t be contained in this one book.

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The book includes a lot queer representation too, with there being a trans male lead, and with every character depicted that has a romantic or sexual history being shown to be queer in one way or another. Characters have partners of any gender, some identify as lesbian or gay, and there are folks in polyamarous relationships. There’s so little heterosexual representation in this book that it becomes easier to assume everyone is queer unless stated otherwise; which feels pretty unique, as most books with LGBTQ+ representation still feels like its happening in a straight dominated world. Perhaps Earth 0539 just works differently.

No Gods, No Monsters is a complex and layered read. It juggles multiple characters, narratives, and realities as it tells its story. If you’re looking for a book that explains everything in one go this isn’t the story for you, but if you’re looking for something a bit more complex and interesting it might just be perfect for you.

No Gods, No Monsters is out now from Titan Books.

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