Posts Tagged Aconyte

Arkham Horror – Reviews

‘Litany of Dreams’ by Ari Marmell

The Devourer Below’ by Josh Reynolds; Evan Dicken; Davide Mana; Georgina Kamsika; Thomas Parrott; David Annandale; Cath Lauria

‘Cult of the Spider Queen‘ by SA Sidor

‘The Deadly Grimoire‘ by Rosemary Jones

I’ve spoken of my enjoyment with Aconyte Books’ Lovecraftian offerings previously, but as they’re now coming in thick and fast, I thought a joint review was in order!

First, ‘Litany of Dreams’. While the early Arkham books stayed firmly in that sinister town, Ari Marmell heads further afield, to explore how the insidious darkness of the Great Old Ones spreads far deeper into the lands around Massachusetts.

We follow Elliot Raslo with what might otherwise be a simple missing persons case: his roommate has vanished. After reading some mysterious writings. And becoming obsessed with a particular chant in an uncomfortably weird language.Yes, this is Arkham after all!

The story unfurls like a true yarn, leading from libraries and museums to the swamps of Hockomock outside the town, with a nod to the ancient lore of the Inuit peoples far to the North.

The tone shifts and changes – fortunately far more comfortably for the reader than for the characters! – so that we see Elliot’s confusion, his new friend Billy’s increasing worry, and the curiosity of librarian Daisy Walker, all combining beautifully as the quest unfolds.

I was reminded of many Lovecraftian movies (notably ‘Reanimator’, with the emphasis on Miskatonic University), but also ‘Evil Dead’ and even ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’ The escalating fear of the protagonists is tangible, and there were several points where it genuinely seemed like there was no way out for them. I don’t want to say any more for fear of spoilers, but this evil is its own kind of spreading disease, with no way of knowing if there’s any cure. Sound relevant?

‘The Devourer Below’ is the first Arkham anthology from Aconyte, with each story held together by the shared tales of one particular Great Old One, who hasn’t previously experienced a lot of attention in books or movies. As the stories unfolded, I learned more about this particular unpleasant fellow, and how his fearsome reach draws many into his own unique and hungry darkness.

We have sneaky occultists, of course, but also bootleggers, historians, regular people caught up in something far beyond their experience, and so much more. For anyone wishing to play the Arkham Horror roleplaying games, there’s heaps of inspiration for characters here!

Particular standouts for me were Josh Reynolds’ ‘The Hounds Below’, which combined the very real horrors of The Great War with deeper human fears of madness, starvation… and what those may mean when combined together. Also ‘The Darkling Woods’ by Cath Lauria was its own kind of fairytale. I’ve never seen a Lovecraftian story with children as the protagonists, but does this mean they’re able to deal with dark fairytale dangers more effectively than the adults around them?

‘Cult of the Spider Queen’ was always going to be difficult for me, and it took quite a lot to open this one. I’m not a huge fan of spiders, let’s say, and from the start, the creepiness of the story felt like those little (and not so little) legs starting to work their way insidiously down my spine.

This book is absolutely the stuff of Saturday afternoon matinee movies. Leaving civilization behind, the characters travel far into the jungle, looking for a lost group of film-makers who apparently found the fabled Spider Queen. Did they survive? Is the Queen real? What about rival groups of treasure-seekers hot on our heroes’ trail? Will they make it back alive?

Imagine a cub reporter, a beautiful (and apparently wealthy) heroine, a brave tracker and her crew… and then the flickering lights of a black and white silent movie, with not-quite-visible shapes moving in the shadows around an ancient shrines and jungle leaves. This was uncomfortable because of the spiders and the legends, but absolutely gripping in its action-and-excitement atmosphere!

We stay in action movies with ‘The Deadly Grimoire’, a follow-up to ‘Mask of Silver’ (which I’ve previously enjoyed and reviewed). This stands alone if you’ve not read that, though, being its own tale as well as a continuation of those events.

Betsy Baxter is the Flapper Detective, daring stunt-performer and actress, who’s found great success after surviving the previous events in Arkham. However, there’s still loose ends to be tied – so with the help of a female pilot known as ‘The Woman without Fear’ and an antiquarian bookseller seeking the titular Grimoire, Betsy charges straight into an adventure that far surpasses any movie!

Again, this has the vibe of a matinee movie, but also a strong detective story. Where (and what) is the mysterious Grimoire? What do bootleggers and a local crime syndicate have to do with anything, and what are the innovative seaweed-based treatments at the local sanatorium?

Every aspect of Lovecraft is here, bound up with a fun heroine whose thinking is definitely ahead of her time.

I’m glad to say that every single one of these books branches further into the Real World than Lovecraft would ever have been comfortable with – in terms of strong women, native Americans and Inuit, homosexuality and much more. The Ancient Old Ones don’t care about such things, and their tentacles affect everyone, so there’s (happily) no discrimination to be found in any of these pages.

As always, at the end of these books those who survive are forever changed by their encounters with the Great Unknown – as are we, the reader. Part of me wonders what happens next for them, but I know it won’t be necessarily good. It’s just that feeling of wanting to see more of a traditional adventure serial, feeling the jumps and gasps as skilled hands lead us further into the dark.

Hugely enjoyable and absolutely recommended.

Leave a Comment

‘The Harrowing of Doom’, by David Annandale

I wasn’t quite sure what to think going into this. I love comic books, and have read some of the most poignant and memorable tales within their pages – but my experience with prose versions of the very colourful and vivid characters has been mixed. Somehow words alone haven’t been able to do justice to what is usually a very visual experience.

Within a few pages, I knew I needn’t have worried. I find myself deep in Latveria, home and domain of scientist and magician Dr Victor von Doom, witnessing his quest to rescue the spirit of his mother from Hell. Almost like a damned soul himself, it’s a battle he (literally) fights every year, only to lose over and over. But this time will be different…

I was absolutely captivated by this book. I knew the author from some of his Warhammer fiction, but reading his little note stating his love for one of comics’ greatest villains, I can only agree – he’s more than done justice to what could well have been a pretty two-dimensional character.

The outline of the base plot is above, but threads run swiftly through the pages to depict a busy, thriving country ruled by a benevolent dictator, with everyone fighting their own battles much as we all do. From the lowest to the highest, this book expertly balances magic and science, contemporary and medieval, superstition and fact, love and duty. In a way, it reminded me of the cleverness of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, which confused and awed many critics with its skilful mix of real-world and comic-book.

No previous knowledge is really needed, and it doesn’t take much to suspend your disbelief. If someone were to point out Latveria on a map now, I think I’d just want to know more about it as a place and culture!

This story absolutely left me wanting more. I read it at increasing speed, with moments of calm thoughtfulness slowly ramping up to a crescendo of action – all beautifully described, so I never felt lost.

This is the Doom we have never seen in the movies. I love how his tale has caught the imaginations of many through the years, and I’m absolutely looking forward to future prose versions of his fantastic peers.

Definitely recommended.

Available from January 7th in paperback and electronic format. With thanks to Aconyte Books for kindly providing the review ARC.

Leave a Comment