Unclean Spirits (Gods and Monsters) by Chuck Wendig

Publisher - Rebellion

Published - 13th February

Price - £7.99 paperback

I thank the punblisher for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Five years ago, it all went wrong for Cason Cole. He lost his wife and son, lost everything, and was bound into service to a man who chews up human lives and spits them out, a predator who holds nothing dear and respects no law. Now, as the man he both loves and hates lies dying at his feet, the sounds of the explosion still ringing in his ears. Cason is finally free.

The gods and goddesses are real. A polytheistic pantheon – a tangle of divine hierarchies – once kept the world at an arm’s length, warring with one another for mankind’s belief and devotion. It was a grim and bloody balance, but a balance just the same. When one god triumphed, driving all other gods out of heaven it was back to the bad old days; cults and sycophants, and the terrible retribution the gods visit on those who spite them. None of which is going to stop Cason getting back what’s his…

To some the photocopier at work not working is a bad day at the office but to Cason Cole he finds someone blew his boss into pieces can really dampen your day. This goes from bad to worse when he returns to his family home five years late and finds out that his wife and infant son immediately want to kill him on sight. Cason starts to realise that somethings are not adding up. So, begins an intriguing mix of crime drama and supernatural battle with the gods.

It’s a fascinating story that builds up pace as Cason starts to find that the world he lives in is magical and full of Gods. Not just the usual big names of the Greek and roman pantheons but those of Native Americans, Asia and even very small local gods all aware of each other. For reasons not fully explained all the world’s pantheons are banished to Earth with some of their power. Cason finds his employer was one and sadly his family have decided Cason is the number one suspect.  His only allies are a taxi driver good Samaritan and an incredibly scarred and uncouth man known as the Cicatrix. Cason must find out who has framed him or risk losing his family….and his wife.

For starters this is clearly a Chuck Wendig book.  If you’ve read his Miriam Black novels (you really should) you know this is a writer who can make supernatural noir sing like a choir. It’s a dirty, visceral and nasty world of double-crosses, violence swearing and all of it happens in the dirty side-streets, dark bars and abandoned factories of the US. The dialogue is short and snappy and characters bounce snark off each other while at the same time Wendig gives all his heroes (and even some villains) some added depth. Cason is a large fighter, but you’ll side with him not just because he has a fine line in humour, but we see this man is absolutely in love with his wife and child. Over the story we invest ourselves in this man who while not academic is clearly smart and driven. In fact, he ends up having to become an expert in mythology. A nice piece of character development subverting your initial expectations when you meet him!

And although it’s an ultra-violent world where you’ll feel each punch, bone break and bleeding wound it is balanced with a fascinating set-up of this connected pantheon that Cason is trying to find out how to unpick it from his family life. Part of the fun is working out who the God of the chapter is and then what their potential weakness or angle in this game is. You may be surprised where some legends have started to live, and this can move from drama to in one historic scene of mass murder some chilling horror in the dark…

My one issue is that it’s got such blistering pace and these early scenes make this world so vibrant with gods in the streets and alleys that it slightly loses pace in the last act when we move from Cason’s personal battle to sort his life out to a slightly more greater scale.  I felt the story loses some energy and it doesn’t quite gel with the more human-level drama we got before.

In special bonus addition at the end of the story (also signalling that it looks like there will be other entrants in the same shared universe) there is a short novella from Pat Kelleher set shortly after the events in Wendig’s novel. One of the US pantheon gets embroiled with a UK tourist in what turns out to be an quest with some potentially world-ending events. Kelleher has a nice ear for dialogue which has a slightly less harsh sense of humour than Wendig, but the story feels more magical as we replace the streets of the US for eventually London and the countryside.

Overall, I think this is very much for the fan who enjoys books like American Gods but in terms of style would like to see a fast-paced noir crime thriller rather than simply epic fantasy. Certainly not for the weak but for me Wendig is a poet at making the dirty streets shine brightly on the page. Definitely worth a look!