Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dance of the Damned

Last night I finished Alan Bligh's Dance of the Damned, a "Lovecraft Country" pastiche published by Fantasy Flight Games as a novel spin-off of their Arkham Horror board/card game line.  And it clearly is a pastiche.  Making almost gratuitous references to "the terrible old man", Professor Armitage, and the entire Dunwich Horror incident, and other Lovecraftian tidbits here and there.

I also discovered--after I had paid for it, sadly (that'll teach me to pay attention) that both this book and the other Arkham Horror novel I picked up, Ghouls of the Miskatonic, are billed as the first book in a trilogy.  Which, naturally enough, only have their first books released so far.  Blegh.

That said, other than a slightly unresolved and rushed ending, Dance of the Damned is pretty stand-alone, and I don't hesitate to recommend it to fans of Lovecraftian fiction.  Indeed, it's a great deal better than a lot of the pastiches I've read over time (sadly.)  Before becoming too overtly Lovecraftian, it channels a strong noir vibe, which is kinda fun.  When the majority of the action leaves New York to decamp to first Arkham and then Kingsport, it becomes much more "Weird" however.

The action follows two independent though related storylines, headed by two independent point of view characters, Tony Morgan--hard-bitten Sam Spade type, and Daisy Walker, a tougher than she seems dame who works at (no less than) the Arkham University library.  Both of them are independently involved in a manhunt--Morgan because he's hired to and Daisy because her finishing school chum and former room-mate is kinda sorta engaged to him.  A lot of rather predictable Lovecraftian elements are involved--sorcerers, cults, weird books and artifacts, the opening of a gate to another dimension, etc.  But they're rather deftly woven together to craft a story that sparks of a more involved and involving intrigue than your typical actual Lovecraft story would.  And if the elements are familiar, it's long been my opinion that that's part of what many Lovecraft fans come to the party for anyway--without the tour-guide like author pointing out familiar Lovecraftian elements, they'd feel somewhat cheated, I think.

The hints of weirdness early on are not particularly subtle.  If the rule of good fiction writing is to show rather than to tell, Bligh fails in the first act of the book.  Apparently eager for us to know right away that this is a Lovecraftian horror story, his somewhat ham-handed "look, guys, this is really scary--I promise" moments at the beginning don't really have the desired effect.  Luckily, they peeter out after a short while, and the book hits its stride.  In spite of my initial scepticism, I ended up quite enjoying the novel and wishing that I didn't have to now wait around for the rest of the trilogy to come out.

That said... I do.  So, rather than starting the other Arkham Horror trilogy, I'm going to sit on it for a little while and have a look at some other books in my lengthy "own but haven't yet read" list--starting will fellow Michigan resident Jim Hines' The Stepsister Scheme, which bills itself as a kind of fairytale meets Charlie's Angels with Sleeping Beauy, Snow White and Cinderella as the main characters.  Although Hines is more well known for his (I haven't read them; I'm going on reports here) goblin books, which are outright parodies or comedies at least, this series purports to play things fairly straight and in fact delve a bit into the darkest versions of the fairytales that are out there, along with references to mutilation, rape, cannibalism, and more.  Which seems to be all the rage these days when referring to fairytales anymore.  We'll see how I like it.  If I do, there's three more where it came from so far.

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