No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
(Titan Books, 2022)
Reviewed by John Dodd
Monsters are real, and they’re here, and they’re living amongst us. This is the line that draws us into the book, the promise of something different and strange, of a place and time where the supernatural exists hand-in-hand with the ordinary world.
This starts with a killing, a killing that won’t be explained till much later in the book, but at its heart, something that should have been clear from the beginning. Laina’s brother Lincoln is shot by the police, the reason is not given, and it’s not till a sixth of the book in that we find out that there was more to it than just a random act of police brutality. It was because he was a monster, and not even that, just a shape shifter, and it raises the question for those reading of whether or not there was more to the killing than just him being different.
The undercurrent of the book is concentrated on the nature of the injustices that are faced by the monster community, and it’s positioned in such a way that it’s impossible to ignore that those injustices are faced by many in today’s world. By making those who suffer the injustices ‘monsters’, different in a way that cannot be ignored by anyone, attention is drawn to the notion that all you have to be to suffer, is different from those who make the laws. The point is eloquently made and there’s a real sense of community in and amongst those who are suffering, something which is missing in many books that tackle similar subjects.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of, some minor, some major, and there isn’t a continuity of action between the characters as they progress through the novel. As the reader, we go from point-to-point, in some cases missing dozens of pages between what happened last to a character, to the point where you presume that their part in the novel is done, only to be surprised that they’re still around. The problem with that is that while it all makes sense in the end, it requires that you’re willing to read through twice just to make sure that you didn’t miss anything in the initial stages of the book, which in and of itself is a problem.
Overall, I like the notion of monsters among us. I like the idea of there being a fracture between worlds that caused all this to occur. It came as a surprise when different worlds were mentioned, particularly when there’d been no mention of them at any point prior to that, and the possibility of a multiverse hadn’t been mooted at all. That led to a sense of wondering what else might be turning up that hadn’t been mentioned before.
There’s very much the sense that there’s far more to this (these?) world(s?) than is initially noted, and that this may well be the precursor to something much larger, where the monsters may have their own worlds that don’t have the same prejudices and difficulties as this one does, and that there may well be a myriad of stories untold out there to be explored. For me, just the telling of this story would have been excellent, without the many distractions that are picked up along the way. There are some wonderful turns of phrase (Paranoia has a physics to it…) in the prose and it has the feeling of a real world in so many ways, but there’s so much to keep up with, and the central message of the story seems disjointed, even left behind at certain points.
I wanted to like this more than I did, the central tenets of monsters and the struggles they face is one of the defining elements for me in most stories, whether the monsters are human or something more than, but like the world(s) in which this is set, I found the central narrative too fractured to enjoy it properly.