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Thursday, March 23, 2017

#Horror Review: The Tower of Zhaal by C.T. Phipps

Whereas Cthulhu Armageddon was comprised of equal parts horror, science fiction, and weird western, The Tower of Zhaal pushes the first two to the margins, thrusting us head-first into the depths of Lovecraftian horror.

I thought the first book was dark, but C.T. Phipps may as well have stamped "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" on the cover here and left it that. I mean, this is a book that starts with Booth and Mercury discussing when to kill him (before he turns into a monster); quickly has the party they're guarding slaughtered by cultists (for the sole purpose of getting Booth's attention); and then proceeds to have one of the Old Ones themselves reveal they've already witnessed humanity's end (but, if we're good, we might earn a false paradise in dreamland). At that point, most heroes would say, "Fuck it," throw their arms up in the air, and walk off the nearest cliff. Fortunately, Booth is too stubborn, too angry, and too rebellious to simply accept the fate that the Old One's decree.

If he can't prevent the end of the world, he'll at least ensure we face it on our own terms.

The twist here, compared to the first book, is that it's not just an insanely powerful madman standing in his way, but a heap of Cosmic Horrors as well. The stakes are raised, right from the start, and the sense of doom weighs heavily upon the story. In fact, Phipps introduces a whole new cast of supporting characters here, some of whom are just as memorable as Richard (my favorite supporting character from the first book), and most of whom die just as quickly and unceremoniously a death. He also broadens the world, taking us farther and faster than was previously possible, thanks to time/space warping "technology of the mind" developed under the oversight of the Old Ones at Miskatonic University.

Not surprisingly, this is a story that delves as deep into ethics as it does magic, often questioning whether the end justifies the means, whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and at what cost is survival no longer worth it? Nowhere, though, do those questions weigh more heavily than when Booth and crew pass from the ruins of Insmaw into the subterranean paradise of Shak’ta’hadron . . . and come across Booth's ex-wife. It's not necessarily the most important or exciting part of the story, but it's very much at the heart of what makes such a doom-laden story, fronted by such a gloomy protagonist, still so utterly compelling.

The climax at The Tower of Zhaal is not necessarily bigger than that of the first book, but it is certainly more significant, especially when it involves the words, "We have to summon Cthulhu." I will say no more on that front, but rest assured Phipps isn't merely content to play with the fringes of the Lovecraftian mythos, he's plunging right into its heart.

Kindle Edition, 264 pages
Published January 22nd 2017 by Crossroad Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing review! Thank you so very much, Bob, for reviewing both novels in the series!

    ReplyDelete