Friday, March 24, 2023

The Tree of Azathoth is now available


"The Dreaming City has a million stories."

The world has finally reached its final hours with Yog-Sothoth devouring time itself. John Henry Booth is not content to die and seeks out an old enemy to provide him an escape from the dying Earth. This results in him being transported to a strange monster-filled city where millions of humans live in a bizarre hodgepodge of eras. John soon finds out he's been here before, or at least some variant of him has, and he is soon founded by faces long thought dead. And what is his lost son's connection to the mysterious metropolis?

The Tree of Azathoth is the third novel of the Cthulhu Armageddon series, a post-apocalypse continuation of H.P. Lovecraft's popular Cthulhu Mythos.

I'm pleased to say the third volume of my CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON series is complete and out for reading. I hope fans of the first two books will pick it up.

Available here

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Ten Recommended Dragonlance Novels


Awhile ago, I wrote an article that proved popular called TEN RECOMMENDED CLASSIC DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS NOVELS. Being a lifelong Dungeons and Dragons fan of a certain age, I have read hundreds of novels across most of the campaign settings. For a long time, the novels were as much a source of revenue for the TSR/WOTC company as the actual product they were producing.

However, if I were to list where my heart lay, I would have to say it was Dragonlance. I fell in love with the setting after reading Dragonlance Chronciles for the first time as well as Dragonlance Legends. As such, I've decided to share my favorite ten books in the franchise. A lot of these are by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, because no one does it better than the creators, but not all of them. All of these are the first in their series despite some of the sequels being "better" but if you see them recommended, assume I recommend reading the whole thing.

10. Chosen of the Gods by Chris Pierson


The destruction of Istar is one of the most seminal events in the Dragonlance universe. The end of the corrupt theocracy was the subject of the second Legends book but how it got to be as horrible as it was at the end is something that was never chronicled, until these books. Part of what I like is the protagonist is a likable enough fellow that keeps making what he thinks are the right decisions but, in fact, facilitate fanatics.

Part of what I enjoy about this is Fistandantilus, rather than Raistlin impersonating Fistandantilus, plays a significant role in the novel. We also get a sense of the Kingpriest's personality beyond being the guy who wrecked the world with his immense hubris. You may argue with whether the gods of Krynn should have smote the theocratic tyranny or not but at least you get a sense of who these people were before the mountain fell.

9. Dragons of Dwarven Depths by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman


The original Dragonlance Chronicles was a adaptation of a series of adventure modules originally. One of the ones that wasn't adapted was the quest for the Hammer of Kharas. This is an interquel as a result, set between Dragons of Autumn Twilight and Dragons of Winter Night. Our heroes are frozen in their characterization at this point in time but reading about them is like spending time with an old friend. 

I think my favorite part of the book is that it helps expand on the much-overlooked character of Flint Foreforge. While there's plenty of Raistlin Majere books, with good reason, there's little developing the Hill dwarf who served as the "Team Dad" for the War of the Lance.

8. The Soulforge by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman


The Soulforge
is a fascinating story about the origins of the aforementioned and much alluded to, Raistlin Majere. How did Krynn's greatest wizard get someone to tutor him? What were his early struggles and what helped him become the embittered misanthrope that wanted to become a god? The character of Raistlin is one that has fascinated generations of Dragonlance readers.

Raistlin is a character who appeals to the dark self-centered sides of ourselves but the authors never forget that most of the problems that he encounters are entirely the result of his own self-sabotage. Raistlin thinks women hate him, people look down on him, and that everyone is envious of his powers as well as intelligence. He is also insanely jealous of his brother. In truth, most people dislike him because he's such a jerk.

7. Lord Toede by Jeff Grubb and Jeff Easley 

Hobgoblins are an undervalued antagonist in Dungeons and Dragons. Basically, if you're going to use monster mooks then you either use the more iconic goblins or orcs. However, Hobgoblins are the classic fascist "intelligent Dark Lord worshiping" Lord of the Rings goblinoids. So I've always had a fondness for killing them. What could make a book about a hobgoblin scheming weasel better?

