Tag Archives: arkham horror

The Last Ritual

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Last Ritual [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by S A Sidor, cover by John Coulthart, part of the Arkham Horror series.

Sidor Coulthart The Last Ritual

The Last Ritual is the second of a series of novels set in the Arkham Horror game milieu and published by Aconyte Books. Like the first, it features a protagonist who is not one of the stable of player character investigators from the games, along with important cameo appearances from established investigators–in this case, Preston Fairmont, Calvin Wright, and Norman Withers. The principal character of The Last Ritual is artist painter Alden Oakes, a scion of the French Hill Arkham elite.

This tale is set in the 1920s, and the prose offers no howling anachronisms, but the telling shows influences of more recent horror fiction. At the same time, the imposition of a frame story in which Oakes narrates his horrific experiences to a cub journalist put me in mind of 19th-century horror greats Poe and Bierce. Although Oakes starts his tale in France, the bulk of it revolves around a modest number of locations in Arkham, Massachusetts. The charismatic Surrealist Juan Hugo Balthazarr serves as a focus for enigmatic menace.

The mood and pacing of this novel is very different from its predecessor The Wrath of N’Kai. Where the earlier book had a real pulp adventure feel, despite its supernatural elements and shady settings, The Last Ritual is definitely weird horror through and through. Oakes is no hardened he-man, and his epistemological inadequacies lead to vacillating personal loyalties as well as profound fear and confusion. Author Sidor resists clarifying for the reader any number of the painter’s strange experiences, and the outcome of the story is not at all like the one in the other book.

Incidentally, you might think from seeing online images of the excellent cover art by John Coulthart that the cover is a shiny foil affair, but it is in fact a flat matte cover with clever art deco styling in suggestive hues. The building that dominates the cover is the Silver Gate Hotel, around which much of the story revolves.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, and found it to be one of the best in the various Arkham Horror fiction series.

Dark Revelations

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dark Revelations [Amazon, Publisher] by Amanda Downum, part of the Arkham Horror Files universe, and “includes four promo cards for Arkham Horror: The Card Game, featuring a new investigator—the writer, Gloria Goldberg.”

Downum Dark Revelations

Other than the 1920s Arkham setting and the conceit of a forbidden tome, Dark Revelations is relatively free of the tropes of Yog-Sothothery. It is an altogether more traditional sort of supernatural horror story. As well as disdaining Cthulhu and the Necronomicon, this tale is mostly at a remove from the the sort of pulp action tone that sometimes informs the literature for the Arkham Horror games. There are a number of features that brought this novella closer to the jauniste vein of The King in Yellow than to the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. The main characters are creatives rather than academics or researchers, and there is a connection to medieval France.

The protagonist is author Gloria Goldberg, one of the investigator characters from the games this book was written to support. Gloria is a widow from New York who ventures to Arkham when called on to help with the literary estate of a recently deceased colleague. There are italicized passages throughout the book, and it can be difficult to tell from context whether these are passages that Gloria is reading, ones she is writing, or some other sorts of dreams or visions. As the story proceeds, it invites the reader to discard distinctions among these categories.

The book includes a set of about a dozen glossy color pages at the end, featuring news clippings, fragments of manuscripts, and pages from reference books relevant to the novella. This appendix section is a standard feature of this book series, and the contents in this case are entertaining enough, without any of the clinkers I’ve seen in the other novellas.

Dark Revelations comes with a set of cards debuting the Gloria Goldberg character for Arkham Horror: The Card Game. She is a flexible mystic-class investigator with a special ability that helps her to manipulate the encounter deck. Her alternate signature cards unique to this release are the ally Ruth Westmacott, a book illustrator whom Gloria befriends, and the treachery weakness Liber Omnium Finium.

Dance of the Damned

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Arkham Horror: Dance of the Damned by Alan Bligh.

Alan Bligh Dance of the Damned

Here’s another novel rooted in the Arkham Horror gaming milieu of pulp-era Yog-Sothothery. The prose is not always good. In fact, it can be pretty awful: “He hefted the heavy shotgun onto his shoulder. Pausing to turn the light off, he cursed once and left it. Better to light a candle, as they say” (301). The book is littered with eggcorns and misplaced apostrophes. But author Alan Bligh cultivates some fine moral ambivalence in his characters, and his story is genuinely intriguing and scary. I read the closing arc of the book with real excitement, and found the ending satisfying.

Like fellow Arkham Horror novelist Graham McNeill, Bligh divides his action among locations in Arkham, New York City, and Kingsport, and both authors deploy the terrible old man of H.P. Lovecraft’s eponymous tale as a character in the last location. Of the two, I found Bligh’s old man to be more engaging and better woven into the fabric of the story.

Although there seemed to be a lot of different plots at the outset (partly resulting from a demand of the gaming novel genre, to involve multiple identifiable protagonists from the games), Bligh succeeded in pulling them together for a single coherent crisis with its resolution shrouded in mystery. Although it’s by a different author, I’ve already started reading its sequel in “The Lord of Nightmares Trilogy”: The Lies of Solace [via]

Feeders from Within

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Feeders from Within by Peter J Evans, set in the Lovecraftian world of Arkham Horror.

