The Helm of Midnight
The Five Penalties #1
By Marina J. Lostetter
Author’s Website: www.lostetter.net
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Omar
A legendary serial killer stalks the streets of a fantastical city in The Helm of Midnight, the stunning first novel in a new trilogy from acclaimed author Marina Lostetter.
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.
‘The Rules of the Valley are as harsh as they are pure. The gods sacrificed much for humanity, and require us to sacrifice for each other in return. Beware the Five Penalties.
Zhe is the Minder of Emotion, and emotion is the basis of all human bonds. Emotion must be shared through an emote tax. The penalty for hoarding emotion is the numbing of feeling.
He is the Guardian of Nature, and there is a natural order. That order must be respected and maintained. The penalty for subverting the natural order is toiling for the benefit of others.
Fey are the Vessel of Knowledge, and too much knowledge without preparation is dangerous. New knowledge must only be sought when the time is right. The penalty for invention without preparation is the removal of offending hands.
She is Nature’s twin, and the Purveyor of Time. Time treats all things equally. Time must be shared through the time tax. The penalty for hoarding time is an early death.
They are the Unknown, pure and utter. One day they may choose to reveal themself and to gift magic unto the Valley. Until then, they demand only fealty, and the promise that their future penalties will be paid.
—Scroll 318, writ by Absolon Raoul Trémaux after the Great Introdus
The new story of author Marian J. Lostter is set in a world of religious turmoil, magical artifacts that either grant abilities or emotions to the users, and where time is the currency on which the world turns around. The Helm of Midnight is the story of De-Krona Hirvath a Regulator, officials whose job is to oversee and contain unauthorized use of death masks or emotion stones. They are trying to solve the robbery of a dangerous masks that once belonged to a mass murder; but instead, there are individuals behind the scenes pulling the strings and have worse plans than what De-Krona and her team are expecting.
It all starts with a birthday party for the Chief Magistrate Silver Jubilee, where several of the most dangerous articles of enchantment are being displayed for entertainment. It’s De-Krona job to keep on eye and protect them, but several Varger, monstrous creatures from the outside protective field, attack the event and two of the most dangerous artifacts are stolen in the commotion. The next day the first body appears, the modus operandi is the same as 10 years ago, when the mass murder Louis Charbon ran free, killing his victims and rearranging them into flowers shapes, blossoms he called them. But this time, there is something different to the victims, they are all women and are missing something.
Whoever took the Demon mask of Louis Charbon has a plan and is willing to murder many to get what they are looking for. The Regulators have their hands full with this case, hoping this robbery doesn’t go deeper than they expect, even the Gods might be involved.
I liked the Helm of Midnight; I became a fan of author Marian J. Lostter with her previous series Noumenon and this new series, The Five Penalties has been a great addition to her work. The Helm of Midnight is filled with mystery, fantastical use of magical objects and a killer running loose. But what I liked from this first book is that not everything is what it looks like, there are secrets hidden to the general public and among the lives of the characters of this book.
An aspect that I like about Lostter’s writing style is how we get characters’ POVs across the narrative of the story. While we, the readers, learn new information or insides to the reasoning of other characters, the main characters are still left in the dark until later on. It was interesting to learn about the life of mass murder Louis Charbon, how he became that monster and how his life ended. There are subplot lines in the story that at first don’t seem to be connected, but at the end, it all ties up into a deadly knot of events.
Another thing that I liked about the Helm of Midnight is the pantheon and creation myths of this world. The country or valley of Arkensyre, was created for humans to leave peacefully and follow their doctrine, the penalties, and prosper safely from the monsters from outside.
“carved out especially for them by the five gods, so that humans, their fragile creations, might be safe from the great and terrible Thalo: the being who’d built the world, along with the horrid, violent beasts that ruled it.”
I love magic and magic users, but the Helm of Midnight presents the reader with magical objects and the craftsmen that make them. The death masks are wooden masks imbued with an ability from an individual who went through all the steps to preserve that knowledge. Emotion stones are an array of beautiful stones that are imbued with the emotions that are taken out from other individuals, happiness, love, joy, hope, despair, lust, anger, among others. There are other objects made of metals and glass that are enchanted for different uses, such as the glasswork used to harness the currency that runs the world, time.
I liked the characters in this story, De-Krona Hirvath and her sister De-Lia have had strange lives. Their father died at the hand of a Varger and they both moved up the ranks of the Regulators. De-Lia a captain of her squadron and DE-Krona as the best user of death masks of the team. This story is full of characters with interesting stories, my favorite ones Tibault and Melanie, who play important roles.
Lastly, I really like the use of gender-neutral pronouns among the citizens of this world and the gods that created it. It was nice to see this inclusion among the pages of this book and how the characters use them.
There is so much I would like to talk about, but it would be spoilers and one should read this book themselves. There are still mysteries to resolve at the end of the Helm of Midnight, I can’t wait to see what the gods have planned for De-Koran and the people of Arkensyre.If you are a fan of Marian J. Lostter and her work, then I recommend the Helm of Midnight. The mask of a mass murder is once again free in the world, and the Regulators are literally running on time to find it before whoever took it can destroy the social-political structure of the world.