Make it a comedy explicitly based on Blackadder. Toade gets a massive intelligence boost for this story as well as charisma versus his Chronicles appearance but you know what? It works. It works great. 

Fewmaster Toade wants to regain his position as Dragon Highlord, despite never technically having held it, and that requires dealing with everyone who is willing to backstab him for power. Which turns out to be both the forces of darkness AS WELL AS the forces of good.
Sadly, this doesn't seem to be available in ebook form.

6. Lord Soth by Edo Van Belkom


This is going to be an odd choice and I almost put The Doom Brigade here instead. However, I think Lord Soth is my favorite of the various books devoted to villains. The Chronicles and Legends version of Soth is one that is a truly good man brought by lust as well as jealousy ala Othello. This one is shown to be an even worse person as we're introduced to having his father's bastards killed to secure his succession. Nevertheless, Soth remains powerfully charismatic despite the constant and never-ending awful things he does to the women he supposedly loves. It makes me think, oddly enough, of Joe from You.  Now that's a weird piece of fantasy casting if I've ever heard one.

I think Lord Soth is my second favorite Dragonlance character, no, wait third after Kitiara. He's a delightful reflection on the self-hating fallen knight. He's also incredibly entertaining in how few cares he has for what the gods or other beings can do to him. There's a reason much of Soth's backstory from this book was used in later books like Knight of the Black Rose.

5. Dragons of Summer Flame by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman


Dragons of a Summer Flame
is a controversial book to me because it is both an excellent high-stakes sequel to the War of the Lance and Legends but also what effectively ended the Dragonlance line as a story. There's also the urban legend that the reason the books ended the way they did was because the authors were attempting to "torch the franchise and run" due to TSR taking it away from its creators. I don't believe that but it did make sequels to the setting nearly impossible and required a lot of retcons to fix the changes.

On the other hand, it is a truly fantastic story with Palin Majere and Usha the human girl raised by the Irda. Chaos works very well as a Morgoth figure against the evils of Takhasis' Sauron. I especially liked the Appendix that established a counterpoint to the idea of all three Alignments being equal among the gods.

4. The Second Generation by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman


The War of the Lance period makes fantastic stories but there's always been something of a question of "what to do next after the Queen of Darkness is defeated"? This book doesn't really answer it but provides a wonderful collection of stories that give a good idea how to do Dragonlance adventures without the War of the Lance looming over everything. Palin Majere, Steel Brightblade, and other characters are all fascinating individuals with a bunch of entertaining tales. It sets up Dragons of Summer Flame pretty well but is a lot lighter as well as "funner" than the much darker story listed as No. #5.

I highly recommend people who want to read the entirety of the Dragonlance Saga but without getting sidetracked go Chronicles, Legends, Second Generation, and then Dragons of Summer Flame. Everything else is just gravy.

3. The Legend of Huma by Richard Knaak


The most famous knight in Krynnish history is Huma Dragonbane who managed to defeat the Queen of Darkness with the aid of the Silver Dragon that he fell in love with. Condensing an entire war against the Dark Queen from three books into one book is a big chore but Richard Knaak pulls it off. One of the reasons why is because it's all from Huma's perspective and thus we get a much more intimate look into his thinking process than if he had to share events from an entire Heroes of the Lance-esque adventuring party. The book also introduces Kaz the Minotaur that helped develop the underdeveloped culture of Krynn's most unusual life. 

2. Dragons of an Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman


The book that began it all, Dragons of Autumn Twilight isn't my favorite of the novels but it is a book that introduces the fantastic world of Krynn. I recommend it as a good "introductory" book for anyone who wants to get into the genre for the first time. Tanis Half-Elven, Sturm Brightblade, Raistlin (again), Goldmoon, Tika, and so many other fantastic characters are introduced. They may be archypes but that doesn't mean they're not people you fall in love with. The book also has something of a Dungeons and Dragons game-esque feel with lots of encounters, magical items, and a big bad with the detestable Verminaard.


