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What would you do if the monsters were real?

No wait. Think about it for a moment. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that our real reactions to things are not always (or never) what we imagine they might be.

I mean, what would you do if a global pandemic was real? What would you do if the millions of deaths were real? What would you do if American fascism were real?

What would you do if the monsters were real?

Cadwell Turnbull knows exactly what you would do. Almost all. Almost all the time.

You wouldn’t do anything.

His new book, No gods, no monsters (the first in a series with extraordinary potential) is a terrible punch once you get past the surface. Once you dig in and start thinking about it, maybe more than you want. There are layers. Questions that never get an answer. Possibilities scattered like pennies on the floor.

And I’m not saying the surface is a walk in the park either. It starts with a goodbye – a first-person introduction to walking away, coming home, from a character who becomes the eyes, ears, occasional tongue, of an omniscient and invisible narrator. relaying to us all that follows. It’s disjointed. A cold fall into the complicated life of a man you don’t know and who, almost as soon as you meet him, is left behind.

After that it’s about the police shooting and killing an unarmed black man and leaving him to die on the street. It’s there that No gods The man, Lincoln, was a drug addict, separated from his family, living on the streets. Not the kind of man the community rallies around, Turnbull tells us. But when Lincoln’s sister Laina is mysteriously offered a copy of the police body camera footage deleted from the shooting, it becomes a whole different kind of story.

Because Laina’s brother was a werewolf. The recording proves it.

Laina publishes the images. It’s going viral. Everyone sees him – sees his brother the wolf attacking a Boston cop, the cop shooting, his brother lying naked and dead in the street, turned back to a man. The world reacts the same as the world: panic, hate crimes, burnt witches, madness. Especially when, shortly thereafter, a pack of a dozen werewolves show up in the middle of a busy street, stop traffic, and transform into public view and a million cell phone cameras.

Monsters are real. They live among us. The magic is real. It is practiced by powerful people and secret societies with strange names and stories that stretch back for generations. And none of it is cute. None of this is pretty. All is pain, violence and bloody sacrifice. All messy, strange and mysterious; hardly understood even by those who use it; dangerous for everyone involved.

Turnbull poses this world and gives us the smallest clues of its dimensions. It focuses on the characters – dividing the novel into sections, each following a different person, all of which are connected in one way or another, most of whom are still in shock even months after ‘the fracture’ – which became the name given when the monsters were revealed to the world by experts in pop science and television. There’s Laina, her asexual trans husband Ridley, Laina’s girlfriend Rebecca (who knew Lincoln), the frustrated and divorced academic who falls into a den of conspiracy theories and secret societies, a child called Dragon, a woman. invisible, a senator from St Thomas who can transform into a dog. The story loops and swings, bouncing from an anarchist bookstore to a collective peanut farm to a Virgin Island township to the streets of Boston and New York, small towns and secret hiding places. It’s both beautifully fantasy and wonderfully mundane as each of Turnbull’s highly detailed characters go through (or not) both the enormity of ordinary life and the parallel enormity of the divide. They balance havoc and haircuts, budget meetings and the Old Gods.

Turnbull juggles a lot. There is race and sexuality and class and collectivism. (The title is taken from a slogan of the Labor and Anarchist movements – “No Gods, No Masters” – and those words would be comfortable in the mouths of many of its characters.) There’s the idea global to alter those who do. not to be like us or live like us or love like us, and the terrible consequences of both hiding our secrets and revealing them. He draws (sometimes very lightly) a dark world filled with competing power structures with entirely opaque agendas, shifting allies and goals – always favoring a sort of muddled, everyday realism over the fictitious vanity of anyone just sitting down and explaining to someone. ‘another what is Actually past.

But the strangest, most haunting thing about No gods, no monsters – the thing that is buried deep, Deep at the heart of this difficult book and speaks most loudly of this moment and our reality – is the idea that most people, most of the time, will gladly claim that monsters and magic are not in fact real even when they see them with their own eyes. Even when the monsters are on the news. Even when the monsters are seated at their tables.

Most people, most of the time, just don’t want to think about it.

Most people, most of the time, just want the world to be back to how it was – which is the one thing the world (both Turnbull’s and ours) will ever do.

Jason Sheehan knows things about food, video games, books and Star blazers. He is a restaurant critic at Philadelphia cream magazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales of the Radiation Age is his latest book.

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