A young man washes up in a harbor with no knowledge of who he is or where he came from. He doesn’t even have a name. He is tall, with dark hair and pale skin. He also possesses a strong sense of survival, driving him to do whatever is necessary to make his way on the dark and dangerous streets of Elendhaven.
Florian Leickenbloom is the antithesis of this mysterious young man. He knows his name and that he is the last surviving member of one of Elendhaven’s founding families. He is small and slight of stature with blonde hair. Florian lost his entire family, along with a majority of the city’s residents, to a plague that ravaged the area years ago. While Florian’s survival also involves struggle, it is of a markedly different type than the other young man’s.
When these two young men meet in a dark alleyway late at night, each of them quickly understands that they may be able to help each other. They are opposites, but in many ways complement each other perfectly. Other times, those differences result in a friction and antagonism that can be most unnerving. But, their needs keep them together. Florian provides the nameless young man, now known as Johann, with a place to live, a place to sleep, and food to eat. In Johann, Florian see the means to enact a plan on which he has been working for years. Together, they will wreak Florian’s revenge on Elendhaven, which may very well destroy the city forever.
In The Monster of Elendhaven, Jennifer Giesbrecht tells a tale that is unrelentingly dark. With the city of Elendhaven, she has created a nightmarish conglomeration of a city, with dark streets and alleys, a harbor created from a volcanic crater, and stagnant factories with towers collapsing into ruin as the citizens struggle to rebuild their lives after a plague decimated the city. Even the water, which we are told is clear to the South, is black and opaque (although, ostensibly still drinkable since no shortage of water is ever mentioned by the author). Giesbrecht’s immersive descriptions of Elendhaven are layered and intricate, making it seem more like a real place than her creation. It is a city in the process of decay, having lost the battle to reclaim its life, but not yet realizing the loss. It is dark and dirty, with sights, smells, and sounds to repel the senses and yet grotesquely beautiful enough to draw and hold, the attention of the reader.
The same can be said of Giesbrecht’s characters. They are neither likeable nor relatable, and yet readers will feel compelled to follow them through to the end of their story.
The Monster of Elendhaven is a bleak, somber tale, grim with flashes of menace and violence. For those who relish the shadows, and prefer to linger in the darkness rather than immediately turn on the lights when entering a room, this could be the novella for you.