Well, my year of reading series got away from me. I’m not sure if I will pick it back up next year. Most of the year consisted of evaluating my life, discovering new facets, rediscovering old ones, and trying to find out who I am now that I’m 35.
Huh…is this what a mid-life crisis is like? At least I spent money on games and not a high-maintenance, gas-guzzling metaphor for a fragile self-image of youth that my mind can’t learn to separate and mature into real adult.
Anyway, I decided to bring back something I haven’t done in a long time: book reviews. I stopped years back because I’m the kind of person that is very matter of fact about writing. I devoted years of my life to it, it’s important to me. But one of the things that got in the way was becoming friends with more writers, but I wasn’t down with the idea, that it’s better to say, “Good effort! I finished reading it, five stars,” than to actually review or critique a book. Now, I won’t go into my VERY long diatribe about book reviewing in all it’s permutations. Possibly, one day, I’ll dig up my old post about it and revise it some. But lets just say that most books that get five stars these days really shouldn’t, in fact most entertainment that gets high ratings shouldn’t get it—that may be a diatribe for a post in the near future after watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I understand why it happens from both a selling standpoint and making the algorithms on Amazon work better. Unfortunately, I find it all a lie and have better things to do with my life than live by those lies.
I tend to be happier than many people, too.
At some point, I know I will get to the part I have worried over for too long—reviewing friends’ work—but for this post, I’m gonna go easy on myself as I wade back into these waters.
This year, I dived pretty deep into the new Arkham Horror card game from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a new game based on the company’s take on the Cthulhu Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. The games are quite fun, whether you are a Lovecraft fan or not, but the intriguing aspect is the amount of lore FFG created through the life span of these games, including the multitude of characters you play. Hour of the Huntress is the first in a series of novel(la)s—more on this is a minute—that give us an origin story, of sorts, of these characters an explains how they become the characters you play in the various games, investigating eldritch horrors beset upon the world by unknowable cosmic forces.
First off, this is probably not a book you will want to read if you aren’t at least invested in the games, even if it’s small amount. As a media tie-in book, it’s designed for a specific audience and I can think of very few that can speak to anyone who picks it up and reads it. Now that is not to say you can’t, because Jenny Barnes, the main character, is a pretty awesome lady. As I read, I thought she would be an amazing partner for Peggy Carter of Avengers fame. She is an interesting character to read. But the book’s resolution doesn’t transition into another linear story, which hampers the enjoyment for a non-Arkham Horror fan. With other tie-in books, those stories wedge into another linear story and the book is an experience that informs the pre-existing story. Even RPG tie-ins are usually based on a meta-narrative and the characters of those stories the players will interact with, but the players won’t be in the game. Here, though, the story that comes after the book is one of five six different games that aren’t set stories and the reader could take control of Jenny Barnes in missions that are replayed over and over, each a different experience than the last. Trying to setup an open-ended transition isn’t inherently bad. In fact, Gross’s execution is well-crafted, but it’s a challenge that demands a compromise in storytelling because a more satisfying ending could’ve been possibly if it didn’t have to transition into a board game or five.
Second, the length of the story felt off. I’m unsure of the exact word, but I’d be surprised if it was over 50,000 words, riding the line between novella and novel. And I really wish it was longer by another 10,000 words. Story structure-wise, everything is there you want in a story, but there was something noticeable missing that’s inherent in anything verging on Lovecraftian: atmosphere. From Lovecraft, to Clark Ashton Smith, to Brian Lumley, authors that have written in the Mythos always make atmosphere a central facet of the story, since it’s the atmosphere that best conveys the foreboding nature of cosmic horror that the basis of the Mythos. There are some great moments in Hour of the Huntress, but they few and far between that by the time you get to the climax of the story, payoff of the cosmic horror isn’t as strong as you’d hope if you are coming right off from At the Mountains of Madness.
But, as a first offering of an ongoing series, it’s not a bad book. The writing is clear and well paced. I was an entertaining read and easily read in one sitting. I don’t know if the author played much of the new card game before writing this, but it was fun for me to be reading and think to myself, “Oh, that card was just played,” as the events unfolded. For what it’s supposed to do, which is give a short narrative of a fan favorite character of a board game, it did the job well. Could this be a way to get new people into the Arkham Horror games? I don’t know. I feel like that is always a test for media tie-ins. As much as you are giving back to the fans, you want to entice new people as well. I would love to hear if this book helped convince someone try one of the games, Because Jenny is a great character to read, and she is equally fun to play and book nails what it’s like to play her in those games.