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Book Review of The Helm of Midnight, by Marina Lostetter


Hannibal meets Mistborn in Marina Lostetter’s THE HELM OF MIDNIGHT, the dark and stunning first novel in a new trilogy that combines the intricate worldbuilding and rigorous magic system of the best of epic fantasy with a dark and chilling thriller. In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city. Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question. It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.

My Rating:

The Helm of Midnight invokes an intricate world where feelings magically imbue crystals and masks contain the echoes of a person’s abilities.  

The story is told through two timelines. The one set in the present follows Krona, a regulator (or cop) who has a tragic history that impacts her ability to regulate. The other plot follows Melissa, an impoverished young woman looking to heal her ailing mother. 

Both characters leap off the pages. They are knowable, friendly, and human in the very unhuman realm Marina Lostetter has written. Krona suffers from PTSD over a wraithlike creature known as the Varga. She idolizes her older sister (also a regulator) and suffers from her inadequacies the same as we all do. Melissa has good intentions, all of them well placed, but suffers from the consequences when her desire to heal her mother backfires. 

The worldbuilding of The Helm of Midnight is expert, crafty, and deliberate. Descriptions add to the story instead of putting us in a mire of unnecessary words. Lostetter propels both plots forward in a systematic nature that can slow the pace. However, the very contradictions her whole novel is about would suffer had she not taken the grace and delicacy in divulging them. 

The Helm of Midnight throws rules at us about the world Krona and Melissa live in, the Valley. There are gods, monsters, magic, and echoes of one’s soul. But are the gods truly gods? Do their rules reign supreme, or are they fallacies meant to keep order? Are these monsters, the Varga, really all they appear to be? Is it right to use crystals or masks to change one’s emotions, to heal beyond your knowledge? 

The world Lostetter has developed here is more science fiction than fantasy. There is far less mystery than the description would suppose and much more intrigue into what lies hidden behind the curtain of the Valley. 

The ending is not a cliffhanger, but The Helm of Midnight has set up a tapestry of a world. Marina Lostetter does a marvelous job showing us there are two sides to that tapestry, and one is ugly and more authentic than the image we tend to gape at. 

Be prepared to learn more about this decadent, fictional world in the final two books of this proposed trilogy. 

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