Downfall: A Cal Leandros Novel—Goddam Satisfying

the cover of Downfall by Rob Thurman
Downfall by Rob Thurman

I finished Downfall more than a week ago then had to go back and reread the whole series. I feel like cackling maniacally. The Cal Leandros Novles are such goddam fun. Gory, gruesome, bloody in the best ways, the Cal Leandros books are told from the first person perspective of the eponymous protagonist (as well as some others, but I’ll get to that) as he and his brother Niko try to make a living among the monsters in NYC. Urban fantasy doesn’t get much better and I’ve loved every minute following Cal on his descent into monsterdom.

1—Come Full Circle

Downfall sees a lot of elements from the first book, Nightlife, come full circle. The Auphe—the originals monsters, slaughter made flesh—and the Bae, their second coming. Cal’s monster side coming out to play, first through Darkling possession, now through possession by his own genetics. And of course, all the old friends we meet again.

This is also the full circle of Cal and Niko’s lives—this one and all those they’ve lived before. A cycle of reincarnation that always ends in slaughter, one brother following the other into death. And their friend—brother in spirit, immortal trickster—left behind to mourn and search them out again. …Or not. Robin Goodfellow is determined to trick fate itself, that this time he’ll not loose the only family he’s ever had to an early grave.

2—A Few Good Retcons

This reincarnation stuff is only mentioned over the past few books—I think Doubletake is the first time it’s mentioned. But I don’t mind this retcon  for two important reasons. The first is that it doesn’t invalidate anything that’s come before, and having just reread the entire series, I’m doubly sure of that. Secondly, it deepens existing characterization rather than derailing it, particularly that of Goodfellow. Though I can also easily see Cal and Niko following each other through interminable lives, they’re that suicidally codependent.

The thing about Peris being retired angels instead of the inspiration for angel legends, is less seamless but I’m still good with it. Partly because of the storytelling method, the first-person POV. Cal seems damned certain through the bulk of the series that angels don’t exist, but I’ve been just as sure about things in real life only to later realize I was dead wrong. I would not be ok with it if the authorial voice presented a fact and later changed it, but as all Cal and Niko know about Peris they leaned from Robin, a consummate liar, I’ll go with it. Also the reason presented for the lie is plausible.

3—Multiple First-Person POVs

Rob Thurman takes an interesting approach with her books, in that this is the first time I’ve encountered multiple first-person POVs in a single novel, starting with the fourth book, Deathwish. Though the first might count as well, once Cal gets possessed.

There’s never more than two POVs—let’s not go crazy—and they’re clearly labeled at the beginning of each chapter. It’s an interesting narrative choice and one I’ve enjoyed. It let’s us view parts of the story, and of the characters, we’d otherwise never get to see. We’ve had Niko’s POV twice now, once as a flashback to his and Cal’s childhood in Slashback (which is one of my favorites in large part because we get to meet young Niko and Cal). Once from Grimm’s POV, thankfully kept short as that is one disturbing mind to spend time in, but there’s so much vital stuff we’d never have known if we’d only been in Cal’s head.

And now with Downfall, we spend half the book in Robin’s head. I loved it. There’s a fucking lot he doesn’t show to anyone—not even the brothers—and my god, is it heartbreaking. One other thing that’s come full circle is when Cal noticed in the first book that Goodfellow is almost insane with loneliness, and now we get to see that in full. All Robin’s regrets, his guilt, his desperation—all things he’s so careful to keep hidden away. We’ve seen glimpses before but now we get to view the whole iceberg. The madness-inducing, floor-stabbing iceberg.

4—Not For the Squeamish

This is a horror series. There is gore and gruesome death, and it’s all given that gut-punch of the personal. Cal notices things like streamers on a dead girl’s bike handles, imagines who she was, the life that was so brutally stolen. Sometimes it’s little touches, a wedding ring shining in the muck. Sometimes it’s watching a monster try to put the pieces of her dead children back together. And sometimes it’s thinking how fucked up it is that having a mother he’d have run from, not to, could’ve saved his life as a child from a monster that lures children in by calling in their mother’s voice.

And then there’s the horror that is truly personal, like Cal having a monster bite a piece out of his chest and eat it. Or watching your brother bleed out while you try desperately to push his blood back into his body, because it’s wrong that it should be outside it. And of course there was the time Niko was almost absorbed, still horribly alive and aware, into the body of troll.

5—Monsters, Monsters Everywhere

And those monsters are indeed everywhere. In your blood, in your bed, in the basement of the museum. And that troll I mentioned? Yeah, that thing is still one of creepiest fucking things to me and it’s been dead since the second book. Cal and Niko live in a world filled with monsters because Cal is one of them—though never as much as he thinks he is. Even when Cal’s lost any conscience to speak of, he still keeps the barrette of a dead little girl, because it belongs in the sun, not a monster’s dark lair. But then again, he’ll also rip your throat out with his teeth. It kind of depends on his current level of homicidal insanity.

The monsters are inventive and horrible, though not all supernatural creatures are monsters—just most of those Cal and Niko encounter. Werewolves—mostly the Kin mafia, as another Wolf is a friend and healer—boggles, lamia, succubi, vodyanoi…and those are just the everyday monsters. There are worse things lurking in the shadows, like a living mummy, that fucking troll I mentioned above, a serial killer redcap, and not the forget The Plague of the World. Rob Thurman does a fantastic job creating new creatures that make my skin crawl. Though in Downfall it’s not a new monster, but seeing the monster finally take over Cal, that has my guts in my throat. And damn if I don’t love every moment of it.

6—Satisfaction

I’ve said before and I’ll repeat here—my only completely hard rule for any story is that is must be satisfying, and Downfall satisfies on so many levels. Hell, it has three satisfying endings. Ok, so only the last one is the actual ending of the book, but if it had ended on either of the chapters before, it would still have been a satisfying ending. I get three awesome endings in one freaking book. I don’t even know how Ms Thurman pulled that off. But it’s fantastic. I’d gush about it more but I do try not to spoil the best stuff.

And yes, I know that Nevermore, the next Cal Leandros Novel is already out, but as it has a to-be-continued-ish ending (I don’t normally peek but I had my suspicions and it says right there that the story continues in the next book), I’m waiting for the next to come out near the end of this year. Then I’ll read them back to back because I find it easier to wait to read the one I’ve got than to finish the book and be screaming for the next one to be published already.

So if you like your urban fantasy with full horror flavor (or if you like the tv show Supernatural), then you’ll love the Cal Leandros books.

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