1. Time of the Twins by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Raistlin Majere is, by far, the most popular character of Dragonlance and up there with Drizzt Do'Urden in terms of name recognition. So, it was inevitable that he would get his own trilogy. He ended up getting multiple books of his own actually. However, this is the "main" sequel to Chronicles and deals with the mage's attempts to become a god. Most of all, the story benefits from exploring Raistlin's toxic relationships with his brother Caramon as well as his attempts to manipulate Crysania. Raistlin is not someone to be redeemed by the power of love but that someone could love him is something that shakes him to the core.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor among Thieves review


    DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES made me tear up a bit at the end. It was an involuntary reaction, I certainly didn't intend for it to happen, but it's something that occurred nevertheless. Against my better judgement, I came to care about these characters and whether they managed to make it through the end of the movie. So, in the words of Rick and Morty, "You son of a bitch, I'm in."

    The movie isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it is recognizably and explicitly Dungeons and Dragons. Which is a harder thing to embody than many people might think. Dungeons and Dragons isn't a setting by itself but a method of creating and playing a setting. This is the problem of previous adaptations because you can play any fantasy setting with D&D rules but you can't just say, "Dungeons and Dragons is the setting." Here, it's the Forgotten Realms and I kind of wish they'd called it Forgotten Realms or Neverwinter Nights because either of those titles would have been appropriate as well.

Heavy Guardians of the Galaxy energy.
    Energy-wise, this is a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie for better and worse. I honestly compare this most to Paul Rudd's Ant Man movie in terms of rough mixture between family melodrama, quips, and action. Well, this has a lot more dragons in it and I'll give that is an impressive boost over Ant Man. It's a movie about a failed father trying to reconnect with his daughter, a heist, and an oddball crew of misfits. So let's say Ant Man meets Guardians of the Galaxy meets dragons. Which, yes, is probably why I love this movie against my better judgement. Neither of those films are my favorite Marvel films but throw in an owlbear and the Red Wizards of Thay? Yeah, now we're cooking with fireballs.

    The premise is somewhat overly complicated at the start with, essentially, an entire movie's worth of backstory in the prologue that could have been the first part of a trilogy. Edgin Darvis (Chris Pine) is a Harper who turns to thievery after his do-goodery gets his wife killed by the Red Wizards. He ends up as heterosexual but platonic partners with Holga (Michelle Rodriguez) and raises his daughter, Kira, with her. Hearing there's a magical tablet that can raise his wife from the dead, Edgin robs the Harpers and gets sent to magical prison with Holga when the heist goes wrong. They break out and decide to get Kira back from their partner who, obviously, betrayed them but is raising the girl as his own.

    This is just the prologue.

Sophie looks really good in this.
    The movie is mostly a heist film with our leads recruiting bumbling sorcerer Simon Aumar (Justice Smith) and kickass Tiefling druid Doric (Sophia Lillis) to help take down Lord Forge Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant) as well as his Red Wizard partner Sofina (Daisy Head). They go from action scene and comedy scene to action scene to comedy scene with the movie never really taking a break. Some of the comedy is stupid like a scene where they waste their Speak with the Dead questions while other comedy is stupid but entertaining as hell (Holga's ex being a halfling? Eh. Stupid joke. Not funny. Holga's ex taking up with another Amazonian barbarian? HILARIOUS).

    The movie is utterly drenched with fanservice and you'll be unable to turn off your brain from the, "I recognize that, they said the thing, I recognize that, reference to that thing I know!" Memberberries (i.e. things you remember from your childhood) are a pretty low form of humor perfected by Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Iron Man but it works on the nerd side of my brain. When they mention Simon is Elminster's descendant, I went, "Yeah, him and half of Faerun" and realized they'd gotten me.

