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Book: “Ordinary Monsters: by J.M. Miro
Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, June 2022
Book Description: England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness —a man made of smoke.
Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a lifetime of brutality, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are forced to confront the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.
What follows is a journey from the gaslit streets of London, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh, where other children with gifts—the Talents—have been gathered. Here, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.
With lush prose, mesmerizing world-building, and a gripping plot, “Ordinary Monsters” presents a catastrophic vision of the Victorian world—and of the gifted, broken children who must save it.
Review: First off, thank you so much to Flatiron Books for sending me an ARC copy of this book! However, I `will say, given its page count, I may have defaulted to reading the ebook more often than not, if only to spare my poor wrists. I was very excited to dive into this one given its description. I always love it when I can find books that cross my favorite genres, and historical fiction plus fantasy is right up my alley. Pair that with a concept that sounds awfully close to Victorian “X-Men,” and I’m all in.
Two children with strange and wonderous powers are on the run, each unsure of who or what they are. Only that these mysterious gifts they possess have drawn the attention of dark figures who chase them and surely mean no good. Soon enough however, with the help of two detectives, they make their way to a safe haven where they find out that they are not the only children with powers. Indeed, there are more and they have a name: the Talents. While centered primarily in 1882 England, the story jumps around the world highlighting the experiences of other Talents scattered across the continents.
I have to say, it’s either an incredibly gutsy or an incredibly confident author who puts out their debut novel at 672 pages. Yes, fantasy is the genre where you’ll find the most tolerant crowd for behemoth tomes. But even well-established authors like Brandon Sanderson started out with normal-length books before releasing their full powers (his most recent “Stormlight Archive” book comes in at a whopping 1230 pages!). It’s also a confident editor who doesn’t instruct that same debut author to trim things up a bit. And while I would say that this book might have been better served being trimmed down some (there’s just no avoiding the fact that this is a lot to ask of readers who no nothing about an author and whether the time the reader is committing to them will be paid back in kind), it also held up well given the sheer length.
Part of this is helped by the style of the story. While the book definitely has some main-ish characters, the story also jumps around a lot, exposing readers to a plethora of new characters, cultures, and locations. It also helped that there were some really stand-out action sequences, most particularly a pretty cool battle on a train. These intermittent fight scenes helped give the story a jolt of adrenaline right when the reader could start to feel a bit bogged down by the sheer length of the book.
The characters were all just ok, for me. I enjoyed them all well enough, but none of them really spoke to me in a way that it would be any one of their stories that draws me back to this world. Instead, they felt closer to avatars that reader is using to explore this newly understood world where magical elements line up beside historical figures and facts that we may already be familiar with.
The story also swerved into the darker parts of fiction, drawing neat parallels between itself and the penny dreadfuls that were so popular at this time. But these darker elements were supported by a strong focus on found families and inner strength, using a diverse set of characters to highlight the human experience that connects us. The writing was also powerful and sure-handed.
Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It is an undertaking, to be sure, but I think it is well worth it. I fully expect this book to get a second look by many fantasy fans and that the inevitable second and third parts of the proposed trilogy will be anxiously awaited. If you’re an avid fantasy fan and don’t mind a massive tome, definitely give this one a try. Also, don’t forget to enter to win an ARC of this book!
Rating 8: A long, but well-worth it historical fantasy read!
“Ordinary Monsters” is on this Goodreads list: Can’t Wait Books of 2022