Monsters of Virtue by L.J. Ritchie
In the wilds of the Ōtaki River Gorge, in the height of the Great Depression, the newly formed Eugenics Department gathers the best and brightest in the pursuit of creating perfection. But what makes a perfect person?
Eve knows she isn’t, but for the sake of her family, she needs to convince her classmates she is. Orion believes he is, but only if he can teach himself not to be weak. Nyx would like to be, but she has a habit of pursuing the truth.
L. J. Ritchie sheds light on a dirty secret of New Zealand’s own not-so-distant history. Less than a century ago, Nazi ideals almost gained a foothold in our country. Parliament debated a bill that would have allowed the forced sterilisation of the ‘unfit’. Monsters of Virtue explores an alternative history where eugenics supporters set up a secret school to indoctrinate New Zealand’s youth.
The first chapter of the book was hard to read. I had no idea about this darker side of New Zealand’s past and had to do some research myself before feeling like I was able to continue. I’m glad I did.
Monsters of Virtue is a fantastic read once you commit to it. Split into three parts, each with a different narrator, it follows three teenagers as they discover the truth behind the secret school.
Ritchie builds the action at perfect pace, urging the reader on as they slowly unravel the pieces. There are times when the action is so frenetic, you simply can not put the book down. The night of Eric and Orion’s confrontation, as well as the final moments of the story, are intense, terrifying and yet oh so gripping. However, Ritchie also perfectly captures the peaceful moments. Moments of self-reflection and developing friendships are perfectly timed to offer some respite from the horror of Galtonia.
Each character, and each relationship and interaction, is perfectly crafted. Each character is incredibly realistic, with hidden agendas, weaknesses and strengths revealed at exactly the right time.
Ritchie is incredibly talented, with every thread of the story weaving together in harmony. It is clear he undertook immense research when writing the book; with details about the Great Depression, philosophers Darwin, Plato, Machiavelli, and life in the 30s all true and accurate.
Ritchie urges you to think – this is no easy read in that sense. It is thought-provoking and at times quite confronting. Ritchie paints a believable tale about how our views can be warped by authorities.
With the current political climate in America as well as genetic engineering creeping into the norm, Monsters of Virtue is not just a historical thriller. It is a cautionary tale of what very nearly became a reality in our country.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Escalator Press, RRP $28