I can't hate a movie with an owlbear.
    I feel almost bad about how mad I am for unabashedly loving this movie. I am deeply cynical about Hasbro's handling of D&D and mad at them for a dozen things ranging from the OGL to the novels being abandoned. However, this movie has an morbidly obese red dragon, the cast of the Eighties Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, and Szass Frigging Tam (who is the villain of my current D&D campaign). 

    What am I supposed to do with that? I can't stay mad at a movie trying this hard to entertain me. The cast is a bunch of bumbling misfits and everyone looks like an idiot but Doric (Michelle Rodriguez gets a lot of mileage out of being a dumb barbarian), yet I can't complain about that since it's my style of humor too. They're also competent when it counts. I even like Hugh Grant in this as he basically shows what he would have been like if he'd play Gilderoy Lockhart in The Chamber of Secrets. Literally my only complaints are the fact that I wasn't aware Faerun was enlightened enough to have prisons with a healthy pardon system and the fact movie dragged in literally two places.

    See the film.

9.5/10

Friday, March 17, 2023

The fall of Predestiny and it's rebirth as Dark Destiny


Hey,

    A few years ago, I wrote a couple of books with Frank Martin called the Predestiny series. It was an attempt to do a Young Adult science series that would hopefully break into new markets. It was also a cyberpunk series and something that was inspired by events in recent decades about corporate overreach, activism, and other events which had informed my burgeoning political consciousness. It was also inspired by Terminator, Dune, Continuum, and a bunch of other time travel stories.

    The premise of Predestiny was Robbie Stone was a high schooler in a near-future dystopia where Butterly International has more or less bought America. A friend of mine described the company as "Applezon" and I'd say that's accurate, except it also owned Blackwater. Rob just wants to do the Occupy Wallstreet thing and is then almost killed. He only survives thanks to the timely intervention of a white haired girl named Jane (no, not Doe). Jane explains that Rob has a destiny! HE IS GOING TO DESTROY THE WORLD!

    Yes, Robbie Stone is the Hitler in the "would you go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby", except he's closer to Paul Atreides in that he led the revolution ended up destroying the megacorps after they take over the world but ended up killing billions in the process. Some cyborged up super soldiers have decided to avert that by killing him. Jane has decided, for her own reasons, to protect him but this obviously throws Rob's life for a complete loop. His only advantage is the people in the future don't know his exact identity.

    It was a complete disaster. 

    At least sales wise.

    The short version is that not everyone can write every genre and while there was a fantastic story there, it didn't really work out because I dialed back a lot on the implications of the book to stick to the Young Adult market. Frank did an amazing job with the material but I kept cutting myself off from going as hard in the material (that deserved to be R). I also didn't develop the characters quite as much as I should (or as in other books).

    Marketing-wise, I didn't know quite how to market the story and leaned rather hard into the YA element that I think pushed away readers who might have otherwise given the story a chance. The cover also had Jane on it rather than Robbie, which I think confused readers who bought it with the intention that they would have a female protagonist. I have a great fanbase but they're primarily adults and of a cynical edge that probably this was not for them. So, instead of attracting a new audience, I just alienated my preexisting one.

    The sequel, Lost Future, was released but it had an even more YA looking cover that was misleading and poorly chosen. It was, if you can believe, even more incorrect for the marketing because the story got darker and darker. It's 100% clear that this shouldn't have been a YA series as the world has become far too dark and gritty for the story. There's plenty of YA dystopias but I could have pressed the issue further if I wasn't trying to write with one hand tied behind my back. The fact I attempted to do the books around 60K also inhibited world building. This wasn't the series for it.

    The bad luck unfortunately continued with an initial bit of good luck with the audiobook release being done for free by my good friend, Thomas Manchin. He's a audiobook narrator of some great comedy books and quite a lot of fun. Mind you, Predestiny had the least amount of comedy in my books save, possibly, Lucifer's Star or Wraith Knight. I think what jokes in that version of the book were done by Frank rather than me. Another sign that I was writing outside of my comfort zone in the desire to expand without realizing if you're good at something, you should play to your strengths.

