While I can appreciate the writing skill and the fascinating premise in, The Helm of Midnight, the first book in The Five Penalties series, it was a slower read for me which took me out of the action more than I would have liked.
“His will to kill might very well be ingrained in his echo.”
The first thing you notice when you hold The Helm in Midnight in your hands is the gorgeous cover art and tagline, “Evil Blooms in the Darkness.” The cover art combined with the saying gets you thinking about all sorts of intriguing ideas. To go along with the tag line, the author, Marina Lostetter described the story as The Silence of the labs meets Mistborn. Two of my favorite novels. The premise of the novel is certainly not far from that mashup. There is a lot of evil in this story combined with solid fantasy elements.
The story starts with a very detailed heist, a heist that goes somewhat off of the rails. Or did it? This fantasy story has the flavor of a police procedural. We are introduced to three protagonists in three different time frames. At first, this felt jarring, but Lostetter is an excellent storyteller and gave each of the protagonists’ solid voices that made them easy to differentiate them from one another. Firstly, we have Krona, whose story takes place in the now. I found her to be the most interesting of the three people. She has a complex relationship with her sister De-Lia.
Krona’s profession is that of a Regulator who protects magical artifacts; this includes the magical death mask mentioned in the blurb. There is a lot to unpack for Krona’s character, but mostly what I think of her are tenacity and intelligence. Essential aspects for someone who is in an investigative field. She is well written, and I enjoyed her sections of the story immensely.
Secondly, we have the character Melanie, and her chapters take place two years before Krona’s chapters. I did not connect with Melanie as much as I would have liked. Much of her story I can’t go into as it can be a bit spoilery, but she is an essential aspect of the overall narrative. Finally, the third point of view is that of Chabon himself. This is where Lostetter’s skill at writing shines. He is freaking terrifying, evil personified. But, his character’s darkness was familiar in that it resembled the malevolence of serial killers in history. I liked that. It allowed me to make some connections but also added a terrifying believability.
The darkness and violence in this story are executed very well. Wow. I enjoy dark fantasy and complex characters, so this was right up my alley on that front. There must have been a lot of research into the darkness and violence.
The only reason this wasn’t a five-star read for me was it slowed down a bit and lost connection between the chapters. I will be reading the second book of this series, as the premise and world-building were well done. I liked just about everything, and I am hoping that the next book will be a smidge smoother between transitions. That might be due to me as a reader and what I am looking for in stories. Lostetter is a fantastic writer, though, and if you are looking for a story that hits horror notes and fantasy, this is it!