This is a nasty little book, brutal and beautiful. To call it simply atmospheric would be doing it a great disservice. Jennifer Giesbrecht’s debut novella The Monster of Elendhaven is absolutely phenomenal. In a short 160 pages, Giesbrecht paints a world of cold, dark filth. It drips with pain and sorrow. The characters are wretched but fascinating and fully developed. I use these descriptors not as a way to dissuade you in reading it, but to let you know what arena you’d be playing in. The characters are wretched, yes, but you love to follow them in their dastardly plots. The setting is stark and harsh, but you will not be able to look away. And while the story is creepy and gory, it has moments of true tenderness and humor.
In The Monster of Elendhaven, a superhuman man named Johann stalks the dark and seedy streets of Elendhaven, acting as the city’s own Jack the Ripper of sorts. There’s something unique about Johann though: it appears he can’t be killed. He’s tried. Multiple times. When he encounters Florian, a man from one of Elendhaven’s oldest families, he sees a kindred spirit. Soon they team up, Johann acting as the strong arm for Florian’s dark revenge fantasies. But even the best laid of evil plans can experience some hiccups. Someone is hunting Florian, and they mean to kill.
Magic plays a huge role in this book, but it’s the kind of magic that you need to look at out of the corner of your eye. Sorcerers and magic used to fill the world, but as time passed it became dangerous to be a sorcerer. It was punished, shunned, and bred out of society…but not entirely. Elendhaven, being a fantasy mirror of a Germanic/Nordic country, has old magic and old lore that does not forget the truth behind the universe. It is a place where fantastical things can still happen. I love settings like this, that exist in the spaces between the modern mundane world and an older magical world.
What Giesbrecht does in such a short space is so impressive. She gives us a fully realized story, equipped with rich characters, a visceral setting, a deep mythology, and a satisfying end. And while we only get a fragment of the lore this world contains, it is robust and offers the appropriate support to the tale at hand. I could read a whole series based on these characters or set in Elendhaven or its surroundings.
The Monster of Elendhaven is like if Tim Burton and Rob Zombie collaborated on a film together. It’s a Dickensian tale on crystal meth. It will chill you to your core but leave you wanting more. I wait in eager anticipation for whatever Giesbrecht publishes next!