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