What if monsters were real? They could be your neighbors, your friends or your coworkers. Werewolves lurking in the shadows, witches casting hexes and fortune-tellers defying the laws of time and space. What if a hidden world of magic coexisted with our own, where powerful orders protect age-old secrets and magical blood is passed down through generations of ancient families?
This possibility turns out to be true in Cadwell Turnbull’s new adult fantasy novel, “No Gods, No Monsters,” the first installment in “The Convergence Saga” trilogy. In a world just like ours, Laina lives an ordinary life until everything changes when she learns that her brother was fatally shot by Boston cops. What at first seems like an act of police brutality turns out to be something much stranger. Soon, she learns the truth: Monsters are real. The magical world hides in the shadows of modernity, unveiled from one day to the next in an event known as “the Fracture.” After undeniable video footage connected to Laina’s brother’s death is leaked online, supernatural beings come out of the shadows. A legion of monsters — from witches to fortune-tellers, shape-shifters to magical creatures — make themselves known to the world.
However, there are darker forces at play. Ancient magical orders, some well-meaning and others more malevolent, seek to stem the tide of truth. They censor and erase traces of a magical presence, leaving many non-magical humans wondering if what they saw was real. Still, the footage was leaked, and the truth can only be withheld for so long. When the magical and non-magical worlds collide, humans struggle to come to terms with the presence of monsters.
“No Gods, No Monsters” is an enjoyable read, a page-turner that draws you in and leaves you wondering until the very end. The story is exciting, creative and dark at times, and the reader feels the mix of horror and curiosity alongside Laila as she realizes “it wasn’t a bad dream” and monsters are, in fact, real. The novel plays on the uncertainty of the world, the notion that maybe “there is a world beneath this one … like we are a speck of something larger that we only catch glimpses of.” Reality is, at times, unexplainable, and in Turnbull’s novel, this is accounted for by the realm of the supernatural.
“No Gods, No Monsters” shines in how it is grounded just enough in reality to be plausible. In the novel, secret magical societies effectively censor any traces of the magical community on the internet. The reader is left questioning, “Is this the reason why we aren’t aware of any supernatural forces?” In a digital world, truth and knowledge are just a Google search away, but the possibility of censorship is all too feasible. With misinformation running rampant on social media platforms like Facebook, it is hard to know what to believe anymore. Maybe all the signs of supernatural life are there, but we just aren’t looking hard enough.
As a fantasy novel, “No Gods, No Monsters” is unique in tackling issues of prejudice, inequality and bigotry. Turnbull’s cast of characters draws from a spectrum of marginalized people — racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, downtrodden outcasts — and tackles social politics through the vehicle of ‘monster rights.’ The police shooting of Laina’s brother (a ‘monster’) at the beginning of the novel plainly invites comparison to real-world police violence victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Yet, ultimately, the book aims too high. “No Gods, No Monsters” is a hodgepodge of current real-life issues, from protests (the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests come to mind) to police attacks to secret online organizations (some eerily reminiscent of QAnon). The result is somewhat overwhelming, as if the reader should be able to tease out a profound message, but there are too many tangled threads to even know where to start.
Readers who seek fleshed-out and complex protagonists may also be disappointed by this novel’s two-dimensional characters. “No Gods, No Monsters” alternates between many perspectives, failing to thoroughly develop any character before moving on to the next. From Laila to Dragon, Rebecca to Ridley, the rotation of narrations without a clearly defined protagonist is somewhat disorienting. The brief moment in the spotlight that each narrator enjoys is superficial and leaves much to be desired. While in some novels multiple points of view can widen the scope and add complexity, the structure of “No Gods, No Monsters” ultimately feels fractured and clunky.
Still, the twists and turns are sure to keep readers hooked until the end. The first in what promises to be an exciting and popular series, “No Gods, No Monsters” leaves the reader with a shocking ending and unanswered questions that only another installment can answer. The novel will have you looking closer at the shadows, wondering, ‘Is there a magical world of monsters living right under our noses?’
Daily Arts Writer Emma Doettling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.