ORDINARY MONSTERS by J.M. Miro.
Bloomsbury. h/b. £17.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Eliza Grey flees for her life, her master dead. Now a wanted woman, she has no choice but to keep running and hope they will never find her. Eliza cannot save the child her master bestowed on her against her will, but when she stumbles across a child lying beside his dead mother in a rail carriage, Eliza can save him. Marlowe is his name, and Eliza immediately sees that there is something different about him. Something that others may later describe as a talent.
Charlie Ovid also has a talent. They called him a murderer and murdered him in return, but he did not die. Charlie’s body heals itself, so now, as Charlie sits in a jail cell in Natchez, Mississippi, his captors are trying to work out what they should do with a boy who heals. A boy who should be dead.
Alice Quicke is a detective. A female detective, which is a rarity. She has been hired to track down children for the Cairndale Institute. Specific children. Talents, to be precise. They are scattered across the world, but Alice and her partner have a knack for tracking them down and bringing them safely to the institute in Scotland, where, unbeknownst to many, the wall between the world of the living and the world of the dead is held closed.
Ordinary Monsters is the first book in Miro’s The Talents series. We have historical fantasy on an epic scale, delivering aspects of the noir detective genre set against multiple global locations, most notably including Victorian England and Scotland, Japan and Mississippi. The book begins beautifully with the rich descriptions balancing well with tension, but as the narrative progresses and more and more characters are introduced, the focus turns to action and progressing the story.
This series opener follows time periods in the past and present and is essentially centred around the Cairndale Institute – a school for unusual children. They are the ‘monsters’ the title refers to and are varied in their make-up. They are mostly young children, some living, some undead, and their talents range from Charlie’s healing powers to invisibility and onto darker, less comprehensible abilities. Some do great good, and some great evil and this story is, above all else, a struggle between good and evil.
The sheer size of this first instalment is indicative of the number of characters and locations in play, and whilst the primary characters and settings are well portrayed, there is a lot to take in, meaning some of it inevitably does not stand out. As a result, there are characters and motives among the pages that are hard to fully grasp or visualise. The overall tone is fairly gloomy, leaving the reader to wonder if the Cairndale Institute’s mission is doomed before it really begins; this book is very much just doing the groundwork for what is to come.