    So what happened there? Well, poor Thomas, ran into a spot of health trouble and couldn't do the sequel. It would be almost a year's delay before we discovered that he wouldn't be able to able to do it despite how much he wanted to. Whoops.

    Now, if any of you know me then you should know I never know when to leave well enough alone. Just about everyone who writes over one book in their career knows there's one or two that don't do well. You just accept it and move on. Except, well, I was not going to do that. I owed Frank and my readers better, especially as there was a fantastic book here but I just needed to rework it to be all that it could be. In the end, of course, it was Cyberpunk: Edgerunners that made me realize what I had been doing wrong. That story with its ultra-violent dark and fascinating tale of David Martinez was enough to make me realize what kind of story I wanted to write.

    Frank was a little nonplussed at my desire to rewrite the entirety of the book we'd already worked together on and add about 20K to 30K of new content. To move Rob to being slightly older, increasing the humor, increasing the sarcasm, and making it clear just how tragic as well as traumatizing the events are. I also increased the action as well as the world-building, getting very strongly into the 2060s and how they plausibly completely went to shit from "our" world. Frank gave me some great insights into the book as he had always wanted it to be and the results were a far superior work (at least in my opinion). Oh and we decided to replace the covers.

    Re-writing Dark Destiny obviously meant re-writing Lost Future. The changes were even more extensive as the fundamental story was Rob coping with the moral question of whether it was possible to destroy the megacorporations without violence. Also, whether using violence when he knew it might eventually destroy the world was justified. The setting had gotten considerably darker from the original manuscript. The humor was certainly larger as well but there was now a much darker cast to it as some of the funniest characters were also vicious psychopaths. It was fun-fun and I even commissioned a new cover for it from the same artist. I also decided to change the names of both when I released them because they really were completely different books.

    Did it work? Yes and no. I'm not sure that much of the existing market or fanbase is willing to give it a shot but it was certainly an artistic success. I felt much prouder of the books and feel like they've reached their full potential as both action stories as well as social satire. Plus, they more authentic. If you're going to write cyberpunk you should write cyberPUNK. That means when someone is shooting at you, you're going to drop some f-bombs and shits. I actually realized how much of a book it was to be proud of because not only did I get my co-author's praise but cyberpunk fans reading it gave me compliments on its edge (as well as never suspecting they were more Hunger Games once than Neuromancer).

    It was an experiment that required quite a bit of time, money, and effort but I'm glad I did it. It's not the first time I've rewritten an existing book (I added casts of characters, glossaries, and new chapters to both Cthulhu Armageddon as well as Wraith Knight) but it was definitely the most extensive. I also feel like this is something that more authors should be willing to do. Stephen King rewrote The Stand and Ed Greenwood rewrote the Spellfire trilogy. Sometimes you need the benefit of experience and polish to reach your top game. Other times you need to write a world of flying cars, guns, and punks on the street to critique the man.

    Will these books get re-releaded on audiobook? Eventually, but first I have to see about getting it the audience it deserves.

Purchase Dark Destiny

Purchase Destiny's Paradox

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Last of Us 1x09 "Look for the Light" review


    THE LAST OF US 1×09 “LOOK FOR THE LIGHT” is the end of season one of THE LAST OF US and probably the high point of the series for fans of the game. Sadly, I feel like the season overall ended up being more of an eight rather than a nine or a ten. There’s some great moments throughout the show and I believe it’s probably the best adaptation of a video game property (Castlevania is close, though). Unfortunately, it didn’t quite soar as high as it could have despite a few high points.

    The premise for the final episode is that Joel finally gets Ellie to the Fireflies, only to immediately be betrayed in return. He is informed that Ellie is the cure for the infestation but harvesting the material necessary requires her to die. We also get an extended flashback to Ellie’s birth with her mother (as played by Ashley Johnson, Ellie’s VA in the game) that explains a possible reason for Ellie’s immunity to the cordyceps infestation.

