This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reader Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No Gods, No Monsters will be released on September 7, 2021.
Urban fantasy is not my go-to subgenre, but the plot summary of No Gods, No Monsters caught my eye with “what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger: monsters are real,” and I’d seen good things about Cadwell Turnbull’s writing, so I requested and was approved for my first ARC.
What I got was a book that broke sharply from my stereotypes about urban fantasy, an audacious tapestry of a novel teeming with different perspectives and switching rapidly—often within a chapter—between first and third-person and past and present tense. No Gods, No Monsters is, as promised, a story about a world suddenly discovering that monsters are real. But it is not at all a straightforward one, with perspective shifting back and forth between monsters themselves, family members of monsters, conspiracy theorists hunting for secret societies, and more, with every perspective having its own backstory, such that each section feels like a novelette of its own as much as it feels like a piece of a greater whole.
No Gods, No Monsters is a tough book to review, and it definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes. If you aren’t comfortable enjoying small-scale pieces of story while being in the dark about where the overarching plot is going, this won’t be for you. There is plot convergence, but it takes a long time to become apparent, and even when it does, there isn’t that moment where everything clicks into place and we see exactly why we’ve been learning about so many small stories.
But the small stories are almost universally wonderful. Turnbull’s prose is ambitious and engaging, and he makes every point-of-view character come to life, even if they only get a chapter of page time. There’s a remarkable diversity of characters, all with different aims and different struggles, but every one of them has a poignant story of loss that anchors their narrative and makes them come alive as individuals.
As I said, No Gods, No Monsters is a tough book to review, and it’s a tough book to rate as well. I imagine that those who enjoy literary-leaning fantasy may find a new favorite here, and those who want clear plot progression will be disappointed. But I’m in the middle, and I’m trying to weigh my disappointment at an ending that pulled the pieces together but didn’t fit them seamlessly against my adoration of so many individual subplots and more than a few individual passages. Ultimately, I find myself somewhere in the middle, and No Gods, No Monsters joins Rosewater and The Vanished Birds as books I’ve read this year where I enjoyed the set pieces more than the cohesive whole. If anything, it’s an even more stark division—the stories that make up No Gods, No Monsters are individually better than those other two, while the overarching narrative is less clear. But there is plenty of room for further story in the world Turnbull has created, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the sequel.
Recommended if you like: literary fantasy, excellent prose, myriad fully-developed characters.
Can I use it for Bingo? I believe it fits hard mode for Trans/NB (it’s tough to identify the main protagonists, but there is a trans perspective character), and it certainly fits First Person and 2021 Release.
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.