Author: Marina Lostetter
Publication date: April 13, 2021
My rating: 5/5 stars
Magic masks. A serial killer. Political intrigue. Mysterious gods. Folks, this is my favorite fantasy novel I’ve read this year–a deliciously dark tale with intricate worldbuilding, memorable (and diverse!) characters, and a nuanced portrayal of the impacts of trauma on the human psyche. I’m so grateful to Jean Book Nerd for having me as a host on this tour. Stick around for my review, more info on the book, and a giveaway you don’t want to miss!
A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.
In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power–the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city with a series of gruesome murders.
Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.
It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.
I went into this story expecting to love it, but I’ll be honest–I didn’t expect to love it this much. I won’t say too much in this review about the actual plot, because this is one you just sort of have to experience for yourself–I don’t want to give anything away!
There were two big things that struck me about this book, beyond the plot: the worldbuilding and the inclusivity.
Marina Lostetter was ambitious in creating this world, make no mistake. A pantheon of gods, a series of terrifying monsters, a hostile external climate, a city with literally two layers, multiple classes of security and government officials, and…well, while I won’t say too much, I can tell you there are at least four magic systems, each with its own rules and complexities. She manages to weave all of these elements together into a cohesive whole that, while initially a bit overwhelming, is ultimately very satisfying. This world also blends more classic world tropes–the primary city is based on 1800s France–with contemporary scientific approaches to other areas, including medicine and technology. Magical tech is a feature I love to see, and this story pulls it off with apolmb.
The inclusiveness of this book was shockingly well done. Right from the get-go, we learn that the five primary gods of this world encompass five different genders and use five different sets of pronouns: the usual she/her and he/him, but also a sexless god using fey/feir, an intersex god using zhe/zhur, and an unknown god using they/them. The characters in the book are rarely quick to assume the genders of people they interact with, defaulting to they/them until they know for certain which pronouns the stranger uses. We see side characters like a bearded individual wearing a dress, officials are often referred to as Mastrex (a gender-neutral in-between for Master and Mistress), a major side character is known to be an escort of sorts for men and women alike, and all the Regulators (basically police) wear deliberately androgynous uniforms, further emphasizing the way this world treats people of all genders, sexes, and identities. It was just really, really cool to see, okay? Also worthy of note, our main protagonist Krona is canonically not-skinny, with references to her love handles and “extra padding” around her middle. I, for one, am a big fan of the added body inclusivity in fantasy novels.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not remark on how well this book explores the impact of trauma. All of the book’s main characters have faced some degree of horror in their lives–loss of family members, possession by enchanted masks, and so on–but the impact that trauma has on their behavior varies substantially. For some, it leads to violence. For others, it creates phobias. For still others, it means sleepwalking and night terrors. Trauma responses are not a monolith, and this book does an excellent job of highlighting many contours of those experiences. By rotating through three points of view, it also lets us actually inhabit those different mental spaces as well, which is an added benefit. (Side note: we didn’t get a chapter from the serial killer’s point of view until around page 100, but man, that perspective is fascinating.)
All in all, this is a wild ride of a book, full of twists, mystery, and all the good things we like to see in a fantasy novel. Even the toughest characters are humanized, and even the simplest story elements contain hidden nuances. I was blown away by this bloody, brilliant world.
The other hosts on this tour have been hard at work creating more reviews and hosting interviews with the author. You can check out all their stops HERE!
About the Author
The open skies and dense forests of the Pacific Northwest are ideal for growing speculative fiction authors–or, at least, Marina Lostetter would like to think so. Originally from Oregon, she now resides in Arkansas with her spouse, Alex. In her spare time she enjoys globetrotting, board games, and all things art-related. Her original short fiction has appeared in venues such as Lightspeed, Uncanny, and Shimmer Magazine. Her debut novel, NOUMENON, and its sequels, NOUMENON INFINITY and NOUMENON ULTRA, are available from Harper Voyager. Her first fantasy novel, THE HELM OF MIDNIGHT, is forthcoming from Tor. In addition, she has written tie-in materials for Star Citizen and the Aliens franchise. She is represented by DongWon Song of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, and she tweets as @MarinaLostetter.
Five lucky winners will receive a final copy of The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter. This giveaway runs through May 3, 2021, and is open internationally!
Click HERE to enter–and best of luck!
Thank you to Jean Book Nerd and Tor Books for providing me with a copy of this book as part of my participation in this tour! All opinions are my own.