RogerBW's Blog

Red Equinox, Douglas Wynne 18 October 2015

2015 modern Lovecraftian horror. Becca Philips, photographer and urban explorer in post-hurricane Boston, was mostly raised by her crazy occultist grandmother. But now things are showing up in her photographs that really shouldn't be there.

This book has a stunning opening and a so-so middle, then mostly recovers towards the end. The first chapters feel like the writing of Tim Powers in that period when I enjoyed his works most (roughly from The Drawing of the Dark to Last Call): Becca is trying to work out the implications of the things appearing in her photographs, and trying to get on with her life after her grandmother's death. Other people are taking steps to bring on the end of the world.

He needed to piss, needed to step into his slippers and head to the dirty bathroom, but he held it in and focused on the gossamer-thin threads of the dream, combing through them gently, so as not to break them with the crude tool of his intellect.

But the second part of the book, after their initial success, suddenly brings us the government agency SPECTRA (which is, like all these things, yet another boots-in-doors, guns-in-faces, we know what we want and you're going to give it to us whether you have it or not black-ops organisation), and the washed-up gambling-addict agent Jason Brooks who's one of the better people in it… and this is just boring. I mean, yes, sure, something major and public has happened, so there would be a response from law-enforcement agencies, but these guys don't seem to fit in a Lovecraftian tale at all.

And this is a very Lovecraftian tale. It opens at a funeral in Arkham, much of The Haunter of the Dark is echoed here, and so are Azathoth (curiously spelled Azothoth), Cthulhu, the Black Pharaoh; perhaps it's a bit much, but it works.

Wynne has made the Mythos his own, requiring particular vocal properties for summoning of eldritch creatures: mere human vocal cords cannot do it, but that's no reason why a set can't be built to do the job.

One of the reasons it works as well as it does is that it's all set against Boston, which as in any good urban fantasy is a character in itself. The Allston Asylum, the Mary Baker Eddy library and its Mapparium, small boats in the harbour, the Bunker Hill Monument; these details are all important, and the story would be a different one if it were told in a different city.

The ending is a conventional action piece, rather disappointing after some of the psychological subtlety of earlier sections. Our heroine at one point talks to her psychiatrist:

"I think the dreams meant exactly what they looked like. The monsters don't symbolize anything."

"You think they're real."

"So do the men in the black armor. Look out your window. Turn on the TV. Of course they're real."

and after that I was really hoping for more than the last-minute fight that I'd get out of any old Call of Cthulhu adventure.

It gets the job done, but leaves many questions unanswered. Worries of a mole inside SPECTRA come to nothing. There's an equivalent of the last-shot reveal in a television programme or film, but it feels rote rather than part of the real story. Sometimes this is two books in one, and one was rather more interesting and better-written than the other. ("With an apocalypse in its opening overture" indeed.)

But while this is sometimes a pretty mixed bag, the good stuff is really good. When the writing is in its good mode it's lush and atmospheric, the characters are subtle and interesting, and the story is a new twist on the old yog-sothothery. Definitely recommended.

"Build it, and they will come."

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