The Monster Of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (book review).

September 29, 2019 | By | Reply More

A difficult thing to decide is exactly what a monster is? In horror, it is often as a term to describe a hideous, dangerous and probably supernatural creature that menaces from the shadows. The word ‘monster’, though, just means big. These are recognisable monsters but more scary are those that are not outwardly recognisable. They can be human, small and pleasant looking. Some of the most influential novels involving monsters are the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. A lot of the effects he creates depend on atmosphere.

The Monster Of Elendhaven’ depends for much of its effect of the atmosphere. Elendhaven is a town on the northern edge of a country where sunlight is a rare commodity. It is a fishing port on the edge of a dark, circular bay within which, tradition says, dwells a monster called Hallandrette. Johann is a child surviving on the streets when he is given that name. He grows up taking what he needs and killing where he has to. He sees himself as a monster. He is certainly a thief and a murderer but he has the ability to go unnoticed and, as we later learn, any wound heals rapidly, even a cut throat.

Florian Leickenbloom is the last scion of the family that built the town. He lives alone in a large, neglected house. He is an accountant and a sorcerer. He also despises all the other citizens in the town. Johann wants Florian to test the extent of his abilities and is willing to blackmail him into it as sorcerers are an anathema to the country. Florian, though, has his own plans, to exterminate the people he considers the cause of the downfall of his family by spreading the plague that killed them. To this end, he is happy to help Johann in return for being helped with his plans.

This is a very dark tale with the kind of narrative that takes it out of the accepted world. The question still remains, what is a monster? Is it Hallandrette who is rumoured to return the dead to a semblance of life, more than just a mythical creature to whom is attributed monstrous things? The sea-goddess fits the description of something large, menacing and possibly dangerous, but her instincts are more like those of an animal.

Johann may be a child of Hallandrette or, just as likely, a mutant child abandoned on the streets who happens to survive. He may call himself a monster and to have done terrible things, but without guidance can he be the monster of the story. Certainly, he is amoral. Florian, though, has been brought up to know right from wrong.

The grief of having all his family die has certainly unhinged him and his plans for revenge of humankind make him a monster through his actions, especially as he know exactly what he is doing and the consequences. Or maybe the monsters are the lesser people in this story, those who want upset the equilibrium of the town and reopen the mines for their own profit.

This is a dark tale, set in a dark place. The horror surrounding the characters is partly of their own making but escalates as the novel progresses. For those who appreciate Lovecraft.

Pauline Morgan

September 2019

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2019. 160 page hardback. Price: $16.99 (US), $22.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-250-22568-9)

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Category: Books, Fantasy, Horror

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