“The Helm of Midnight” by Marina Lostetter: ARC Review

“Though Krona knew nature’s cloister to be directly to her right, she was compelled to turn left. In Lutador, everyone walked a coterie path clockwise, as an honor for Time. It took her first by the cloister of Knowledge, then Emotion, then by the Shrine of the Five, where she paused.”

Synopsis: Deadly artifacts of immense power are stolen, freeing the spirit of an infamous murderer to kill again. Krona, a Regulator of dangerous magic, is tasked with retrieving the items. When she becomes unexpectedly tangled in old secrets and dangerous plots, will Krona be able to save her city, or even herself?

Who May Enjoy This Book:

  • Fans of non-traditional Fantasy
  • Fans of flawed protagonists
  • People who enjoy mystery

Thank-you to Marina Lostetter, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) in exchange for an honest review!

To begin: Do not be dissuaded by the cover art of this novel. I cannot stress this enough.

“The Helm of Midnight” was a wonderful book, and I cannot help but feel that it deserved a much better cover. I point this fact out because I know that many people tend to go with their gut when it comes to picking a book off the shelf, and that this is directly tied to the appeal of the cover art. That is all I will say on the matter!

This is my first Marina Lostetter book as I don’t often pick up the “harder” sci-fi series (I just love my Fantasy too much…); I was intrigued by the premise, and it certainly delivered. “The Helm of Midnight” has a setting that’s a bit tough to pin down… it blends elements of Fantasy along with Science Fiction and “Jack The Ripper” era London. It does seem quite clear that the Ripper inspired the character of Louis Charbon, the infamous murderer at the heart of the story. It’s altogether fascinating… there is a somewhat “soft” magic system, based off the harnessing of emotions in inanimate objects… currency is based off of actual “time”, contained in special receptacles… the spirits of the dead are bound to masks, allowing people to harness the skills formerly possessed by the deceased, albeit at great risk… the world contains 5 different genders, each with their exclusive pronouns… so inclusive, so meticulous, so much FLAVOR! What delighted me most, however, is that it somehow still manages to feel wonderfully understated: the focus is quite clearly on CHARACTERS. People who know me are well aware of my distaste for stories which massively overemphasize worldbuilding. If I wanted that, I would simply pick up a D&D splatbook. Lostetter’s cast is flawed, relatable, and utterly compelling.

“The Helm of Midnight” has 3 different POV (point of view) narratives, each of them taking place at different times. The earliest (chronologically) focuses on Louis Charbon, the man whose spirit now resides in the terrifying Charbon’s Mask. While initially introducing him as a terrifying monster of a man, Lostetter takes on the daunting task of making the reader empathize with him, if only a little bit. She does a marvelous job of this, pushing and pulling delicately, giving us glimpses of the good before snapping us back to reality with a view of the abyss. It can be quite chilling at times! The next character is Melanie, a physician who is simultaneously at the periphery and also at the center of the story. I won’t dwell on her too much in order to avoid spoiling anything, though I will say that her blossoming relationship with another character is touching, and a pleasure to read. The final and arguably main protagonist (her story takes place in present time) is Krona, a “Regulator”. Regulators track down and contain dangerous and/or unlicensed magic items, keeping the public safe. She becomes involved after the theft of Charbon’s Mask, and her story is periodically interspersed with the other POVs. This narrative structure allows us to slowly piece together certain elements of the story without a great deal of tedious exposition, which is just lovely.

Krona is quite fascinating as a character… she is deeply flawed, perceiving herself as inferior to her higher-ranking sister. She does not allow herself to indulge in much of anything, presenting as a bit of a “tabula rasa”; this is not to say that she does not have a personality, but it seems to morph and shift depending on whom she is interacting with. Psychologically, she always seems to wish to be someone else, which is perhaps why she has such an easy time wearing the masks. Unlike most people, Krona has the uncanny ability to subdue just about any mask she puts on (masks can attempt to take control of their wearers) in a matter of moments, with little effort. She is whatever she needs to be in the moment, except herself. This presents itself frequently in her interactions with Thibault, her informant; there is clearly something there between them, but Krona denies herself at every turn. We are made privy to her inner vulnerability, and one cannot help but root for her throughout the book. Her past trauma colors everything she does, and yet she continues to do her best on a daily basis. She’s a perfect protagonist for the times, in my opinion.

The intertwining narratives take us through a variety of twists and turns, revealing that the theft at the beginning of the novel was hardly the beginning; no, this is a story which began long ago, when Charbon still lived and stalked the streets. What started as a theft becomes a murder-mystery, a deep criminal conspiracy, and a race against the clock. Lostetter does an excellent job pacing it all, making each narrative compelling in its own way and wrapping it all up together with a nice bow on it. To say more would likely spoil something, and I prefer you take the opportunity to grab yourself a copy of this excellent book. DO IT! “The Helm of Midnight” is available in all fine bookstores April 13/2021.

Happy Reading!

Order “The Helm of Midnight”
Check out Marina Lostetter on Twitter

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