“And every religion has its fanatics, who are willing to do terrible things in the name of their god. No one is immune.” His lips quirked. “It’s a failing of humanity, not of any particular sect.”
Deep Roots is the third Aphra Marsh story of the mid-century US from the perspective of Lovecraftian “monsters.” While all these tales show a thorough acquaintance with and considerable affection for the whole Lovecraft oeuvre, they each have one or two signal stories to which they refer. In “The Litany of Earth” author Emrys is chiefly working in relation to “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” In Winter Tide she draws on “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Shadow Out of Time.” And Deep Roots takes its chief elements from “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”
“The Whisperer in Darkness” is easily one of my favorite HPL stories, and a rarely-credited seminal tale of extraterrestrial invasion. When it comes to Emrys’ re-visioning of the Mi-Go who are the central menace of that source story, she totally nails it. The last time I felt such a vividly ambivalent attraction to a cosmopolitan alien intelligence was for the Multipliers of Ken MacLeod’s Engine City. Emrys’ treatment of the Dreamlands follows that of the recent Arkham Horror novella by Jennifer Brozek (To Ride the Black Wind) and the Dreamland-native Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson. There are no cats in this book, but the ghouls are important and well-conceived.
I didn’t feel overwhelmed or distracted by new characters in Deep Roots, and it offered some satisfying development of the ones established in the earlier stories. I liked it more than Winter Tide, but I’m not sure how it would work as a standalone read. I think it needs its predecessor stories for proper appreciation. I continue to enjoy Emrys’ work in what has been alleged to be the “mythos” of yog-sothothery, which she more realistically terms a “sandbox.”
This novel was written as a sequel-by-popular-demand to the justly-acclaimed novella “The Litany of Earth,” itself a narrative development from the Lovecraft story “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Of “The Litany of Earth,” I remarked, “In retrospect, this tale seems to me almost necessary somehow. I’ve read so very many (literally dozens of) stories elaborating on the events of ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth,’ and this is the first one that actually followed an Innsmouth native as a sympathetic survivor of the government raids and arrests. Emrys’ comparanda are not just the WWII interment of Japanese-Americans, but (in the revelations about Aphra’s mother and Charlie’s subsequent reference to Nuremburg) Nazi Versuchspersonen.” I was also impressed with the sensitivity regarding occult magic evident in the story, as well as the moral trajectory of its protagonist, especially against the backdrop of Lovecraft’s original.
Winter Tide did not give me the sense of textual destiny fulfilled that I found in its immediate predecessor. It is a full novel, first published in April 2017. While the observations about the oppressive propensities of the US government in “The Litany of Earth” had become even more topical, the author’s treatment of them seemed less nuanced. The book builds a cadre of outsiders under the nominal supervision of FBI agent Ron Spector and the actual leadership of Innsmouther Aphra Marsh, and the interactions in this ensemble are interesting, but the development of the subaltern theme is taken in so many directions that it starts to exude whiffs of tokenism and didacticism.
The occult elements are still treated capably on the whole, but the entire feel of the story seemed shifted markedly in the direction of Charles Stross’ Laundry Files books: the protagonist team working under the aegis of an intelligence agency, the mathematical rationales for magical phenomena, and the fears about authority, all on a carrier wave of neo-yog-sothothery. The mid-20th-century setting is different than Stross’ frighteningly-up-to-date 21st, and Stross’ sarcastic hilarity is replaced with lucid griefs and affections, but the books now feel to me like very close cousins to one another.
My favorite parts of Winter Tide, for both entertainment and philosophical value, were the ones relating to the actual Yithian that Aphra discovers among the Miskatonic faculty and who becomes a key participant in the central plot. I also enjoyed the in-person appearances of mature Deep Ones. Emrys manages to construct the narration so that the reader can appreciate Aphra’s reverent affection for her relatives as well as the horror that they would present to a naive observer. But these accounts of exotic beings palpably manifesting in the story cause it to leave behind some of the subtlety that I found so affecting in “The Litany of Earth.”
I already own a copy of the next volume of Aphra’s story, Deep Roots, and I expect to enjoy it eventually. I wonder if it will signal as great a change from Winter Tide as that one did from the prior novella. Certainly the pace of current events and the author’s evident woke sensitivity to them will have brought more forces to bear on its composition.