Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Hardcover. 672 pages.
About Ordinary Monsters:
"England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness —a man made of smoke.
Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a lifetime of brutality, doesn't have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are forced to confront the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.
What follows is a journey from the gaslit streets of London, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh, where other children with gifts—the Talents—have been gathered. Here, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.
With lush prose, mesmerizing world-building, and a gripping plot, Ordinary Monsters presents a catastophic vision of the Victorian world—and of the gifted, broken children who must save it."
Ordinary Monsters is a multi-layered, epic historical fantasy story about the many lines that exist between heroes and villains, the ordinary and the extraordinary. It’s an immersive, dark, and grueling world that pulls readers into a sprawling story that follows a sizable cast of characters as they embark on a journey against some rather malicious and unknown forces.
There are a lot of moving parts to Ordinary Monsters, which makes it difficult to succinctly describe the plot, but I’ll do my best. The story starts out in Victorian London with two “detectives” who are on the move to track down various children with what appear to be special powers to take them back to the Cairndale Institute in order to protect them from aforementioned malicious forces who may want to cause them harm in various forms.
We follow a somewhat expansive cast of characters and jump around through a number of POVs, time periods, and locations. I found myself having having to orient myself more than a few times during a time or location jump in order to remind myself of where the story was and what was going on, especially since there are sometimes POVs shifts within chapters. I think it could be easy to get a little confused at times with this setup, but fortunately I found Miro’s storytelling would quickly get me back on track. All of the individual characters were remarkably well-developed and had really fleshed out personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. It’s easy to get bogged down with characters in books of this size, but I think Miro did a good job of setting them apart from one another and giving each one a specific storyline that was compelling and stood on its own.
The magic in Ordinary Monsters takes the form of the "talents" that the children have, such as the ability to become invisible or to heal one's body from various injuries. There are also some more peculiar talents that had different implications relating to the plot that I really don't want to say much about in order to avoid spoilers, but just know that things continuously get more and more interesting as the story progresses. The Cairndale Institute is meant to be a school and home to these children, and I really loved getting to explore this setting. I will say that I expected Cairndale to be a slightly bigger setting and have a larger role given how much it is mentioned in the marketing and by the characters, but we don't really spend all that much time doing a lot at the Institute. We don't actually even reach the Institute until quite a ways into the novel, so it's not quite the school-based fantasy I expected, but I didn't personally mind that at all.
My main problem (and probably only real problem) with Ordinary Monsters was with the pacing. This is a thoughtful, slow-paced story that cannot be rushed through. I don’t have any problems with a slow-paced story, and in fact I often really enjoy and prefer them over books that are too fast-paced. That being said, I found the thoughtful pacing to be a bit inconsistent at times, and after a really compelling and well-written first third of the book I started noticing the middle portions dragging a bit. That’s not to say that nothing of interest happens in the middle of the book, as there is plenty of action and intrigue, but things just slowed considerably and I found myself really having to push myself to get through it at times. I flew threw the first half of the book, but as we moved further into the middle sections (specifically latter middle sections), my reading became much slower and it took me longer than I expected to finish. The very end of the book also really picks up the pace and there is a lot of action to make up for the slower pacing, but with that action came the sense that things were just a bit too jam-packed together; there was a lot of build-up that was executed very quickly.
All that being said, I was really impressed with Ordinary Monsters and J.M. Miro’s contribution to the historical fantasy subgenre. It’s obvious that Miro knows what they are doing with writing and put immense amounts of thought, planning, and effort into creating this expansive this world and multi-faceted magic system. I am very eager to see where the next installment will take us after such a riveting and momentous ending, although I’m sure it will be a bit of a wait.
Overall, I’ve given Ordinary Monsters four stars! This may be a big book, but if you’re looking for a new fantasy that really takes its time to develop character, world, and magic system, then this is one you should probably add to your TBR.
*I received a copy of Original Monsters courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*