No Gods, No Monsters
by Cadwell Turnbull
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted September 7, 2021
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Today is the publication day for Cadwell Turnbull's second novel, No Gods, No Monsters. I received an e-ARC from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I normally review ARCs before a book's release, but I've been struggling to concentrate on reading for several weeks now. This is the first book in a series with the collective title of the Convergence Saga. Early in the book the world goes through what becomes known as The Fracture, but I'm assuming the collective title means the fracture will be repaired, that various people and groups will work out their differences, begin working together. I'm probably wrong about that though, but I'm anxious to find out.
My inability to concentrate led to some of my confusion, but the non-linear narrative, and a puzzling character, contributed to that as well. I continually had to re-read passages, sometimes several pages worth, because I had zoned out thinking of something else, realizing I had skimmed and didn't recall what I just read. I even thought I should delay this review until I could re-read, but I'm way behind so that won't happen until the second book is imminent. Hopefully I can explain other confusing points with as few spoilers as possible. Most of the book is written in third person, but some passages are in first; but who is the narrator? Even when their identity is revealed there is still confusion as to how they relate to other characters. It was a long time before I knew whether the narrator was a man, woman, non-binary, or trans person. Each of those are represented by other characters, and I suppose you could say some characters don't have a gender.
The Fracture is a psychological turning point for society, or at least for those who were lucky (or unlucky) enough to have seen a viral video which appeared to reveal the existence of monsters, of were-people, shape-shifters. Shortly afterwards the videos are edited, and many only have the word of those who saw the unedited footage for corroboration, and of course some claim it was all a hoax. Laina knows it wasn't a hoax. One of the "monsters" was her younger brother Lincoln. What I'm not sure about is whether Lincoln's drug addiction happened after he was turned, as a way to deal with the trauma, or if his addiction led him to be vulnerable to being turned. Laina is the one who released the video, and the means by which she obtained it is very mysterious. Up to that point she had assumed her brother's death at the hands of the police was due to his violent rage while under the influence of drugs. The narrator mentioned above speaks to Laina in a disembodied voice, and apparently has done the same to a policeman who gives a flash-drive containing the video to Lincoln's friend, and fellow monster, Rebecca, who in turn gives it to Laina.
Werewolves, werebears, weretigers, and the like, are not the only monsters. In some ways this could be viewed as one of the growing number of Lovecraft pastiches. There are secret societies who either worship the Old Gods, or attempt to enslave the gods to do their bidding. There are arguments and schisms among various groups, and some may have members who are gods themselves, of either the greater or lesser variety. The narrator is not the only invisible entity; another is a soucouyant, similar to a vampire in that they feast on blood, but they do so by shedding their skin and roaming invisibly in search of prey. The most intriguing of the monsters is Dragon, who appears to be a child, but is likely much older, and they display powers that justify their name. I was also confused when some of Dragon's victims reappeared later; I had thought they had died. And of course the major confusion is the nature of the monsters, whether they are all to be feared, or are some, like Rebecca, just victims of circumstance. Laina and her husband Ridley think the latter, and have taken Rebecca into their home.
The story ranges in location from the Boston area, to a cooperative farm in Virginia, to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. It also ranges in time, but non-linearly. There is a sub-plot about a frustrated physicist trying to get recognition for his unconventional theories about multiple universes. If his theories are correct, the monsters and gods are all from different universes, but can sometimes cross the threshold and manifest in others universes. The sometimes (but not always) unseen narrator, whom we later know as Calvin, seems to be able to transcend both time and space. He had observed, and interacted with, that physicist on multiple occasions, and it's hard to say whether they helped him form his hypothesis, or just learned from him how to implement the theory to their own existence. Calvin has to be from another universe, one similar enough to Raina's. They both had a brother named Cory, but Raina never says anything about also having a brother named Calvin. Cory's death may or may not have been the same in each universe. The title of this book comes from a chant spoken at a Boston rally by those advocating for monster rights, with some participating being monsters themselves. Ridley, formerly, or maybe still, a political activist, likens the chant to a phrase he was already familiar with, the anarchist slogan, "no gods, no masters." It's like saying we're all people, no matter our station in life. If we don't work together as brothers we will surely die separately as enemies. Hopefully that is what the convergence will be, but we'll have to wait and see. Recommended.
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