Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: The Helm of Midnight

The previous books I’ve read by Marina Lostetter were science fiction, so was intrigued by her fantasy novel. I had high hopes for The Helm of Midnight as the Noumenon series was so richly crafted and I enjoyed the universe so much.

The book is like a magical murder mystery, if that’s even a genre. It set in a richly woven fantasy world, where magic is contained in artefacts, not weirded by individuals. This includes masks that are imbued with the knowledge and skills of people after they’ve died, which can then be worn by others to use their powers while wearing the mask. I particularly loved this part of the world and it meant that people didn’t have to be superhuman, but could temporarily heighten useful characteristics in the pursuit of their goal.

The main character, Krona, is a Regulator, which I took to be like the elite guards/detectives of this world. The story unfolds after a disaster occurs while Krona and her fellow Regulators are guarding magical artefacts at an event. One of them is a mask of a gruesome serial killer, who had executed ten years earlier.

Look, I’m not going to do the description justice, because it just doesn’t convey the beautiful and masterful way this story and world were woven together. There’s so much complexity and world building packed in, alongside a plot that just picks you up and runs away with you. The characters are all fully described, diverse, interesting and compelling to read. I imagine the religion of the world is going to come back in the sequel as it seemed to play such an important part in this book, which I really enjoyed. I love new mythology, even being a big ol’ atheist.

But all the concepts in the book were excellent – the idea of the Regulators, the different stones and metals that had different magical effects, the masks (again, really excellent), but also the hints of what should not be, which I hope will be explored in further books. But they also work well together through the plotting and the story. It’s so deftly plotted and basically fits my preferred construction of a novel: world building through plot, rather than endless description. There’s nothing spare in the book, no pointless sub-plots, every digression away from finding out who stole the mask leads to some clue or important character building.

I really hope this book can get made into a film, because I imagine it would make a beautiful thing to watch. It’s one of the rare books that I read that feels cinematic.

There are very few things that I can find fault with the novel. I think the main one is who the ultimate bad guy is, it does work with the narrative but it felt a bit less complex than the rest of the characters. I think this is my reading of it, as when we meet this character originally, I basically kind of dismissed them, even though they were obviously not nice. I guess I assumed they were going to complicate the life of one of the other characters, rather than being the main baddie. The other thing was pretty minor, but at the beginning of the novel, there’s a sequence of events that mean the main character doesn’t sleep for ages. For some reason this always bother me, no one can operate for 24 hours without becoming mush. Okay, maybe they can, but it feels like an overworked trope in all novels. But like I said, super minor. Ultimately, the book is superbly crafted and everyone’s going to a have their own issues they bring to a book.

I so recommend it, I mean, just look at that cover! I’m hoping that the sequels take us in equally expansive and interesting directions like the Noumenon series.

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