Tag Archives: Dark Fantasy

The Deadly Grimoire

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Deadly Grimoire [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Rosemary Jones, cover Daniel Strange, part of the Arkham Horror: Standalone Novels series.

Jones The Deadly Grimoire

Author Rosemary Jones claims to have written The Deadly Grimoire in response to reader demand for her to continue telling stories in the 1920s Arkham of H. P. Lovecraft and the 21st-century game designers inspired by him. Characters featured here and originating in the Arkham Files games include photo journalist Darrell Simmons and mail carrier Stella Clark.

The story is told by the actress Betsy Baxter (from Jones’ previous Arkham novel Mask of Silver), who forms a friendship with the aviatrix Winifred Habbamock, the latter making her first appearance in Arkham literature outside of the games, as far as I know. Both of these protagonists are lady entrepreneurs of a sort, and the war-of-the-sexes framing from Mask of Silver is, if anything, intensified here, with an emphasis on “what the women know and the men forget” (226). There are some sympathetic male characters, including bookseller Tom Sweets.

Daniel Strange’s cover art accurately suggests that this tale will lean into the “pulp adventure” flavor more than cosmic horror, and the narrative tone is often more comedic than horrific. I thought that Jones had cultivated a good sense of sustained menace in Mask of Silver, albeit perhaps more effectively for readers familiar with the jauniste horror of Robert W. Chambers. But that angle is pretty much dropped in this sequel, which instead orients to a feud between two Innsmouth families with some supernatural backstory. The more fortunate and less introspective narrator Betsy certainly gives this book a lighter tone than its predecessor.

In the appended acknowledgments Jones gives a shout out to Mildred Benson, and indeed, this book reads more like a Nancy Drew mystery adventure than it does pulp era weird horror, Lovecraftian trappings notwithstanding.

Quantum of Nightmares

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Quantum of Nightmares [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Stross, book 11 of the Laundry Files series.

Stross Quantum of Nightmares

“Eve wasn’t the big sis he’d grown up with, back when they were a perfectly normal family with a dad who was an oneiromancer and a mum who wrote code that tore holes in reality.” (60)

Quantum of Nightmares is the second of the Tales of the New Management set in the superpowers-and-sorcery 21st-century dystopia built in the Cthulhvian espionage series The Laundry Files. It picks up very directly from the conclusion of Dead Lies Dreaming. Where the first New Management book used Peter Pan as a key point of reference for both the Lost Boys supervillain crew and thief-taker Wendy Deere, this sequel similarly exploits Mary Poppins. I think the title’s metrical mirroring of “Spoonful of Sugar” is no coincidence.

The satirical elements of the book are as searing as those of any of its predecessors, and they center on “innovative” human resources and supply chain techniques at a FlavrsMart supermarket branch. Within the plot of the story, the commercial dehumanization is unsurprisingly not unrelated to an eldritch cult. (The motivation for parallel, if less extreme, phenomena in the “real” world remains a frustrating enigma. Probably an eldritch cult.)

These books have many and diverse dramatis personae, and the third-person narration shifts among them as viewpoint characters often and rapidly. After two volumes, though, and accounting for the foreshadowing in the latter, the larger plot hangs on Eve Starkey, corporate climber and hereditary sorceress.

The return to the characters and situations of the previous book helped both of them for me as a reader. While they don’t (yet?) have the heft of the old Laundry story arcs, the Starkey antics under the regime of the Black Pharaoh have now acquired some real coherence.

Cult of the Spider Queen

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cult of the Spider Queen [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by S A Sidor, part of the Arkham Horror series.

Sidor Cult of the Spider Queen

This Arkham Horror novel is a direct sequel to the the same author’s The Last Ritual. Cub journalist Andy van Nortwick is the viewpoint character who bridges the two books. In this one, he ends up on an expedition to the Amazon to rescue missing film actress and director Maude Brion. Explorer Ursula Downs signs on to lead the expedition, and they also bring along Iris Bennett Reed, an anthropologist whose husband colleague had died five years earlier in the same wilderness area to which they are adventuring.

The elements of Yog-Sothothery in this book are closely related to those explored in Arkham Horror: The Card Game – The Dream-Eaters expansion, even though the principal setting is in the Brazilian jungle rather than Arkham. The synthesis of Clark Ashton Smith’s Atlach-Nacha with the Lovecraftian Dreamlands is central to the tale. More than the previous Sidor contribution to the series, I found that this one hit the same thematic mix of weird horror and pulp adventure that is featured in the Arkham Horror games. (I think I liked The Last Ritual a little better, but it was not so squarely on target with the games’ mood.)

There are sixty-six short chapters, and the book reads very quickly. I most enjoyed the introspective elements of the story constructed around Iris.