False Gods is the second of dozens of Horus Heresy novels that supply background to the Warhammer 40,000 gothic space-opera gaming universe. It made an interesting contrast to the previous volume Horus Rising. Where I found the plot and content of this second book much more interesting, I felt like the prose was noticeably less polished and evocative.
The “starch-ass” space marine captain Garviel Loken continues to be the sympathetic hero for most of this novel, while many passages detail events well removed from his knowledge. Some of the enigmas posed in the first book are clearly resolved in this one, and the secular virtues of the Imperium of Man start to erode rapidly in the face of the burgeoning cult of the Emperor as well as the corrupting influence of Chaos.
The centerpiece of the book was the seduction to Chaos of the Warmaster Horus in a set of visionary experiences in the Warp while he is convalescing in the temple of the Lodge of the Serpent. I found this passage entertainingly reminiscent of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: a tour of Imperium Future, Imperium Past, and Imperium Present, with the Word Bearer Chaplain Erebus as the Jacob Marley psychopomp. The final chapter of the book makes the stakes for the upcoming volumes crystal clear.
As I mentioned, the writing in this book was a little step down from the previous one, and while there may be some artful Warhammer 40,000 literature out there, I’d say that the Horus Heresy series is one that will appeal to fans of the games, and few others.
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]
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]