Completed 7/18/2022, Reviewed 7/18/2022
I had a tougher time getting into this novel than Turnbull’s first, The Lesson. It’s another sprawling novel with many characters and shifting points of view. After reading the book, I found an entry the author made in Goodreads that offers things to realize while reading. I wish I had found it earlier as it might have helped a bit. Having finished it and seeing where the book is going (it’s the first of a proposed trilogy), I get it, but the journey there was a little frustrating. This book won the 2022 Lambda Literary Award. It is chock full of diverse characters: trans, queer, asexual, non-binary, straight. There are people of color. None of the diversity is a major feature of the book, simply a part of the characters. The main character is the community of inclusion.
The plot is a little crazy as there are so many characters followed. But the gist of it is that a woman’s brother is killed by the police. What at first appears to be a case of police brutality is really the beginning of global awareness of the existence of monsters. The primary types represented are shifters, like werewolves. But there are also people with various types of magical abilities. There are two secret societies for the support of monsters. The societies do not get along and one wants to start a war.
Through most of the book, I was a little lost. The sections follow many different characters, including a semi-omniscient voyeuristic first person narrator. I liked all the characters. They are well developed and realistic. One of the major characters is Laina. It is her brother who is killed by police. She is in a sort of polyamorous relationship with a transgender asexual man and a monster woman. Her brother Lincoln was a bisexual addict who only recently cleaned up and accepted his monster self. There’s a boy known only as Dragon who can burn people and fly. Sondra is a politician who can read magic from people. She has an adopted sister who can remove her skin and travel invisibly. All these plus other characters make up a community trying to respond to the sudden appearance of monsters who have remained hidden from society through the secret societies, family training, or by their own cunning.
The amazing thing about this book is the writing. The characters are fully formed despite this being a relatively short book. No one felt cardboard or stock. The prose is marvelous. It is just the right amount literary without being ostentatious. It makes for a pleasant reading experience without feeling like you’re bogged down in descriptions.
If there’s anything that’s lacking, it’s the world building. But I think that’s intentional. The whole first book just gives us a taste of what’s going on, just as the world is slowly figuring it out. When the police video of Lincoln’s shooting is released, everyone is shocked until it is edited down to hide his transition to and from werewolf. Then people, longing for understanding, simply forget that part or decide not to believe that monsters are real. The descriptions of this world where monsters are coming out of the closet is full of disbelief and ignorance. So, the world building is only as good as the people who believe what’s going on.
I give this book four out of five stars. I would have probably given it five stars if I could have gotten it all in the beginning. But this book takes work to get. And it kept me at arms length from really empathizing with the characters. But the work is worth it, with a powerful ending that leaves you open for the next installment.