The saying goes, “Write what you know.” Gorman seems to know a whole lot about monsters.
This fantasy novel is filled with monsters, and they’re not always familiar ones. There are wereplants and a slughemoth and a tarasque. Readers may assume the author made them up, but most of them come from actual folklore. Thisby Thestoop is in charge of feeding—and sometimes grooming—the monsters. Castle Grimstone, where she’s grown up, has to look nice for tourists. It’s designed to be an attraction for bored and foolish adventurers—fertile ground for a writer. One charm of the book is that everything that happens feels slightly counterintuitive and, better yet, slightly cynical. This extends to the pacing. When readers expect an epic battle, they may get the history of a city. Sometimes basic plot exposition is delayed until many chapters into the book. But there is a proper adventure story, complete with a search for a missing prince. The characters are so odd and engaging, though, that the plot hardly matters. The cast is only moderately diverse, however: a white protagonist; a pair of black-haired, olive-skinned twins; and a black adventurer/tourist who pops in now and again.
Another saying goes, “Artists have to know the rules before they can break them.” This author knows the rules of fantasy really well, and if the pacing sometimes defies convention, he makes up for it with spectacular monsters. (Fantasy. 8-12)