Those of you who read my articles regularly (HI MOM) know that I’m a big H.P. Lovecraft fan. What you might not know is that there’s quite a bit of his work that I don’t enjoy. The guy had amazing ideas, but his narrative execution could sometimes get muddled (or flat out drowned) in a sea of adjectives and adverbs.
You’d think that modern Cthulhu mythos authors wouldn’t fall into the same trap, but many of them try to emulate Lovecraft’s style rather than drawing inspiration from his themes.
So what’s a reader like me—who wants some close quarters stakes/action mixed with their cosmic horror—supposed to do? Would any writer out there be brave enough to write an epic Lovecratian tale that didn’t slowly devolve into an essay about the author’s own self-esteem issues?
As I shook my fists at the sky and yelled this very question (without a trace of irony), the Elder Gods decided that my incessant whining had gone from annoying to borderline intolerable. Rather than wipe me from existence, they inspired Douglas Wynne to write Red Equinox.
Becca Phillips lives in world where Miskatonic University is a real institution of learning (fictional) and climate change has begun to decimate the Boston shoreline (soon to be a sad reality).
She’s also a badass urban explorer/photographer. Her work—and her family’s occult history—ends up putting her in the middle of a massive conflict. On one side is group of cultists who have gone from chanting and rituals to committing actual acts of terrorism. On the other is SPECTRA, a government organization dedicated to containing and suppressing paranormal threats.
As monsters rise and Boston becomes a war zone, Becca races to find a way to stop the coming tide of evil before it washes all of humanity away.
The entire cast of this book is great, but Wynne creates a truly memorable heroine in Becca. She’s tough as nails, but relatable and believably terrified at the bizarre events happening around her. She’s also got a huge heart, which makes the fear and loss she experiences even more impactful.
He also takes us inside the mind of a madman who may actually be smarter than everyone. It’s easy to write a villain who is completely deranged. Wynne gives us one with an impressive mix of intelligence and knowledge along with their own twisted version of empathy.
And the action sequences…good lord! For a meathead like me who wants physical threats in their fiction, getting to see the Cthulhu mythos in a war setting like this was a real treat. But Wynne’s smart about how he does it. Instead of just plugging in a few heavily-tentacled monsters and having them run amok, he brilliantly manages to retain/respect their eldritch aspects, as well. This results in some chilling battles unlike anything you’ll have ever read before.
If you’re a Lovecraft fan, then you’ll recognize a lot of the creatures terrorizing Bean Town. And if you’ve never read a word Lovecraft before, then you’ll just have to settle for some wicked cool monsters.
Wynne also does a lot with scale. One of the most horrific scenes takes place inside an interrogation room. Another is shown to us while circling the city in helicopter. Most striking of all is what we see and feel from Becca’s point of view. This battle takes a huge toll, digging its claws into her history while slashing away at her present.
What Doesn’t Work
Douglas Wynne is a master of telling stories through characters’ dialogue. He also has a knack for spinning some truly beautiful prose. Unfortunately, these two skills occasionally bumped into each other, causing Red Equinox’s narrative to temporarily stall out.
Is it Good?
Narrative stalling aside, THIS is the modern Lovecraft story that I’ve always wanted. Wynne creates characters that burrow into your mind and won’t leave. Then he drops them in the middle of a cosmic struggle on a city-wide scale. The action sequences would be brilliant enough on their own, but the fact that they involve such well-drawn characters on both sides of the conflict makes them even better.
The sequel to Red Equinox, entitled Black January, comes out later this month. Do yourself a favor a pick up both—along with an official SPECTRA t-shirt. When I wear mine, the people who I suspected are infected with an eldritch curse flee from my sight.
Or maybe that’s just because of my personality. Whatever. Just go read this book.