In Ordinary Monsters, author J.M. Miro introduces readers to the Talents, a fragmented Victorian community of young people with supernatural gifts. This global adventure traverses 19th-century America, England, Scotland and Japan before eventually landing at the Cairndale Institute outside of Edinburgh, where the Talents are learning to control and hone their powers. These lessons become crucial once they hear that the drughr, a creature from the netherworld that absorbs other beings’ power, is on the loose—and headed right toward them.
The first in a planned trilogy, Ordinary Monsters plays off the well-loved and well-worn tropes of chosen ones and magical institutions for children, but Miro (the pen name of a literary novelist) freshens things up with a large, sweeping scope and a likable, diverse cast of characters. Charlie Ovid is a 16-year-old Black boy whose body heals itself no matter the severity of the wound. For Charlie, the Cairndale Institute provides an escape from the post-Civil War American South. Marlowe, an 8-year-old boy who glows blue, travels from the streets of London to a Midwestern sideshow troupe before ending up at Cairndale. These powerful children are unsurprisingly poignant, but their allies and guardians are the ones who really seize the reader’s emotions. Standouts include the duo who shepherd Charlie to Cairndale: Alice Quicke, a wily and resourceful detective, and Frank Coulton, her gruff partner (who’s secretly a total teddy bear). Another is Marlowe’s guardian, Brynt, a tattooed carnival wrestler whose stature is only dwarfed by her kindness.
As the children try to unravel the secrets of the Institute and the intentions of its head, Dr. Baghurst, the high stakes never falter, the body horror is deliciously and macabrely wrought, and the mysteries and surprises never stop coming. Miro intersperses crucial flashbacks to characters’ backstories during intense moments, creating a gleeful and maddening ride between the past and the present as each character’s arc is explored in full detail.
Miro cleverly adapts beloved fantasy tropes and swirls them into Ordinary Monsters, a book about life and death, magic and monstrosities, with plenty of mysteries for readers to solve.