Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fathomless by Anne M. Pillsworth review


    Why is it so wrong to want to be a Deep One? H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth is all about the horror of how a bunch of townsfolk voluntarily decided to interbreed with fishmen in exchange for gold and fish. The focus of the narrator on the act of such "defilement" is such that Ruthanna Emrys claims to have completely forgot they also engaged in human sacrifice among other horrifically evil things. However, if you have the attitude of, "mating with fish men isn't my bag but to each their own" then the horror of the novella kind of loses its punch.

    Indeed, the Deep Ones are the Lovecraft monster most likely to be redeemed nowadays with The Doom that Came to Innsmouth, The Litany of Earth, their sympathetic portrayal in Alan Moore's Providence and now Fatholmess. They are often considered to be individuals who were horrifically abused for no other reason than they were different and practiced a different religion than was acceptable in the 1930s.

    I, for one, respect the fact the Deep Ones are a race of religious fanatics and evil sorcerers because, as Terry Pratchett says, "Just because someone's a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk." Except replace small-minded jerk with evil Cthulhu-worshiping cultist. After all, it's not like Deep Ones are GHOULS who I would totally join the secret underground society of in a heartbeat.

    The premise is Sean Wyndham, teenage survivor of the Cthulhu Mythos in Summoned, is now studying with the Order of Al-Hazred. Unfortunately, the heir to infernalist sorcerer Reverend Redemption Orne has few friends in the organization as they believe him to be a threat. Sean has the benefit of his friend Eddie (a girl who prefers that to Edna) and their new friend Daniel who always wears turtlenecks. It doesn't take a Lovecraft scholar to guess what Daniel is in light of the title and he proves to be the most fascinating character in the book.

    Anne M. Pillsworth makes a lot of really good decisions in this which both underline and play with many of the concepts within Lovecraft's own work. The original Deep Ones were metaphors against intermarriage between races and immigration. Daniel, by contrast, is a figure who immediately takes up with Eddie and we're meant to root for their relationship. I also like the fact Sean and Eddie have no interest in one another. Aside from Harry Potter, it's the rare story which doesn't end with the hero and the girl.

    After reading Summoned, I wondered why everyone was down on Reverend Orne because all of the problems in that book were caused by Sean. It seemed like they were blaming him for all of Sean's mistakes. Here, the author gives a better reason for why we should terrified of the centuries-old wizard while also keeping a friendly face to Sean. I won't spoil the ending of the book but it was a huge shocker.  I think the author does an immensely good job of balancing horror, adventure, and urban fantasy in her series.

    Redemption Orne remains the stand-out character in the book. He is a wonderful mix of superficial charm, intelligence, and ruthless pragmatism. He may want to protect his family and lineage but all of his actions are with the goal of manipulating Sean into accepting the way of Nyarlathotep. I think he's been set up as an excellent continuing villain.  The best villains think they're heroes and he definitely qualifies as both in the amoral universe our heroes have found themselves in.

     The depiction of Innsmouth in 2016 is interesting. The undersea city of the Deep Ones is covered up by shoggoths, the Deep Ones maintain their homes to remain ignorable, and they go out of their way to make it a decent but boring place to live. They are not against humankind but they are also contemptuous of them. Daniel's mother hated her Deep One ancestry but eventually came to embrace it, not taking her son with her. Even so, the only Marsh family member we meet is an amusing older uncle rather than a sinister cult leader.

    Lovecraft Purists will be annoyed by the fact the Deep Ones are portrayed as reasonably harmless. Personally, I've always thought my ideal treatment of them would be to keep all of their murderous religious fanaticism and supernatural powers while also making it so they're unduly persecuted by others. Then again, I tend to prefer Gray and Gray Morality to Black and White or Black and Black. You could have the Deep Ones working to overthrow Dagon and prevent Cthulhu's rise even as both sides work to wipe each other out.

    I found Fathomless to be an exciting, entertaining, and enjoyable ride. I like the way magic, New England flavor, and Lovecraft lore are woven together. I think I would enjoy the series if it went a little darker but I enjoy it as is. It reminds me of Potter at its best and most serious, which is no small praise. I'm looking forward to the next installment of the series and heartily recommend these two books.

10/10

1 comment:

  1. It's because nothing terrified Lovecraft more than the thought of miscegenation. And now it's perfectly legal and normal. So interesting that modern literature is reclaiming the Deep Ones.

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