    The best part of the episode is definitely Ashley Johnson’s performance as Anna. A pregnant woman struggling to survive against a bunch of Infested, her child being born right that moment, and then having to deal with the fact she was going to die no matter what after giving birth. Throw in her dealing with Marlene (who wants to kill Ellie) and you have a fantastic one scene wonder. It’s almost a shame they didn’t get her to play Tess or another more important character.

    The rest of the episode more or less deals with Joel’s dogged commitment to making sure that Ellie survives no matter what. Unfortunately, the show failed to really make there be any moral conflict whatsoever. I was sure that 99% of the audience would agree with Joel’s decision to gun down every single Firefly standing in the way of him and his baby girl (and I’m pretty sure I was right in the numbers). However, the show doesn’t even attempt to present the Firefly’s decision in an ambiguous light or the tragedy of their misguided beliefs. Joel guns them all down without hesitation and the issue is resolved.

    Part of this is due to the fact the Infected are barely shown as a threat in the show. Probably for special effects reasons, we don’t get nearly as many Infected as we do evil humans. The Fireflies are basically dismissed by most online chatter as having any possible real “solution.” Instead, I think the show should have done more to suggest that, yes, they could have come up with a proper solution. Joel made the right choice as a parent but the audience should have at least had more ambiguity about it.

    After none episodes, my opinion is The Last of Us really needed an additional episode at the very least and probably should have drug out the finale across two episodes. Some more encounters with the Infected or interaction with Ellie might have been better. At the very least, I think the show should have gotten more into Ellie’s survivor’s guilt. It should be clear she was willing to die to provide the world a cure and also be cure that’s not a choice that should be forced onto anyone at her age.

    In conclusion, the series was pretty good but could have been better. There’s just not enough threat from the Clickers and it moves through the final events of the game way too quickly. We needed a bit more time to reflect on just how devastating Joel’s choice potentially was. At least they kept Joel lying to her and Ellie’s reaction at the end.

8/10

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Last of Us 1x08 "When We Are In Need" review


    THE LAST OF US 1×08 “WHEN WE ARE IN NEED” is the penultimate episode of the series. Though when there’s only nine episodes, I start to wonder where the divide between a full blown season and a miniseries begin. I’m not saying this to be salty but I think they could have easily been a full thirteen episodes. GAME OF THRONES has a lot to answer for and I really think they should be working to give us more content rather than less.

    To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this one as the story arc of the Hunters wasn’t one of my favorites in the video game. David was a fantastic villain in the video game but the ultimate revelation that he is a pedophile and cannibal kind of dominates the show version when the pleasant seemingly reasonable adult figure element dominates his video game counterpart.

    Part of what made David work in the video game is the fact that he spends a lot of time trying to appear reasonable to Ellie and comforting when she’s not been able to communicate with Joel for months. He talks to Ellie like an adult, helps her get the medicine for Joel, and seems like he could really turn out to be another friend in the wilderness. Then, of course, we slowly have it revealed that he’s part of the group that’s been hunting Joel this entire time.

    Here, David’s creepy cult is terrifying in its implications from the get go and we understand Davis is a bad person. Oddly, the cannibalism is downplayed as it’s made clear that this is a desperation choice on the part of the cultists. They don’t want to be reduced to eating their fellow humans and are hiding it from the others but starvation is a looming possibility. Still, it’s been twenty years and you have to wonder what exactly they’ve been doing to make sustainable agriculture.

    On the other hand, I have to give Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal credit for their acting during this episode. From a pure action movie-post apocalypse adventure perspective, this episode works excellent. I’ve complained about the downplaying of the action and stealth elements of The Last of Us series but this episode is full of memorable scenes straight out of the game. Ellie’s final confrontation with David in the burning restaurant is especially well realized.

