An epic historical fantasy thriller exquisitely written in both daunting prose and world building. Initially unfolding in Victorian London, 1882, this novel also features globetrotting to the equally atmospheric streets of Tokyo, circus tents of San Francisco, with the final destination of the Cairndale Institute in the brooding moors of Edinburgh, Scotland.
With an extensive cast of well-developed characters and varied motivations, not all sinister, Miro weaves a riveting and compelling imaginary world with elements of the magical that turns this gem into a page turner (and audio delight). What shines through it all: the encountered orphan children’s desire to belong and be loved, while exuding tenderness and devotion even in the darkest and most grim moments. These talented children are brimming with heart and humanity.
The two main orphans are Marlowe and Charlie Ovid. We first encounter Marlowe on a freight train as a baby clutched in the arms of his dead mother. He is kept safe by two caring adoptive mothers—both extremely different in manner and experience—but all devoted to his safekeeping. No one can explain why and how he shines a radiant blue. Somehow his emitted light can melt or mend flesh. Charlie Ovid, is a sixteen year-old mixed race orphan wallowing in a jail in Mississippi. The law has tried numerous times to execute him to no avail. He inexplicably is able to heal himself of any wounds to his body, in spite of his daily beatings or hangings. He finds himself jailed for killing a White man in self-defense. These “talents” make these otherwise normal children seem like “monsters”. From one of the characters mouths: “Anything different from the normal appears monstrous. But it is not, It is not.” Later we encounter, Ribs, the girl who can discard her clothes and become invisible; Oscar, the shy little boy who can animate bits of dead tissue into the sentient being, known as the flesh giant, Lymenion (who acts as his friend and protector); and the Japanese “dustworker” Komako, who can manipulate certain forms of dust to be utilized as a physical weapon.
The detective duo of Frank Colton and Alice Quicke, are tasked with finding the two talents, Marlowe and Charlie and bringing them back to the steeped in mystery, Cairndale Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they will be protected and trained in the full use of their talents.
At the same time the two are hunted by an inscrutable force—seemingly made of smoke—with the intention of destruction and absorption of their powers. The eerie institute already houses a cadre of other children with an assortment of talents, under the tutelage of Dr Henry Berghast – with an eventual unraveling of true motivations and secrets. The institute is also the site of the Orsine, a type of seal, keeping the dead from escaping into the world of the living.
J.M. Miro is the pen name of a Canadian novelist and poet who wishes to separate his fantasy works from the other portions of his oeuvre. His lush prose is obviously a manifestation of his other works. His compelling narrative of the gifted, but broken children who must save the world, is aided by a complex plot peppered with epic action sequences, and the unfurling of mysteries and unexpected reveals. Miro deftly flashes back and forth between time intervals and different characters’ points of view to provide necessary back story and motivations. This seemingly roller coaster ride actually propels the plot and mystery in a relentless, maddening course, deep with texture and emotion, in Dickensian scope.
I personally switched between kindle and audio versions. I would have to say I preferred the audio version, expertly crafted by British actor, Ben Onwukwe, known for his talents on film, radio, television, theatre, and voice acting. His ability to provide a myriad of voices and accents to such a large cast of characters is mesmerizing. His variation of voice and tone provides an extra level of believability to the narrative, bringing the story to life in the mind of the reader.
Thanks to NetGalley, Flatiron Books, and Macmillan Audio for supplying an advanced copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. I look forward to further adventures of The Talents and perhaps even a cinematic version of this epic.