Book Review : The Helm of Midnight

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Helm of MidnightThe Helm of Midnight (The Five Penalties, #1) by Marina J. Lostetter
Published by Tor Books on April 13th 2021
Pages: 464
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Source: NetGalley

A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.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 with a series of gruesome murders.
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.

The Helm of Midnight is a fascinating read, which effortlessly combines fantasy, murder mystery, and even horror. On top of the amazing blend of genres, I absolutely loved the concept of death masks, which preserve the talents of the deceased and allow the wearer of the mask to harness those talents, and the very unique world-building. The Helm of Midnight is told from three very different perspectives, that of a Regulator named Krona, a healer named Melissa with a secret that could change the world as they all know it, and a serial killer named Chabron. Each of these narrators are extremely well-developed and so are the rest of the cast of characters.


Thankfully, I enjoyed reading from each and every perspective of the characters. I feel in most books with changing perspectives, I dread going back to one, or hate when a perspective abruptly leaves off with a cliffhanger ending and switches to another character. That is not the case in The Helm of Midnight. The switches between narrators feel organic and natural, not contrived to add tension or to push the plot forward. I especially loved the duality of reading from the perspective of the law through Regulator Krona, and then reading from the perspective of a notorious serial killer, known as the Blooming Butcher. The part of The Helm of Midnight concerning these gruesome murders, in which the killer actually carves his victims into flowers, gave me very strong Jack the Ripper vibes. I was not only super invested in Krona and the rest of the Regulators solving the case of these murders, but also extremely intrigued in the reasons behind why Chabron, the original perpetrator of these murders who was turned into a mask in death to preserve his horrific skills, committed them in the first place.


“A murderer didn’t deserve to be feared even in death.” 


To combat the gruesomeness of Chabron’s mask, which being used to repeat the murders, the Regulators have their own death mask to aid in their investigations. For instance, there is the death mask of an expert on lies, helping Krona to determine if those she is questioning are lying to her. But wearing these death masks doesn’t come easy, as echoes of the deceased’s personality try to inhabit the current wearer. I honestly couldn’t get over what a unique idea these death masks were. And frankly, how amazing and terrifying it was that the mask of a serial killer, like Chabron, could be used to start a string of horrific atrocities all over again from beyond the grave. 


Other parts of The Helm of Midnight are just as interesting, with enchanters renting death masks for people to use their abilities, stones containing emotions to transfer to the wearer and with currency of the world in the form of time vials. Most interesting to me besides the death mask was in this world, there is a time tax on all people and it’s impossible to escape the tax collectors. The only people who can afford to live until past the sixties are the wealthy, who can afford to buy back their time. In this world, typically the thirties are considered middle aged, and not at all young. The Helm of Midnight also gets pretty deep into the religious aspects of the world, with five gods and their penalties at the heart of it.  I would try to summarize the beliefs of the world, but it is very intricate and I fear I could summarize this book all day and not do it any justice, so I will just simply state that the fifth god, the Unknown, is most intriguing to me, and even has its own cult, which has very nefarious goals. There’s just so many different elements at play inThe Helm of Midnight, that I cannot help but to be in awe of the author not only keeping them all straight, but meshing them together so flawlessly. Many writers have tried to blend less genres together and failed.


“Time was not free. It was a commodity–a physical thing to be traded, like everything else in the world.”


At the same time that the author is writing all of these fantastical and crime elements, she also manages to expertly weave in complex characters and even some romance. All the side characters are well developed, even if those that have very little page time. I loved the relationship between Krona and her older sister De-Lia, and her very humane struggle to be seen as something other than her sister’s shadow. I also loved Melissa’s developing relationship with Sebastian, an innkeeper with an interesting past of his own, and Krona’s relationship with her somewhat dodgy informant, Thibaut. Most of all, I loved the author’s ability to make a horrific serial killer sympathetic and conflicted, showing there is still a man beneath the murderer. I grew so attached to the characters that I even cried at the end of the novel. 


I really loved all of the elements of The Helm of Midnight, whether those involving murder mystery or the fantasy aspects. Really the only criticism I have for this unique novel was that I did struggle with the pacing of the novel. As much as I enjoyed The Helm of Midnight and was invested in all of the characters, the world-building, and the mystery of the murders, sometimes I felt that nothing was really happening, despite how many different layers to the novel there were. It was odd because I didn’t always want to pick up the book to continue reading it, despite loving it, finding it to be a wholly unique reading experience, and wanting to know what happened. At the same time, even when I felt there wasn’t a lot actually happening, I felt that the twists of turns of the murder investigations added to the suspense of the novel and its mystery, so I would not exactly say that The Helm of Midnight should have been edited down further either. It felt like a more realistic investigation, with dead ends and trails going cold, that way. 


And it is not like the entirety of The Helm of Midnight is at this slower pace either. There are high speed chase scenes, saber fights, monstrous unkillable creatures known as the varg, magical barriers, fist fights, theft, mind control, and plenty of intrigue and espionage. There is just simply so much going on in the novel that I am not sure any review I could write would do all of it justice. Honestly, I am a in awe of The Helm of Midnight and how seamlessly the author blended so many different genres into one cohesive reading experience. There is a little something for everyone in this novel and I think fans of fantasy, murder mysteries, and thrillers will revel in The Helm of Midnight. Undoubtedly, I will be reading future entries in the series.

Book Review : The Helm of Midnight - Blogging with Dragons

Posted February 8, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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