    One of the things I do love about the game adaptation, though, is that Joel is show to be a guy who is pretty dented and beaten up by his years of violence. Like a professional football player, all the hits he’s taken over the years have added up. In the game, you can duct tape yourself up to full fighting order but this Joel is on his last years as a warrior even with how badass he is. It makes his thoughts of retirement more believable.

    In conclusion, this is a good episode and excellent as an adaptation of the events toward the end of the game. However, I also think they should have made it a two parter with David having a whole episode of being helpful as well as beyond suspicion. The “post apocalypse religious community of freaks and murderers” is also a badly overused trope.

8/10

Thursday, March 9, 2023

The Last Ritual by SA Sidor review


    THE LAST RITUAL is the second novel of the Arkham Horror standalone novel series. I was a huge fan of Josh Reynold’s WRATH OF N’KAI novel and was interested in seeing what more the series might do with the boardgame’s version of Arkham, Massachusetts. Chaosium’s CALL OF CTHULHU has a history of fiction but most of it is typical Lovecraftian horror, which is to say, “Everyone dies or goes insane at the end.” Which has somewhat limited its mass appeal. Arkham Horror seems more keenly aware of the audience’s love of pulpy fiction (or at least mine) so the stories are horror-adventures.

    The Last Ritual by S.A. Sidor is a bit more typical of “classic” HP Lovecraft compared to its predecessor in that the protagonist isn’t a classy cat burglar with an experience hunting occult artifacts. Instead, it is about a failed (or perhaps never was) painter named Alden Oaks. Thankfully, Alden Oaks has money and is of the “stupid rich” variety.

    After a chance encounter with an occult festival in rural Spain, Alden returns home to Arkham, Massachusetts only to find a series of strange events occurring. I know, strange events in Arkham, perish the thought. Either way, he soon hooks up with an intrepid would-be crime reporter in Nina Tarrington and the two set out to unravel the mystery while beginning their romance.

    I know that romance and Call of Cthulhu are not typically associated. The only romance that gets any real depth in Lovecraft is “The Thing on the Doorstep” (and arguably “Medusa’s Coil” but we don’t talk about that one). However, I really like Nina and she forms an interesting bond with the lay about rich boy who is one of the least likely occult investigators you’re going to find in any version of the Mythos. I really liked the two and it helped set up the events for the finale that is strong.

    The use of the 1920s environment is very well realized with period slang, artists, and a general “Great Gatsby” sort of feel to events. Alden has never worked a day in his life and wouldn’t understand how to begin but that doesn’t stop him from being a likable protagonist anyway. His encounter with Harry Houdini is one of the high points of the book, especially since Lovecraft wrote a story with Erich Weisz as the protagonist.

    The antagonist of Juan Hugo Balthazar is a nice contrast to most Cthulhu cultists with his focus on magical paintings and “evil art” contrasting to the usual depraved cities or inbred hillbillies. A Spanish surrealist, he has a fascist bent despite his hippie commune-like environments. You also get the sense that he’s not nearly as capable or talented at wielding occult forces as, say, Carl Sanford. That makes it credible that Alden might pose a threat, however inadvertent.

    The GraphicAudio version of the book is the one I recommend over the regular audiobook or text version. The cast manages to capture the characters perfectly and really bring to life their 1920s ultra-wealthy lifestyles. There’s a na├»ve innocence to Alden that makes you regret that he’s going to encounter the Mythos in any form since that’s something that won’t last in the face of it. I also like Nina’s actress as her Bostonian accent is something few Lovecraft productions try to replicate.

    In conclusion, The Last Ritual is a really enjoyable piece of work. While the first book was a pulpy action-mystery, these re about more typical ordinary citizens getting caught up in the supernatural. It’s lighter fair than most cosmic horror but still definitely in the horror genre. I definitely recommend readers pick it up if they have the chance in any format.

9/10

Available on Amazon

Available on Audible

Available on GraphicAudio