“Ordinary Monsters,” billed as the debut novel from Pacific Northwest writer JM Miro, sounded almost too good to be true. Here was one of Canada’s foremost literary writers adopting a pseudonym to write a historical fantasy, a novel featuring gifted children being hunted, magical forces at play in the world, monsters and saviours, crumbling crypts and otherworldly cities. It was as if the novel had been written for me, tailor-made for my interests. My only concern was whether Miro would be able to pull it off.
I wasn’t really worried, though: Miro is a pseudonym for writer Steven Price, who lives near Victoria with his wife, Esi Edugyan, their generation’s CanLit power couple. Price has always demonstrated a powerful command of his craft, and the pseudonym doesn’t blunt that: “Ordinary Monsters” is a reckless, spirited fantasy with vivid characters, carefully crafted milieus and a keen awareness of the value of storytelling.
Set in the second half of the nineteenth century, “Ordinary Monsters” revolves around children with mysterious powers. Charlie Ovid, for example, has accelerated healing capacity (though that healing doesn’t spare him pain), while Marlowe glows with a strange blue light (the full nature of his powers take a while to reveal themselves), and Eleanor Ribbon, who goes by ribs, can make herself invisible. The children — all of them without families, largely alone in the world — are being sought by representatives of a mysterious institute near Edinburgh, and hunted by a mysterious, monstrous force intent on their destruction.
Unable to trust anyone around them — even once they reach the institute — the children bond, forming an intentional family, one which may hold the fate of the world in its hands.
“Ordinary Monsters” is an easy match for the quality readers have come to expect from Price’s work, including the novels “By Gaslight” and “lampedusa,” both of which were nominated for the Giller Prize (and the distinctive London settings of “Ordinary Monsters,” along with a mention of the Pinkerton Agency, would have revealed Price as Miro to any readers of “By Gaslight,” if it weren’t an open secret).
Where the new novel differs, though, is in the sheer joy which comes through its pages. “Ordinary Monsters” is not a young adult novel, but Price captures the sensation of being a young reader, stumbling upon a great book: not knowing what to expect when you turn the pages, gasping and laughing and crying and cringing along with the characters . That feeling of discovering a new book, a whole new world, made just for you, is a feeling most readers can relate to, even if they don’t know — until they experience it again — just how much they’ve missed it.
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