I have been provided with an advance copy of the new Arkham Horror book The Devourer Below edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, published by Aconyte Books, so here is the honest review I promised in exchange for the book.
Stories in this collection are written by Evan Dicken, Georgina Kamsika, Thomas Parrott, Josh Reynolds, David Annadale, Davide Mana & Cath Lauria.
So here is an important disclaimer which is always important to put out there first. I have a casual work contact with Asmodee to demonstrate board games for them in stores and at conventions. Asmodee being the parent company of Aconyte the publisher.
Also I am friends with a couple of the authors on social media, not that we are close friends, for them its probably about connecting with fans rather than wanting to be my pal!
I am going to try my best to not let that cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.
What is Arkham Horror
Anyway that put to one side, let’s look at this book, by first looking at the game Arkham Horror which is a cooperative game, originally designed by Richard Launius, and is now in its third edition which was released in 2019.
It’s published by Fantasy Flight Games, a subsidiary of Asmodee, and is set in 1926 in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts. Each player takes on the role of an investigator, who are working to stop the Ancient Ones, eldritch horrors which lurk in the void beyond space and time.
It’s a 1-6 player game and you work together to gather clues and defeat the evil of the Ancient Ones and save the world.
As I said I haven’t actually played Arkham Horror but I do own its spin off Elder Sign the cooperative dice game.
Like the rest of the Arkham Horror novels, its set in the 1920s, and this collection of short stories all feature characters from the upcoming new revised edition of the Arkham Horror Card Game Core Set.
So lets look at each story one by one and I will give you some brief thoughts on them.
Running the Night Whiskey – Evan Dicken
This story is about Leo, a war veteran who runs into an old comrade in arms and gets himself involved with a bootlegging run with very sinister consequences.
This story was fantastic to open the book as it really did have a loveable protagonist who whilst a bit naughty, but very loveable.
The story has hints of horror that finally culminate in an ending which is quite eldritch, and sets up the rest of what’s to come very nicely.
Shadows Dawning – Georgina Kamsika
Lita Chandler, a recent widower whose husband was murdered by cultists, is desperately trying to get revenge.
The story wasn’t big on horror as the others, but was interesting to read as Lita seemed to get more and more desperate as the story went on, there was a real sense that she had lost all control of herself in her desire for vengence.
You really do find yourself rooting for her.
The Hounds Below – Josh Reynolds
This is in my opinion the strongest story in the collection as a journalist, Holsten manages to convince the doctors at Arkham Asylum to let him interview Mr Drew, a war veteran with a particularly gruesome compulsion.
This story is very sinister and chilling as we slowly hear the backstory of Mr Drew and his decent into depravity and madness. The ending is very intense and an extremely horrific twist, a real page turner.
Labyrinth – Thomas Parrott
This is part one of a two parter and is the most unique of the stories, being the telling of a story from Greek Antiquity in a Lovecraftian way.
Joe Diamond is trying to save the life of an innocent girl and his research leads him to find a connection to the myths of the Minotaur from Greek myths, and its very horror filled.
The time jump was a bit weird, and this finish left me a little confused, but the second part resolved that issue, but it would have been nice if it was clear that this was a two part story as that wasn’t clear to me.
Its a really solid story and shows that the world of the Cthulhu mythos isn’t confined to a small part of New England.
All my Friends are Monsters – Davide Mana
This is one of my favourite stories as it sees the morgue worker, Ruth Turner find herself blackmailed into helping sinister and dark forces when her other life of cross-dressing, speakeasy visits and a queer relationship is discovered.
This is a tragic tale of how Ruth slowly finds herself getting involved deeper and deeper with the cult. Its a deeply engaging tale and you find yourself rooting for her and Charlie.
The plot is in my opinion the most engaging in the book and it got me hooked more so than the others.
The Darkling Woods – Cath Lauria
This is an okay story, but I found it less engaging than the others simply because it felt so obvious in its nature.
The characters didn’t speak to me and the plot felt rather forced.
But it was really well written and cleverly crafted story, I just couldn’t connect with it, and I felt it lacked the same horror as the other stories, but that was just me and I am sure others will feel differently.
Professor Warren’s Investiture – David Annandale
This story shows how easy it is to succumb to darkness and evil, as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In this story Professor Warren has been working on a book about the occult for the past two decades, mocked by his colleagues at Miskatonic University, when a mysterious woman approaches him at the library and offers him all the occult secrets he ever desired.
Professor Warren feelings of anger and humiliation come through quite well and this story really does show how he was susceptible to the approach of the cultists.
Its a very interesting story in the way it plays with your emotions, you sympathise with Professor Warren, but at the same time are horrified by his choices.
Sins in the Blood – Thomas Parrott
The conclusion to Labyrinth and sees Joe Diamond team up with a waitress called Agness to save the life of Nadia.
I enjoyed this one, the pacing was just right and it built upon very solid foundations from the first part with the characters involved in a race against time and cultists to prevent Nadias life being taken by a horror of the old times.
My only negative comment about this story is that Joe kind of got overshadowed by Agness, despite his being the hero of sorts, perhaps had Agness been involved in the first story that would have felt better. But they had to do a lot to shoehorn her and her story into the limited time she featured.
This was a very enjoyable and creepy book, a lot of emotions were played with and some fantastic characters to root for, or be horrified by.
There were of course stories I enjoyed more than others, but in general they complimented each other very well and built a general idea about the particular cult who form the antagonists in this collection.
The length of each story was just right and allowed me to dip in and out over a couple of days, making it a very very easy to read book.
Its a good primer for the general idea of Lovecraftian horror and sets up the card game very well, potentioally giving you new insight to the characters you will play with.
The editing I would add is extremely good, other than the slight confusion about the two partner, nothing feels off, and the stories flow very nicely from one to another.
A good balanced anthology that leaves you wanting more.
5 out of 5 Stars
The eBook is out on the 6th July and the paperback on September 2nd.