No Gods, No Monsters is a stunning novel made up of a series of interconnected short stories in a world where monsters lurk underneath the surface. It’s a daring and complex story that masterfully ties together disjointed threads to create a wonderful tapestry of loss, disenfranchisement, and solidarity. As someone who often struggles with fragmented storylines, I was surprised with just how gripping I found this book – it’s one to keep an eye on for fantasy, horror, and literary lovers.
One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.
As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.
At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?
The world will soon find out.
Laina receives news that her brother has been fatally shot by the police. What originally seems like a case of police brutality turns into something stranger. Monsters are real. This collection of short stories with reoccurring characters and narrative threads explores monstrous communities and the humans who live alongside them. Disturbing tales of secret societies. A werewolf pack dealing with loss and threatened into silence. Monsters that have hidden for centuries start to make themselves known. Hate crimes soar, protests erupt both for and against the monsters. Even in the face of the truth, many people refuse to acknowledge their existence.
Cadwell Turnbull has made some brilliantly daring and complex narrative decisions with No Gods, No Monsters. The fragmented storytelling creates a collection of short stories expertly tied together with reoccurring characters and narrative progression. The slow unravelling of interconnectedness requires the reader to pay deep attention to the text. As someone who finds it difficult to remember names, I occasionally felt lost, but with a bit of effort, the brilliance of this book shone through.
This book features a semi-omniscient narrator who watches the story unfold through the eyes of the cast. The narrator’s character comes to light later in the book. His story is profoundly human, reflecting the themes of loss and social commentary that are present through the novel.
No Gods, No Monsters has an enormous cast of characters, but it manages to handle them in a deeply personal and poignant way. Cadwell Turnbull is incredibly talented at creating short scenes that are emotionally impactful, creating an instant connection between the reader and specific characters. Although we only get to see snapshots of their lives, the various forms of loss and injustice within these pages are instantly recognisable.
Monstrosity is tackled as a form of marginalisation in this book. The narrative was a heavily political social commentary on disenfranchisement, solidarity, and liberation. The theme of monsters being linked to marginalisation is one I particularly enjoy. What is a monster if not something rejected by society due to its perceived danger to our values? Even the title of the book ‘No Gods, No Monsters’ is a play on a popular anarchist slogan ‘No Gods, No Masters’. In its original form, it was a call for no human being to be above the other – an anti-hierarchical message. In the book, the chant ‘No Gods, No Monsters’ is used to mean no one is above anyone else, and no one is below. I loved the discussions of political organising, the hesitancy of humans to stand in solidarity with monsters even if it is hypocritical of them not to.
This book is a must-read for fans of powerful, haunting books that play with narration in a bold new way. It’s a fantastic read for those who are looking for a combination of horror, fantasy, and literary genres used to create an experimental, gripping social commentary on disenfranchisement, activism, loss, and solidarity.
CW: police brutality, drug addiction, sexual violence, gun violence, death, child abuse, gore, suicide mention, cannibalism?
(Thanks to Blackstone Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review)
Cadwell Turnbull is the author of The Lesson. He is a graduate from the North Carolina State University’s Creative Writing M.F.A. in Fiction and English M.A. in Linguistics. Turnbull is also a graduate of Clarion West 2016. His short fiction has appeared in The Verge, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Asimov’s Science Fiction and a number of anthologies. His Nightmare story “Loneliness is in Your Blood” was selected for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. His Lightspeed story “Jump” was selected for The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 and was featured on LeVar Burton Reads. His novel The Lesson was the winner of the 2020 Neukom Institute Literary Award in the debut category. It was also shortlisted for the VCU Cabell Award and longlisted for the Massachusetts Book Award. Turnbull teaches creative writing at North Carolina State University.
The Second Rebel is out on the 24th so there’s never been a better time to preorder!
I’d recommend checking out your local indie bookshop!