I’ve read a couple of horror/monster related novels already this year, with Mark Matthews’ The Hobgoblin of Little Minds being the pick of the bunch. Cadwell Turnbull’s second book, No Gods, No Monsters, is a different beast altogether, if you pardon the pun. Both authors offer a fresh take on the werewolf mythos, preferring to focus on the psychological effect of actually being a monster in a contemporary environment. Whereas Matthews’ book is a visceral gut-punch, Turnbull’s novel is more reflective, has a larger cast of characters, and weaves its story through time and locations which don’t, at the outset, seem to connect with one another. But they do, in the end. How Turnbull gets there is genius.
It’s a difficult book to give a synopsis of, but I’ll try. The book is framed and narrated in parts by Calvin who, like the author, is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He ends a relationship when he learns of his brother’s death. He goes back home to reconnect with his niece. Laina, who I consider to be the main character, has also lost her brother, Lincoln, who was gunned down by police. Echoes of police violence on people of colour in the U.S. and elsewhere weighed heavy on my mind as I read this and other parts of the story. Laina learns of a video of her brother’s shooting and immediately shares it online. It is proof that monsters live among us, because her brother was one. But the video is mysteriously edited, leaving Laina and her husband Ridley knocked back emotionally.
And that’s just two of the many character arcs going on here. Throughout the novel we learn of a war between two secret societies: one wants to let the world know that monsters co-exist with regular humanity; the other uses violent means to suppress the information. Caught between the two is a young boy with powers of his own, enough to turn the tide one way or another. He is protected by a group of women which includes a tech mage and a woman who literally takes her skin off and becomes invisible. The boy, who I won’t name because it’s a spoiler of sorts, is hunted by a man who’s been maimed in a ritual. It’s all sorts of crazy, and somewhere in the back of it all, there’s a debate on quantum physics and the ability to slip between dimensions. So, some of what happens occurs in our world, I think, while other events occur in a parallel universe.
One of the many things I love about this book is the diversity of its characters. Cadwell Turnbull brings them to life in a way I’ve not experienced in my reading too much of late. Turnbull brings his Caribbean culture to life in these pages, flavouring his book with characters that do not identify as ‘straight’ or binary. Despite being self-proclaimed monsters in the classic sense, they are as human as you or I, and share similar needs and identities as any of us on this planet. This book left me with a need to read more fiction by authors who don’t look like me, or live a lifestyle similar to mine. I consider this a must in this day and age.
Although No Gods, No Monsters is a fantastical tale, brilliantly written and told, the depth of feeling and sense of urgency is as real as anything you would see in our world. This book will sit with me for some time to come.
My thanks goes to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for supplying me with an ARC of No Gods, No Monsters, in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 7, 2021. Get your copy now. You won’t regret it.