This review is on the advance copy of an unpublished work I received through NetGalley. No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull is due for release September 7th, 2021.
The title of this novel is so very appropriate, on multiple levels. It is a pun on the anarchist/activist slogan. However, when taken literally, it can also be read as a denial of gods and monsters, yet we find both within the pages of this book. There is a lot going on and readers will perhaps, if not most definitely, need to read it at least twice to understand its nuances!
No Gods, No Monsters features a gigantic cast of characters. It is actually written in present-tense first-person, though you wouldn’t know that at first. At first it seems like you’re reading a collection of short stories linked only by an event at the beginning of the book: this one is written in past-tense third-person, that one in present-tense third-person—and, oh wait, is that line in first-person present-tense mixed in by mistake? Not at all! There is one narrator to this tale, throughout. This narrator focuses on other characters at times, and reflects on their pasts, and that is where I got confused at first. But it is actually quite masterfully done, once you understand why.
“The expert combination of immersive prose, strong characters, sharp social commentary, and well-woven speculative elements makes for an unforgettable experience. Fantasy fans won’t want to miss this.”Publishers Weekly
The characters are all fabulously deep and real. Their life stories and ambitions are genuine, not prettied up for the sake of fantasy; even urban fantasy, which I would say is the best genre expectation to enter this novel with. The setting is modern, the dilemmas the characters face are urban and societal. Then comes the urban fantasy. Thar be monsters, after all–but exactly what or who the monsters are is one of the leading questions of the story. The cast of characters has as many layers as the title of the novel itself, if not more. And they are, perhaps, the most racially and gender/sexually diverse cast I’ve ever read. “My wife’s girlfriend,” said by an asexual trans man to his best friend Marcus who he once loved is only one example of the complex characters that leap out of these pages. All of the characters, straight, LGBTQ+, black, white, multi-racial, friends, family, strangers, and more are delivered in a way that is relatable and human. Not a single one is a stereotype. Monsters and magic aside, you really feel like you’re reading about real people. Turnbull shows a great depth of understanding people from different walks of life in his writing, and exposes them in layers so that the deeper you go, the more you can relate to them.
Unfortunately, like a relationship that doesn’t quite work out, I was about halfway through this book before I realized I was being unfair to us both and broke up. “It’s not you, it’s me,” as the old adage goes. There was too much going on for me to keep up with. With a little over half the book under my belt, I felt I should have had a better connection to the main characters, or at least have understood who the main characters are and what they are up against. But I didn’t, and that’s possibly a result of me not being able to sit down and read the whole thing in one go. Every time I picked the book up I had to figure out where I was and who was who again. Turnbull is a masterful writer, that much goes without saying. Maybe I’ll revisit this one in the future. Maybe not. I’m told that if you can make it past the halfway mark, you’ll love it. I was certainly intrigued by everything leading up to the halfway mark, but there found I could go no further. Reading had become work for me, and I prefer reading that is fun.
“I love the way Turnbull changes the narrative of hate and division that has been written about so many times and makes us ponder the question, Who are the real monsters?”Keri Cooks, Forbes
The all too real topics this book addresses and the themes expressed within its pages are heavy, make no mistake. But it is a well-written novel that I think will appeal to people who enjoy complex plots and expositions of the human condition sprinkled with the possibility of magic being real. Is magic still magical if it’s real? That’s one question of many that No Gods, No Monsters had me chewing on. There’s very little by way of mainstream entertainment to compare this work to. It’s truly a standout piece.
Is It For You?
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: Social commentary, social justice, secret societies.
Character: Monsters, sexually diverse, racially diverse, large cast.
Writing: First-person narrator, multiple perspectives
Clean Score: 2 for language, 2 for violence, 2.5 for sex, a total score of 6.5/9. Use of language is in character, for some character more excessive, for others less. Violence is described in-character, not for shock value. Consensual sex is described more emotionally, with some vague physical details. Rape and sexual abuse alluded to behind closed doors. To find out more about my Clean Score, click here.
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