Review: The Helm of Midnight (The Five Penalties #1) by Marina J. Lostetter

Rating: 6.5/10


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 Helm of Midnight is the first in Marina Lostetter’s The Five Penalties Series, and the author’s first fantasy novel, according to her bio in the back of the book. I love the premise of this book, and, while in the end it did not keep my interest as much as I had hoped, Lostetter definitely showed off her writing chops.

On the surface there are two storylines, but in effect there are three narratives at play: Krona in the present, Melanie in the past, and Charbon’s experience, as well, that we get from the mask. Due to this setup, I devoured the first half of the book. Each story is chock full of mystery and drama. It was almost like reading three books at one time, but knowing they were all going to cross paths at some point. This aspect of the book is so well-done that I would forget the other storylines existed while I was reading on my current timeline. I got absolutely lost in it. And the story is really dark and moody, which, again, for the first half of the book really appealed to me.

There is so much in this book that appeals to me. It includes magic, and murder, and mystery. All my favorite “m”s! Creepy masks with specials powers (another “m”), and some crazy monsters (!!!). This is why I say, for the first half of the book I was super into it and did not want to put it down.

But something happened on the way to the end of the book. It just began to feel a little like a slog, almost as thought I was getting buried underneath the weight of the story. I know, that is a weird turn of phrase considering the nature of the book. Maybe that had something to do with it, and that was probably the point of the book. As I said, it is really moody, and maybe I fell too deep into that mood, but I found myself enjoying the read less and less the more I read. Honestly, with all of the great aspects of this book I think that is more of a me thing. That’s right, book: it’s not you, it’s me. To be clear, I did like the book overall, I just think my expectations were so high in the first half of the book that it unexpectedly did not meet those expectations toward the end.

Speaking of mood, that starts before one even opens the book. From the picture on the cover, to the title of the book, and even the series name (The Five Penalties?!? I love it.) Also, the blurb on and quote on the front cover all contribute to the feeling of horror going in. The publisher (Tor) put a lot of effort into making sure this book is not just a story, but a total package. Also, there is a map! I love fantasy maps, but with this book I totally forgot and never really used it. This is not the type of story where I expect a map, because the setting is not overly important. But, it is there nonetheless, and I am never going to hate on a map.

I cannot write this review without giving huge props to Lostetter for the writing, as well. To be able to create such a rich story with all of the different perspectives and storylines and end up connecting them is not easy, and it was so well done in this book. Each narrative is so distinct, yet the overall tone of the book is consistent. So, hat tip to the author. I always try to recognize game when I see it, and Lostetter got game. Reading this book actually makes me want to go back and check out the author’s backlist.

The Helm of Midnight is dark, mysterious, and suspenseful; if that appeals to you, I recommend picking it up. Even though I did not like it as much as I had hoped in the end, I recognize wonderful writing when I come across it. If it sounds good to you, it is probably going to be worth the read.

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