REVIEW: The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The city of Elendhaven sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats. A monster who cannot die. His frail master sends him out on errands, twisting him with magic, crafting a plan too cruel to name, while the monster’s heart grows fonder and colder and more cunning. These monsters of Elendhaven will have their revenge on everyone who wronged the city, even if they have to burn the world to do it.

Warnings: Graphic depictions of violence, Power dynamics, implied incest, implied rape

Category: M/M

The Monster of Elendhaven is a very unique little novella. It’s a horror story, but it’s told entirely from the viewpoint of the monster, delving into his psyche and his motivations and experiences. A spooky little tale about a dour little town where monsters prowl the streets and sinister sorcerers plot the demise of the inhabitants, this is a beautifully written and extremely provocative piece that explores where obsession meets love, where violence meets revenge and where life meets death.

This is an utterly gorgeously written bit of prose that reads like poetry and sinks so deep into your mind that the experience of reading it is like falling into a gothic painting. The author’s use of metaphor and imagery in her descriptions and explorations is a delight to read, and the character interactions all pop off the page with a flourish. It’s a very violent story filled with evil and malice and toxicity, and it is breathtaking to read. As a horror story it delivers in spades of disconcerting and uncomfortable emotions, and lets the reader wallow with the characters through their bitterness, hatred, and contempt for the world. A really unique reading experience and a book that feels like pure art, it will be difficult to read for anyone squeamish about gruesome violence, murder and torture, but it is hard to look away from this absolute train wreck of humanity. While it isn’t a very action heavy story, it’s plot meandering through social encounters, political schemes and underground machinations, it never feels like it is stagnating. Ironically, it feels vibrantly alive in its un-death.

This book manages to make the reader utterly riveted by and engaged with the most horribly odious characters you could want. Johann, a serial killer that cannot die, is a creeping, conniving thing that is driven solely by the desire to kill, the love of violence, and the pure expression of hatred incarnate. He is malicious, and self centred. Meanwhile Florian, the man who is so consumed by a desire for revenge against those that harmed his family that he wants nothing more than to wipe out everyone in Elendhaven and beyond. He is bitter, and spiteful, and there is absolutely nothing redeemable or likeable about him. And yet, although neither of them have a scrap of goodness to them, they are immediately enthralling and captivating. The reader wants to know more about them, to understand them, with almost as much of a passion as the two leads pursue destruction. I’ve never been so engaged with such menaces; both of the main characters were an absolute joy to observe despite rooting for them to fail in their sinister plots.

The fantastical world of Elendhaven is very interesting to explore. It seems almost like it could be our world, a little town nestled in Europe, mired in misery and industrialist decay. The exploration of capitalism and greed is very well covered, and it features a plague that wrecked the town and it’s economy, which in 2020 is certainly a familiar and relevant fear, even if it seems to be more allegorical of the Black Death rather than COVID-19. And yet, despite it’s overall trappings feeling almost mundane, there is a spark of fantasy to it that keeps it quite captivating as a setting. There are socercers in this world, though the art has been long ago stamped out as a menace to society. There are mage hunters that investigate their sinister doings, and there are fairy stories and myths that may or may not be true, of supernatural powers and ritual that enmesh the realities of this world. It makes for a very surreal and gothic setting that draws you in and keeps you present all through the grime of it’s crumbling structures.

There is sex in this book, though it is not explicit. It is there like everything else in the narrative is there, as an aspect of their lives and a part of their experiences. It is also every bit as ugly, as violence ridden and as full of malice as everything else in their experiences. Johann and Florian aren’t having a romance as much as a constant battle for dominion over the other. Johann is a monster that kills on the regular, a man who loves nothing more than to hurt people and feel their life leave their bodies. While the physically frail Florian is a man who is accustomed to using magic to have sway over others, to wield power and authority. The two of them are achingly interested in besting and ruling the other, in a way that feels as intimate as it feels mutually destructive and codependent. It was glorious, beautiful to read, gut wrenching and fascinating, like a car crash that you just can’t pull your eyes away from. Their relationship, and their encounters, are manifest decay, and that was one of the most compelling aspects of the book.

It’s a short, rather breezy read but it packs an enormous emotional punch and is full of incredibly lavish prose. Something to really sink your teeth into, to gnaw on and worry away at, letting its rot run through you as you go. I can’t recommend it enough, it’s a wonderful little horror novella that will have you gripped the entire way through. Can’t wait to read more from this author.

Have you read The Monster of Elendhaven? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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