They have always walked among us. Some shift shape. Some drink blood. Some step freely between worlds to marvel at the kaleidoscope of lives lived differently. Now, some have chosen to show themselves to us. Others will stop at nothing to keep their secrets. But is humanity ready to live with monsters?
I have been meaning to read No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull since its US release last autumn, and the UK release in time for Spooktastic Reads is the perfect excuse to catch up. Turnbull is a genre writer with literary flair so while the blurb for No Gods, No Monsters gave me World of Darkness urban fantasy feels I knew there’d be a lot more to it than oh hey, monsters are a thing now. And oh gosh, yes, there is.
First impressions matter: No Gods, No Monsters begins with a particular tone of first person narration that I’m absolutely weak for; and the audio book is narrated by Dion Graham whose voice makes me swoon. Combine the two and I was willing to give the opening chapter – in which a guy tells a friend he’s leaving town, so she sleeps with him – more leeway than I usually would.
Although it works for me, the first person narration isn’t going to work for everyone. My leanings aside, it’s hella confusing when I remains I – a distinct narrator – even when the focus shifts to a new point of view, Laina, and she’s clearly alone. Who is I? With a pang of regret, I switched to print (Graham’s voice is too distractingly gorgeous) as I realised I would need my full focus to keep on top of this one. Sure enough, the first act is unforgiving as chapters plunge into new perspectives and situations, leaving the reader to sink or swim as they absorb context. Thankfully, I loved the texture of the characters – fully realised with complex baggage, and primarily queer characters of colour – who kept me engaged as I slowly figured out what was going on.
Go with the flow and let it all wash over you, patterns begin to coalesce. Circumstances and connections become clear. This is no plot-focused, action-driven urban fantasy: No Gods, No Monsters takes its time, laying foundations for the rest of The Convergence Saga. Character-driven, it reveals its conspiracies and conflicts through the people affected by them (or contributing to them); the arc of this first instalment is whether the characters will get involved and pick sides.
The shifter narratives reveal the world of monsters – living, breathing folklore who still have to go to school and make rent. I call them monsters to distinguish here, but they are as essentially human as they (mostly) look, driven by love, loss and ambition. Some belong to ruthless, manipulative secret societies; some have bloodlines spanning generations; others are rogues, surviving on the fringes as best they can, preying on humanity when they must (or in the case of unusual, childlike Smoke, because they’re made to). Trust is a rare commodity – they are outnumbered by humans, as their powers are dwarfed by those of the mysterious gods.
The human perspective focuses on Laina and her (trans, ace) husband Lincoln, blissfully unaware of the supernatural until Laina’s brother is shot dead by police. Laina is drawn into the lives of a pack of angry young shifters ready to reveal themselves – and finds that there are unknown forces equally keen to suppress the message. Lincoln has no idea that his solidarity economics network is chaired by someone more than human until a meeting goes spectacularly sideways with far-reaching implications.
As supernatural forces manouevre to control escalating events, No Gods, No Monsters considers how we align with causes and what moves us to support (or oppose) them. Our various protagonists must come to terms with betrayals, evaluate their beliefs and decide where their hearts lie: whether they can stand aside or must get involved and take responsibility for trying to change the world. The result is a narrative very much about idealists and change agents confronted by the ruthless opposition of entrenched interests, making it a rewarding read.
For our protagonists, victory means change. I loved the focus on achieving this through co-operation – whether for social transformation or economic benefit – with Turnbull quite clear that the only way we rise is if we do so together. I’m keen to see where he takes this next in the face of entrenched opposition and uncaring gods who stride his multiverse (yes, world-hopping is a thing. In fact, there’s so many things packed into this novel its remarkable that it carries them all – but it does, anchored by its characters). There’s room for The Convergence Saga to be an uplifting, empowering series of struggle and hope; or for it to leave me crushed – and I won’t be surprised at all if the answer is a little of both, combined with a large serve of what the fuck happened, didn’t see THAT coming.
Many thanks to Titan Books for the free advance copy. NO GODS NO MONSTERS is now available in paperback in the UK from Titan Books; and in ebook, audio and US editions from Blackstone Publishing.