REVIEW: No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

Today we have a special post, a review of an ARC I recently received through NetGalley. The book is No Gods, No Monsters, by Cadwell Turnbull. It is forthcoming from Blackstone Publishing on September 7, 2021. LGBTQ+, BIPOC, Own Voices, Urban Fantasy, Caribbean SFF

No Gods, No Monsters is a profoundly experimental work featuring time travel, werewolves, tech wizards, witches, and gods all competing for space in a multiverse that reminded me most of the one featured in The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. Like much of Lord’s work, Turnbull works simultaneously in quantum physics and the culture of the African diaspora, in monsters and gods and in science and politics. This is no surprise, as the authors share a similar cultural background — while Barbados and the U.S. Virgin Islands are not the same place, they are close cultural cousins. Turnbull brings his own roots into this work deftly, using the narrator as a connector between storylines set in the northern climes of Boston, the hills of Virginia, and the island of St. Thomas.

The plot of this book revolves around very compelling current events, flipped on their heads. Laina, one of the main characters, starts the story examining the body of her brother, who has been gunned down by police. She was estranged from her brother because of drug use, and the emotional fallout from his loss would be enough to shake most people, but the mystery deepens when a disembodied voice offers Laina information on her brother’s murder. Thus Laina is plunged into the world of magic. Notably, this scene parallels a storyline that appears later in the tale, where we learn that the narrator also had a brother lost to substance abuse who was gunned down.

The way loss functions as apocalypse, as unveiling, is a strong theme in the book. Not every character experiences it, but many of them do. What is revealed by the loss can be corruption, but can also sometimes be magic and community. Most likely, it is a mixture of both. Magic is not benign in this novel — on the contrary, magic is treated as a force of nature. It can have benefits and joys, but is just as likely to cause grief. Sometimes, as with the narrator, it seems almost a neutral force — but not everything is clearly visible in this book. There are layers within layers, each waiting to be picked apart.

For that reason, No Gods, No Monsters might be a hard read for some. While the various plots do ultimately connect, it does take some time to get there. This was fine for me — I found each of the threads of the story to be ultimately compelling in their own way, and was happy to be along for the ride. It’s a smart book, a puzzle in need of assembling. If that’s the kind of thing you enjoy, this will be the book for you. That said, you won’t get all the answers here — the end obviously leaves things open for a second book. I’m excited to see where it goes.

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