Power was sweeter than apples. It was cheaper than water, and sustained the soul twice as well. If Johann was going to be a Thing with a name, then from now on he would be a Thing with power, too.
I’ve been obsessively reading Tor novellas lately, and have yet to be let down by any. This one was on my wishlist for a while, and I’ve read it twice in two months because it’s just so moreish. Particularly after realising that it’s the perfect melting pot of my favourite things – queer characters and monsters.
Rating: 5 stars!
The city of Elendhaven sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats. A monster who cannot die. His frail master sends him out on errands, twisting him with magic, crafting a plan too cruel to name, while the monster’s heart grows fonder and colder and more cunning.
What did I think?
One of the main things that keeps me coming back to this book is the atmosphere. For 160 pages, the whole thing is intoxicating. There’s not a word wasted to paint a picture of a dark and twisted town in the shadow of a mountain and the shadow of a plague. The mythology is threaded through and explained neatly so that the reader is never left wondering what’s going on, but without resorting to plain exposition – which would be off-putting in a novella length piece of writing. I could feel Elendhaven coming to life around me as I read. It left me hungry for more; more Elendhaven, more Florian and more Johann; but I’m also certain that anything extra would be unnecessary. This is a perfect bite-sized piece of fantasy-horror, and the ending is as potent as the descriptions.
The eccentric main characters themselves, Johann and Florian, were incredible. I love them. That atmospheric writing came together perfectly to make them feel fleshed out and individual, and though they are both terrible people I was rooting for them the whole time. Is there anything better than a story about plain old villains drawing you in so intently that you throw your morals out of the window in the hopes of revelling in their victory? I somehow managed to miss the clue that The Monster of Elendhaven was a queer book, so the ‘romance’ (using the word loosely) between Johann and Florian was a delightful surprise. Their relationship was what really sold this book to me. Master and servant, bodyguard and client, lovers, indifferent sorcerer and devoted monster. Their dynamic was perfect from the start, and the way their personalities meshed made them so interesting to read about. They’re both unrelentingly, unrepentantly bad in their own ways, and I think it’s the lack of concern or apology that made them so fun.
I would highly recommend the audiobook if you can get your hands on it, because the characterisations are done so well that as I was rereading a physical copy I couldn’t shake the narrator’s voice from my mind.
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