STARRED REVIEW
November 13, 2018

Creatures of Want and Ruin

By Molly Tanzer

In many fantasy stories, making a deal with a demon starts out as a good idea. Maybe you end up with superhuman strength, riches beyond your wildest dreams or the admiration of those around you. But what do you have to give to receive these gifts? In the case of Molly Tanzer’s fun and atmospheric Creatures of Want and Ruin, two women from very different walks of life have to figure out what the demon wants before Long Island is swallowed by an evil they don’t understand.

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In many fantasy stories, making a deal with a demon starts out as a good idea. Maybe you end up with superhuman strength, riches beyond your wildest dreams or the admiration of those around you. But what do you have to give to receive these gifts? In the case of Molly Tanzer’s fun and atmospheric Creatures of Want and Ruin, two women from very different walks of life have to figure out what the demon wants before Long Island is swallowed by an evil they don’t understand.

The first character you meet is Ellie. It’s the height of Prohibition, and she smuggles liquor by boat to paying customers all over Long Island. When she discovers a wrecked ship stocked with bottles of a mysterious liquid, she naturally takes them for herself. Meanwhile, Fin, a socialite visiting the island to escape the city, feels disconnected from her husband and the rest of her friends from high society. She’s coaxed into hosting a party and enlists Ellie’s help to supply the all-important booze. Fin ends up taking a sip from one of Ellie’s unmarked bottles, and sees a vision: a man bowed before a monstrous thing, submitting to a dark will that she is unable to understand. Bound together by shared experience, Ellie and Fin must work together to find the source of the unholy presence gripping the island.

The vision Tanzer paints of Long Island during Prohibition is nostalgic, tactile and just a little bit creepy. One can almost hear the creak of Ellie’s boat or the tinkle of Fin’s expensive champagne flutes as we float into and out of each character’s perspectives. That being said, the setting never overtakes the interplay between the characters. Both Ellie and Fin maintain complex, multidimensional relationships that ebb and flow as real relationships do. And, thankfully, not even Ellie and Fin are blameless in how they treat others. No one is perfect in this vision of the past.

The back-and-forth between the two heroines is worth celebrating. Ellie, the hard-nosed, what’s-it-to-you liquor smuggler balances perfectly with thoughtful, lonely, demure yet determined society maven Fin. The way they gain each other’s trust and play off one another’s strengths feels natural and unforced, a testament to Tanzer’s gifts with dialogue and pacing. Indeed, the book does a wonderful job of knowing when to lean into an action sequence (the climax gets a large chunk of time at the end of the story) and when to step back and let the characters inhabit the world.

Creatures of Want and Ruin is the second of a trilogy of books revolving around the impact of a demonic presence in a small community. How these communities are split by fear and hatred is telling and relevant in today’s divided public forum. It’ll be a sad day for readers when Tanzer’s trilogy is complete, but at least we didn’t have to sell our souls for such a fantastic journey.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Molly Tanzer.

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Creatures of Want and Ruin

Creatures of Want and Ruin

By Molly Tanzer
Mariner
ISBN 9781328710253

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