The Last Ritual

The Last Ritual by S.A. Sidor is a perfect tie-in novel for the Arkham Horror Universe. It’s a fun, easy read that will leave you satisfied and ready to move onto your next Aconyte Books release. Each chapter is perfectly paced, with a cliff hanger to pull you into the next section. I highly recommend The Last Ritual for fans of the Arkham Horror games and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. I thought I’d offer my summarized thoughts before I opened the gate to my full review. Consider this your last warning, spoilers will appear out of the cosmic abyss below.

I was initially interested in The Last Ritual for two reasons. First, it was set in the Arkham Horror Universe. Anyone who knows me is aware I’m obsessed with Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror games. I most recently discussed my love for these games when I unboxed two recent products in a YouTube video, but I also wrote an essay called The Narrative Appeal of Board Games, which mentions Arkham Horror, a while back. For those new to the Arkham Horror Universe, it started with a single board game based on the Cthulhu Mythos, which later grew tentacles and birthed several other board games, card games, and video games. This isn’t the only tie-in fiction either. There are a few other novels and novellas, and I own a book called The Investigators of Arkham Horror, which details all the characters in the Arkham Horror Universe up to that point. The second thing that interested me about The Last Ritual was the flat-out gorgeous cover created by John Coulthart (pictured to the left). I can’t say enough about how quickly this work of art grabbed my attention, conveyed everything I wanted to know about the tale, and made me want to read this book.

Of course, a good setting and façade aren’t worth much without a solid story inside. Thankfully, S.A. Sidor delivers a fantastic yarn. The narrative follows Alden Oakes, a painter, as he teams with Nina Tarrington, a writer, to investigate a mysterious artist’s commune called the New Colony. The pair suspects the New Colony is behind a series of ritualistic murders taking place around Arkham. A famed surrealist painter named Juan Hugo Balthazarr leads the artist’s commune, and he starts to take an increasingly dangerous liking to both Alden and Nina. The story combines elements of the Cthulhu Mythos with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose story “The Rich Boy” is quoted in the opening pages of this novel. Fans of the Arkham Horror Universe will be happy to know that Preston Fairmont, Calvin Wright, and Norman Withers make appearances in the prose, and there are also references to Carl Sanford and the Silver Twilight Lodge. The narrative flows beautifully toward its conclusion, which reminded me somewhat of the chilling end to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, but I’ll leave the specifics for you to discover.

Lastly, as a fan and writer, I love finding additional connections between the various works set in the Arkham Horror Universe. I suspect that Juan Hugo Balthazarr mentioned his film director friend, Luis Bunuel, near the end of The Last Ritual to foreshadow the antagonist in Rosemary Jones’s Mask of Silver. To find out if I was right, I plan to buy Mask of Silver, the next book in this new series of Arkham Horror tie-in fiction, immediately.

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Halloween Season

In Halloween Season, Lucy A. Snyder presents an eclectic mix of tales. They will all entertain you, and a few will send shivers down your spine. Snyder is a masterful short story writer, and I was lucky enough to have taken a class on the subject taught by her while in Seton Hill University’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. The majority of what I know about the craft and business of short stories comes from that class. As a result, I couldn’t wait to read this book.

All of Snyder’s tales in Halloween Season contain a mix of humor and heart. The collection’s first short story, “Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies,” is a Halloween twist on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, and it is a great, heartfelt opener. The story also has several fun references to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “Cosmic Cola,” the following tale, deals with what Stephen King coined “the peculiar little town” trope. Basically, it’s when strangers enter a town where the residents are harboring a monstrous secret. I wrote a paper entitled “Hawthorne and Gorman’s Shadow over Innsmouth,” which touches on the origins of this trope, and I love reading any story that engages with it. I was especially thrilled to see “Cosmic Cola” make direct connections to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos tale, “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” If that wasn’t enough, in “Cosmic Cola,” one of Halloween’s most sacred traditions, dressing up, saves the protagonist’s life. “Visions of the Dream Witch” and “The Porcupine Boy” also engage with the Cthulhu Mythos, and “The Porcupine Boy” has one of the spookiest moments of the collection near the climax. Lastly, “The Kind Detective” is an impressive yarn because it’s relatively short and still manages to convey an excellent sense of cosmic terror.

