Book Review: Mencken and the Monsters (The Defense of Reality Book 1)

Mencken and the Monsters by Jeff Elkins
Mencken and the Monsters by Jeff Elkins

So I got to read a book this week. I AM SO LUCKY.

Lemme tell you why.

A Different Kind of Urban Fantasy

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love the current crop of urban fantasy out there. I waited all my life to see kick-ass females and anti-hero good guys, running around and knocking otherworldly tush into the next reality.

But once in a while, it’s really, really nice to find something else. Something that reminds me of Charles de Lint more than Faith Hunter.

Author Jeff Elkins sent me this book to read before it goes live on Amazon, and I’m so delighted he did. The premise: freelance journalist Mencken Cassie thinks he’s rooting out crime and fighting corruption in Baltimore’s dark underside. It turns out, however, that he’s hot on the trail of something distinctly less than human, and his involvement soon endangers himself, his reputation, and everyone he knows.

There are monsters, fellow reader. Really disturbing monsters, and the protagonist is not equipped in any way to deal with them.

There are heroes, too – heroes who, for various reasons, sure do look like the bad guys. And oh, when those monsters step out of the shadows and you get a good look, you begin to understand what’s at stake and why Mencken has been so strongly warned to stay away.

Jeff has done something truly extraordinary here with an ordinary guy, sans powers, discovering that his beloved city is in a danger he can barely comprehend plus the emotional and physical trauma that come from such problems and the big, dark hole he keeps digging as he tries to deny the impossible and define the incalculable.

(That sentence is terrible. Attribute it to my enthusiasm for this book.)

Mencken is a great protagonist. Proactive. Confused where anyone would be. Stubborn as hell – and both terrified when reasonable and really brave when he needs to be. As a personal thing, I also love that Jeff avoided tons of tropes with this:

  • The hero isn’t white. (Stop the presses!)
  • When he tries to tell people who respect him about what he thinks is going on, he’s BELIEVED. (About damn time.)
  • When he calls the police because *cough* things happen, they actually show up and arrest the right people.
  • He has to choose between career and romance in an actually believable way (no Twilight-style drama here, thank God.)
  • The protagonist reacts to horrible pain in a realistic way (none of that “broke a rib but I can still lift motorcycles over my head the next morning” nonsense).
  • You know how the homeless population is treated like it doesn’t exist? Well, that comes into play – perfectly and effectively. The marginalized matter.

Then you add in Jeff’s conversational, relatable writing style, several deeply unexpected twists, a complete lack of safety for any character (seriously), and loads of questions for the universe he’s building, and you have a truly delicious book. There are plenty more points, but just these made it a joy to read.

I’ve barely ever experienced Baltimore outside its airport, but after reading this book, I feel like its unique flavor is lingering on my tongue.

The version I got had typos in it, I won’t lie; it was a pre-release copy, so that’s completely understandable. But boy, oh, boy, those typos didn’t matter. I REALLY look forward to this one being developed in further books. The worlds (yes, plural) he’s built definitely leave me wanting to read more.

Count me in for the sequel, Jeff!

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