Creatures of Want and Ruin: Original and entertaining

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCreatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCreatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

At first glance, based on the title and cover art, Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018) looks and sounds like it’s a sequel to her earlier novel Creatures of Will and Temper, but it’s not. The stories have different characters and settings, so I’m going to treat Creatures of Want and Ruin as a stand-alone novel.

During prohibition, Ellie West is a bootlegger in Amityville, a village on New York’s Long Island. Due to her father’s declining health and inability to work at his trade as a fisherman, her family struggles to make ends meet but is unwilling to accept charity. Ellie’s brother Lester, a smart young man who was crippled by polio, has been accepted to medical school, but the family can’t afford to send him. That’s why Ellie is selling moonshine.

Ellis’s parents, who have been tolerant of her activities in the past, have recently come under the sway of a charismatic new pastor who is “preaching something that didn’t sound like the gospel,” including abstinence from alcohol, intolerance of immigrants, and suppression of women’s rights. This cult leader’s influence in the community is rising, but Ellie refuses to conform.

When Ellie gets a lucrative bootlegging deal, supplying illegal hooch to some rich folks who are vacationing in a Long Island mansion, she thinks she will finally earn enough money for Lester’s schooling. But things go south when this particular moonshine, which she acquired from a questionable source, seems to have some supernatural qualities that are, at least, foreboding and, possibly, dangerous. She teams up with an unlikely ally — a wealthy woman named Fin who’s in a failing marriage — to solve the double-mystery of the hooch and the cult.

Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer

Creatures of Want and Ruin is dark, imaginative, entertaining, and well-written with a great setting and some nice imagery. The characters are original and, for the most part, developed well enough to feel real. I liked Ellie’s independence and the way Fin understood and fell in love with Long Island while her silly companions just wanted to have fun on their vacation.

While the plot of Creatures of Want and Ruin is nicely paced, there were a few places where it was predictable. For example, I knew almost from the beginning that two characters who hadn’t yet met would be getting together. But there were some unexpected twists, too.

There were several places where characters made decisions that served the plot well but seemed unnatural or out of character. Most of these involved characters deciding, without good reason, to leave or go somewhere so that other characters would be left alone (and vulnerable) or would meet each other (e.g., the two I mentioned above) or would be in the right place to witness something bad happening. One instance involved two characters getting into an argument that seemed like unnecessary drama just so they could separate for a while. In one of the final scenes of the novel, one character admits to murdering another in front of the victim’s mother and the conversation goes on for a very long time before the mother finally says something. (It is more shocking than I can relate here without spoilers.) In fact, everyone’s reaction to, and behavior after, this tragic death is completely unbelievable — it’s the novel’s biggest flaw, in my opinion.

Still, there’s a lot I like about Creatures of Want and Ruin and I loved the way Molly Tanzer ended the story. The audiobook version, by Recorded Books, is narrated by Gabra Zackman. It’s a nice production but I had to speed it up due to Zackman’s sleep-inducing pace. At double speed, it sounds great.

Oh, and I love the cover art by Eduardo Recife!

Published in 2018. A finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Amityville baywoman Ellie West fishes by day and bootlegs moonshine by night. It’s dangerous work under Prohibition — independent operators like her are despised by federal agents and mobsters alike — but Ellie’s brother was accepted to college and Ellie’s desperate to see him go. So desperate that when wealthy strangers ask her to procure libations for an extravagant party, Ellie sells them everything she has, including some booze she acquired under unusual circumstances. What Ellie doesn’t know is that this booze is special. Distilled from foul mushrooms by a cult of diabolists, those who drink it see terrible things–like the destruction of Long Island in fire and flood. The cult is masquerading as a church promising salvation through temperance and a return to “the good old days,” so it’s hard for Ellie to take a stand against them, especially when her father joins – but Ellie loves Long Island, and she loves her family, and she’ll do whatever it takes to ensure neither is torn apart.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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