I’ll leave the rest of the stories for you to discover, but I thought they were all fantastic Halloween fun. Of course, I can’t forget to mention the excellent cover by Lynne Hansen. I was lucky enough to hear her discuss how she came up with this cover at the Halloween Season Launch Party, and it truly captures the essence of the book and October. I even have a copy of the cover prominently displayed as part of my Halloween decorations. Now that I’ve finished Halloween Season, I plan to find more of Snyder’s work to devour.

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Lost Vintage and Other Halloween Treats

In case you didn’t see the announcement via my social media posts, you can join my fellow authors and me at the Women Running from Houses Launch Party on 10/13/20 at 8:30 PM (EST). We’re going to be discussing our gothic horror stories in the anthology. My tale is “Lost Vintage.” For a little preview of the literary influences on that story, be sure to check out the video below. I visit the grave of Robert W. Chambers, author of The King in Yellow. His work inspired H.P. Lovecraft, and The King in Yellow featured heavily in the first season of True Detective.

You can also check out this other video where I unbox my copies of Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 4: Women Running from Houses. I also open the Under Dark Waves expansion for the third edition of Arkham Horror the board game, and Barkham Horror: The Card Game, a dog-themed expansion for Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Lastly, I have a blog post appearing in the Horror Writers Association’s Halloween Haunts series. I am incredibly proud of this post because I got to talk about how my late grandmother influenced my development into a horror writer. The post will be appearing on October 15th, and I’d love if you could give it a read.

Until Next Time,

Stay Froggy,

Jeremiah

Summer Reading Roundup

I tend to read a lot in the summer and slow down in the fall. The extra sunlight fuels my desire to escape, and books provide the easiest way to slip off to another place for a little while. There’s also no football in the summer. Without further ado, here is a roundup of some of the books I enjoyed this past season.

 

The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is one of my favorite writers, and I was delighted to have gotten the 100th copy of The Invention of Ghosts. The proceeds for this chapbook went to the National Aviary, and the book has fantastic illustrations throughout. Like the previous work I’ve read by Kiste (And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and The Rust Maidens), the prose is imbued with poetic beauty, and the story contains a moving emotional core. Anyone who has ever had a friend they’ve lost touch with will be wanting to call that person after reading this. It will also get Donovan’s Season of the Witch stuck in your head.

 

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

By pure chance I happened to watch Deer Woman, an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror, not long ago. I was writing a werewolf short story, and I had revisited An American Werewolf in London and happened across Deer Woman as a result. Both works share John Landis as a director, and I should note that Deer Woman is set in the same universe as An American Werewolf in London because the protagonist of Deer Woman references the events of An American Werewolf in London. Anyway, Deer Woman was at least part of the reason why I decided to check out The Only Good Indians, which focuses on similar mythological elements. This novel by Stephen Graham Jones is a lovely, weird romp. Basketball, Native American Reservations, and youth’s sins all factor into why this book is so good. The point of view changes a lot in here, and you even get some chapters from the monster’s perspective. This keeps you feeling uncomfortable and stops you from being able to blindly root for the monster’s demise. These choices by Jones make this book unique.

 

Reanimators by Pete Rawlik

For a while, I’d been thinking, why hasn’t anyone done a story that pulls together a bunch of Lovecraft’s connected mythos into a singular tale? Well, I had somehow foolishly missed out on Reanimators existence until recently. The novel weaves the tale of Dr. Stuart Hartwell, a contemporary of Herbert West, as he moves through the years in and around Arkham. In the narrative, Hartwell encounters several of Lovecraft’s most famous characters and even intersects with several of Lovecraft’s best tales. This was a ton of fun to read, and I can’t wait to dive into the sequel. Maybe one day I’ll do a post trying to diagram out all the references and Easter eggs. Indiana Jones even pops up in the text.

 

Sefira and Other Betrayals by John Langan

I’ve already written pieces on two of John Langan’s previous works, The Fisherman, and The Wide Carnivorous Sky. I loved both of those, and I also enjoyed Sefira. In this collection, some of my favorites were In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos, The Third Always Beside You, and At Home in the House of the Devil. At Home in the House of Devil was particularly fun because I happened to be writing a paper about Young Goodman Brown while I read it, and there are connections to be made between the two tales. I should also say I’m currently reading John’s latest collection, Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies, which was recently released from Word Horde.

