“It’s all about the soil. Out here in the scratch, we still have devilry in our dirt. Makes stitched things stay stitched.” (p. 5)
House Immortal is the start of a new, futuristic series by Devon Monk. It played with the concept of Frankenstein; in this world there are twelve (and now thirteen) immortal men and women who have been stitched together. In order to save the innocent from slaughter, these twelve sold themselves into service, they are no longer considered human, but property of the highest bidder. However, the conclusion of House Immortal leaves the impression that change is imminent for these immortals, as well as society at large.
Matilda Case has been living under the radar since the death of her parents when she was a child. Ever since her brother disappeared, Matilda has been caring for her grandmother and maintaining her farm and the strange stitched creatures her father created. Matilda has always needed to maintain her privacy, she’s not like anyone else, in fact, she’s not living in the body she was born in, hers has been stitched, making her a valuable commodity when her existence is learned.
When an injured man, who is also stitched, winds up bleeding on her front porch, Matilda finds herself becoming a pawn in a much larger game. Instead of countries, the world is now ruled by houses, and all of them would very much like to control Matilda, the first modern immortal to be created.
Matilda’s mysterious visitor, Abraham Seventh, is contracted (or owned) by House Gray, the house the deals in human resources. He received a message from Matilda’s dead mother asking him to find her husband and daughter. In order to protect Matilda, Abraham brings Matilda into the heart of the conflict, which forces Matilda to claim a house and surrender her right to humanity and all the freedoms associated with it. But that certainly doesn’t mean that Matilda is going to meekly obey those who think that she is inferior, which has severe repercussions for all of the twelve.
House Immortal really wasn’t what I was expecting, but it did remind me of Monk’s Age of Steam series. While Age of Steam is a Western steampunk and House Immortal more conventionally urban fantasy, the tone in both is very much the same. Since I liked Age of Steam, I did enjoy House Immortal. That said, I did find myself underwhelmed by this novel. For a book that is filled with such big ideas, it seemly strangely lacking in passion. Even Matilda, for all her anger and thoughts of revenge, seemed a little flat to me. For a reader like me that reads primarily for the characters, I did find myself less interested in Matilda as an individual character.
What I did find myself more interested in was the futuristic world that was introduced in House Immortal. There is a lot that I feel that I do not know about this world yet, but I went in expecting that since this in the start to a series. The idea that the world is ruled by houses, or companies, is interesting and speaks to the concept of commercialization that is apparent today. House Immortal takes this commodification further by placing the control of good and services in the hands of a few, stripping away the rights of those that create these goods and provide these services. As we start to learn more about the heads of these houses this concept becomes even more unsettling considering that these people have the same petty motivations as everyone else. I thought this was a pretty interesting set up and I was eager to learn more; however, I have many questions about the viability of this world.
My other questions about this world relate to the immortals, otherwise known as the galvanized. I simply find it hard to believe that these twelve willingly gave up their humanity to save the humans that dared to rise up against the houses. I struggle to understand their motivation, especially after meeting more of them and learning that they weren’t all as outwardly empathetic as Abraham is. Further, I feel confused as to how the galvanized are both revered as heroes and reviled as monsters. When Matilda first comes to Chicago she is shocked by the billboards that show off the immortals heroic feats where they are saving the lives of humans, and so was I. Why has the general public allowed for their heroes to be enslaved? How do these heroes even have the freedom to commit heroic acts? It’s okay for them to save the day, but it seems that they are nothing more than objects or commodities to the public gaze. Again, this is rather disturbing and it does make you question whether or not people do critically consider what they are consuming in the media, a question I often find myself asking and one that I love seeing explored in my reading.
Ultimately, I think the fact that I have so many questions about this world will bring me back to the series. I need to know whether Matilda will be a game changer for the galvanized. Will she win these inhuman creatures back their freedom? I’m also very curious about the origins of the immortals. There are hints throughout House Immortal but nothing concrete is offered. It was a bit of a strange experience for me, being more invested in the world rather than the characters, which is the complete opposite of my usual reading experience.
If you liked the Western vibe at the start of House Immortal, I urge you to pick up Monk’s Age of Steam series. It’s fantastic steampunk that combines magic with technology; a really interesting concept. I also liked the characters and I thought the larger cast compensated for the fact that they were less developed and more flat (the best world I can come up with!) than I would generally like. Start with book one, Dead Iron.
For another series that mediates on the state of the future, I recommend checking out Anne Bishop’s The Others series. What I particularly like about this series is the characters; Bishop successfully gets inside the head of multiple characters, something that I found missing in House Immortal. You must, of course, start with book one, Written in Red.
For something a little different, I suggest Deborah Coates’ Wide Open trilogy. While still in the urban fantasy genre, I think it will appeal to fans who liked the initial tone of House Immortal, that seemed, at least to me, to evoke a western vibe. Wide Open is bleak, but I loved that it seemed so different from the conventional urban fantasy fare that’s out there. Start with the firs book in the trilogy, Wide Open.