Peter J Evans Feeders from Within from Fantasy Flight Games

Fantasy Flight Games has published two trilogies set in the Arkham Horror gaming milieu of 1930s Yog-Sothothery, but Feeders from Within is a standalone novel in the same setting, also using characters from the games. The principal protagonists here are drifting veteran Mark Harrigan, psychologist Carolyn Fern, and whistleblower cultist Diana Stanley. A few of Lovecraft’s own characters appear or enjoy mentions, most notably Dr. Henry Armitage, Miskatonic University librarian. With respect to the outré horrors they face, the book uses a synthesis of Lovecraft, Chambers, and Smith that has been established as canonical “mythos” in the game context.

The redoubtable fungus from Yuggoth is a prime culprit in this novel, and the story does indeed take on much of the paranoid mood of its Lovecraftian progenitor “The Whisperer in Darkness.” It is a fast read, with the ERB-cum-Hollywood sort of action story arc that builds to a final confrontation with … (that would be telling). Author Evans accomplishes the—in my opinion, most important—task of making the game characters interesting.

While not a high literary accomplishment, I found Feeders from Within to be compellingly savory textual junk food at the very least. The only real disappointment for me was Stephen Somers’ cover art, which, although it still accurately reflects the book’s contents (a scene from the prologue), didn’t seem up to the standard set by Anders Finér with the other Arkham Horror novels. [via]

Bones of the Yopasi

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bones of the Yopasi, Arkham Horror: The Dark Waters Book 2, by Graham McNeill:

Graham McNeill's The Bones of the Yopasi from Fantasy Flight Games

 

The second volume of McNeill’s Dark Waters Trilogy set in the Arkham Horror milieu is an improvement on his first, in both style and substance. The first was passable, but the second was better. I actually got the impression that he had been reading some Lovecraft in between writing the two books, an impression bolstered by inclusion of features like an homage to the non-“Mythos” HPL story “The Outsider.”

Ghouls of the Miskatonic (the first book) was set mostly in Arkham, and in its sequel the focus transitions to Kingsport. At the same time, the plot pulls ever closer to the events described in “The Call of Cthulhu,” with Brown University professor George Gammell Angell becoming part of the team of investigators. The integration of various Dreamlands concepts is done in a way that meshes fairly artfully with the Cthulhu-oriented main plot, and there are still a couple of conspicuous episodes (including the final climax) of gory horror. There’s also some further exploitation of the “Arkham Horror” game characters, with author Gloria Goldberg receiving a conspicuous introduction.

Without going into particulars, I will note that at the end of this book there is a plot twist that I had been expecting since fairly early in the preceding volume, so it certainly didn’t come as a surprise. I’m not sure how McNeill was to have done a better job setting it up, but the whole thing was pretty transparent to me. (A related spoilering note is in my LibraryThing “Comments” field.) At the end of this one, though, I have no idea where the final book will go, other than to fulfill and complement the narrative of “The Call of Cthulhu.”

As with the first book, the cover art is very attractive and fitting. Game publisher Fantasy Flight does fine presentation, especially when it comes to Yog-Sothothery. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ghouls of the Miskatonic: Book One of The Dark Waters Trilogy by Graham McNeill, from Fantasy Flight Games:

Graham McNeill's Ghouls of the Miskatonic from Fantasy Flight Games

 

McNeill’s Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in a trilogy premised on the “Arkham Horror” Lovecraftian gaming franchise. Derlethian might be a better adjective, in that both the typical gaming dynamic and the flavor of this book are closer to a Derleth pastiche like The Trail of Cthulhu than they are to HPL’s own Yog-Sothothery.

I haven’t played Arkham Horror itself, but I have played the lighter-weight spinoff Elder Sign, which I find quite enjoyable. Two of the characters available to players in Elder Sign are featured in Ghouls of the Miskatonic (Amanda Sharpe and Kate Winthrop), and these two—and probably others—are also Arkham Horror characters. I was a little surprised at the extent to which my interest in these characters was enhanced by prior game play. The novel also makes reference to Miskatonic University personalities established in the literary originals of the “Mythos”: Henry Armitage, Laban Shrewsbury, and others.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is set in Arkham, Massachusetts, in 1926. That places it in the year following the main events described in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (but before the narrator’s discovery of them). McNeill puts a lot of emphasis on Prohibition and other features of 1920s America that aren’t as evident in the “native” accounts of Lovecraft and his peers. Some of this works well. There is an occasional clinker in diction or dialect, and although anachronisms are mostly kept at bay, the assumed co-ed character of Miskatonic is a little off-kilter, as other reviewers have noted.

The story starts off from every which way; at least half a dozen seemingly independent plot strands are brought together over the course of twenty chapters. In the process, the extremely diverse cast of heroes are brought into social relation with each other as well, so that by the book’s conclusion there is a little band of defenders: three students, an anthropologist, a scholar of ancient religion, a journalist, a photographer, a Pinkerton, and a hoodlum. As the first volume of the “Dark Waters Trilogy,” I actually had to wonder if this wasn’t programmed by McNeill on the model of The Fellowship of the Ring!

The narrative is all provided in a pulpy third-person omniscient style, and while the characters’ feelings are described extensively enough, there’s not much to draw the reader in to share those feelings. A good helping of graphic violence is available, for the benefit of those who are drawn to the combat element in the games, I suppose. The cover of the book is both attractive and a clinically accurate depiction of the scene described on page 200. The volume does provide a plot resolution, while leaving a few key questions unanswered, allowing the demand for a sequel to be posed in the epilogue. It was a fast read, and I’ve already acquired the second book—though I’m not too proud to admit that a contributing motive for the latter was to secure the proof of purchase that will entitle me to a promotional component to be added to my copy of the Elder Sign game. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.