 

The Croning

Laird Barron weaves an interesting tale of dark fantasy and horror here. I especially loved the opening, which is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in cosmic horror fashion. The protagonist in this novel has memory problems, to say the least, and that makes the narrative intentionally disjointed, but when the ending comes, it makes all the reader’s disorientation serve a ghoulishly good finale where the secrets are revealed, and the debts must be paid.

 

Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

Silver Bullet is one of my favorite horror films of all time. A big part of why I love this movie so much is tied to the fact that I saw it at a young age, but I also think it’s a brilliant gem. The way the movie builds dread as it slowly progresses toward the climax, the excellent performances, and the way the werewolf’s killings impact the small town of Tarker’s Mill combine to make Silver Bullet special. So, it was only a matter of time until I read Cycle of the Werewolf. While I enjoyed the novella, I felt the story worked better as a screenplay. The close bonds between Marty and his sister, and Marty and his uncle, weren’t present in Cycle of the Werewolf, and they’re a major reason why I love Silver Bullet. The story felt hollow without them. Although, the movie didn’t have the stellar art by Bernie Wrightson.

 

Three other books I read this summer were The Color Out of Time, The Ancestor, and A Cosmology of Monsters, but you can find my thoughts on those tales by checking out the links above. It was an excellent summer for horror. Now here’s to the spooky season.

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A Cosmology of Monsters

A Cosmology of MonstersWhile I love the film version of The World According to Garp, I’ve never read a John Irving novel. I should rectify that at some point, but I mention it here to illustrate that I’m missing what Stephen King cites as a significant influence on Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters. That being the case, I still loved Hamill’s book. A Cosmology of Monsters strikes a perfect balance between a literary and genre horror novel. Fans of works at either end of the spooky spectrum should appreciate this tale.

Before I talk about the story, I need to laud this book’s gorgeous exterior (pictured to the left). The cover stopped me dead in the store the first time I saw it. I loved the evocative illustration combined with the bright orange and blue hues. A special shoutout is owed to Na Kim and Kelly Blair, who are listed as being responsible for the jacket illustration and design, respectively. They, and Pantheon Books, did a terrific job on the eye candy. That said, I will now jump into the actual narrative.

Spoilers Below (although I try to keep things vague)

The idea of a horror novel based around a haunted house attraction is brilliant, and that alone might’ve been enough for me to enjoy this work. Yet, by the end of the story, that aspect feels like a minuscule part of the book. The opening pages follow the protagonist’s mother and father, a huge Lovecraft fan, as they start their relationship and marriage. Unfortunately, things take a tragic turn for the father, who dies of cancer. From there, the story focuses on Noah, the youngest son of the couple, as he grows up. His childhood is complicated by the appearance of a monster, who he befriends, and the disappearance of his sister. Eventually, after many twists and turns, Noah discovers a hidden world in which monsters are made, and he must make some horrible choices to save the people he loves. There are a lot of details I’m leaving out, but that was just a quick summary. You’ll need to pick up a copy of the book for the full yarn.

I enjoyed this entire novel, and I read it in only three sittings. There were two standout moments for me. The first was a sexual scene between the monster and Noah. This scene surprised and confused me, and I’m impressed anytime a writer does that to me. Eventually, the scene makes sense as it’s foreshadowing a later revelation, but in the moment, I was befuddled and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and I just loved that feeling. The second standout moment of the book was the ending. It’s a gut-wrenching ordeal where the protagonist makes a Faustian bargain. I’ll let you discover the choice Noah makes for yourself, but I was impressed by how dark the story got in the end. Conclusions are where many tales fall flat, and I was happy to discover that A Cosmology of Monsters did not. I was left wanting more stories set in the universe of this book. Hopefully, one day Shaun Hamill will continue Noah’s dark journey or give us a new protagonist’s insight on the dark city at the heart of this narrative. That said, based on reading this novel, I’ll be happy to check out whatever Hamill does next. If I still haven’t sold you on A Cosmology of Monsters, you should give a listen to Shaun Hamill’s interview with the Lovecraft ezine for further enticement.

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