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.
Thank you to Tor/Forge for the review copy. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
This review was incredibly hard to write because there was so much about this book I loved, but there were also some parts that seriously let the book down. The story starts off with a heist at a well to do party where the mask of notorious serial killer Louis Charbon is stolen, Krona alongside her team of regulators (think magical law enforcement) are tasked with tracking down the mask, as well as the people who stole it. But obstacles keep appearing in their paths making it an almost impossible job. Melanie is in need of a mask to help save her mothers life, she has little money and willingly spends it all on the mask of a master healer hoping that wearing it will give her the ability to save her mother. But Melanie has never tried to wear a mask before, and is unprepared for the ‘remnant’ of the creator trying to take control of her body, in a bid to save herself she does something that changes her life, and not for the better. Louis is a simple surgeon with a wife and children who love him, that is until he meets Fiona, a woman he both detests as well feels inexplicably drawn too. She draws him into her life and tells him a secret, a secret that ensures he become the notorious serial killer. Krona, Melanie and Louis’ lives are inexplicably linked, none knowing how much until one fateful event changes everything.
The Helm of Midnight is told from three POV’s: Krona is a regulator on the case to find the missing mask of Louis Charbon. She feels that she is forever in her older sisters shadow, and that she will never be a true member of the team until she learns to overcome her fear of the Varga, monsters who live beyond the the valley but who sometimes manage to cross the border and terrorise the city. Only Krona has a skill that sets her apart from the others, she has the ability to overcome the remnant of almost any mask in record time. Krona was by far my favourite character. She has a no nonsense attitude when it comes to her job, but also know’s when to bend the rules.
Melanie is a simple farm girl looking for a way to save the only family she has left, so when a stranger offers to help her with the Mask she agrees, and before long both Melanie and Sebastian get themselves into a situation they’re unsure how to get out of, one that could not only risk their lives, but brings to light a question that Sebastian has been asking his whole life. Melanie’s was a story line I struggled to get into, mainly because I didn’t see how it would fit into the main plot, and in fact it doesn’t come to light until almost the end of the book.
Louis Charbon is a simple family man and doctor, that is until something unthinkable happens and he is drawn into a situation he can’t comprehend and ask to do tasks he finds repulsive. But the people behind his actions aren’t quite what they seem, and before long Louis realises he is too far gone to ever get out again. Louis chapters are told in flashbacks, highlighting how he became the infamous killer which I wont lie, hit me right in the feels. He was by no means redeemed by these events, but his chapters go to show how far people will go when they are desperate for answers once a carrot is dropped in front on their nose.
One of the main things I loved about this book was the world building, and magic system the author introduces us to. I do feel it could do with some sort of appendix to keep it all together because it did take me a while to get my head around the different magic types, but it was so different from anything else I had read I couldn’t help but find myself engrossed. Long ago the valley was created by five gods who then imbued different objects with their magics; Knowledge comes from wood, , time magic is sand/glass, nature is in metals and then emotional magic is in Gems. And finally the unknown God, their power lies in the barrier surrounding the valley and keeping the monsters outside. The ones we most see used in the book are knowledge, time and emotion. Knowledge is what allows the death masks to work, when a person is dying and wishes to pass on their knowledge to future generations an enchanter can place their magic into a mask that, once worn will endow the wearer with the makers knowledge. Emotions are carried in Gems and usually worn by the wealthy in the forms of joystones, though their are others out there such as despair stones that can drive the wearer to dire actions. And finally time, time is used as the currency.
The world was inspired by 1800’s France and the imagery and descriptive writing were off the chart. I was completely engrossed in the world whilst reading, to the point where certain scenes had me jumping out of my seat. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart, yes it’s a horror filled with dark magic and monsters, and there a certainly scenes that had me wanting to hide under the covers, but as well as this we have the descriptions of the crimes committed by both Carbon and the person wearing his mask that tend towards the gruesome. All of this add’s to the atmosphere of the story, and as a scary cat there were definitely parts where I wanted to put the book down and hide, but found it almost impossible to tear myself from the pages.
Now did my descriptions of the magic system etc seem a little overwhelming? Well I would agree, as much as I loved it (and I did) I feel like the author bit of more than she could chew. As engrossing as the magic system, gods and world were, they just weren’t built well enough for us to get a true grasp on them. The bits I understood I loved, but there were a lot of times I simply had little idea what was going on. The pacing of this book was also waaaay off. Krona’s chapters were filled with ‘page filling’ scenes that added nothing to the overall plot, and in fact added to some of my confused moments. But as well as that, very little happens in the first 75% of the book and then then last 25% or so flies by, with a ridiculous amount of revelations and plot twists, so many in fact I had to start writing things down to keep them straight in my head. That being said, there was plenty in the other 75% to keep me interested because I never found myself wondering if I should DNF.
Despite all that I will definitely be keeping my eyes out for book two. When the story picked up it got infinitely more interesting, and we were given a lot of plot twists, as well as an emotional and action packed ending that kept me glued to the pages and left me wanting more. I would also be interested to see if the author fixes any of the issues with this book. For me, the positives seriously outweigh the negatives, but for anyone going in be prepared for something that wont feel fully thought out and may make you a little dizzy trying to keep up with everything.