Book Reviews

Book Review: Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy #1), by Ruthanna Emrys

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Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy #1)

By: Ruthanna Emrys

Published: April 4, 2017

The Rundown: “After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu.  Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.  The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help.  FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.  Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: This cover is the epitome of blandness.  The color scheme is all grays and browns, making the book seem dull and lifeless.  Near the center of the cover is a kneeling woman in a brown dress, who’s raising one hand toward the sea.  Although she is supposed to be a Deep One, there is no indication of anything otherworldly about her.  Nor is it apparent that she is performing magic.  Nobody who’s looking at the cover is going to connect the image with Lovecraft.

What a Wonderful World: It’s the early 1950’s, and the Cold War is fully underway.  In this alternative reality, the existence of Lovecraftian magic and alien races is common knowledge.  Those eager for forbidden knowledge congregate at Miskatonic University on the East Coast.  The US government is concerned that the Soviet Union has stolen information about body-snatching magic from someone at Miskatonic.  Due to her knowledge of the occult, Aphra has been selected by the FBI to assist in their investigation.  But Aphra is more interested in obtaining access to Deep One texts that were “appropriated” by the university from her family’s home in Innsmouth.

The Good Guy: Aphra Marsh is a member of a race known as the Deep Ones, who are basically fish people who worship Dagon and Cthulhu.  Taken from her home by the government when she was a child, held in desert camps for nearly two decades, Aphra is naturally reticent when it comes to helping the government with their investigation.  As all the Innsmouth residents except Aphra and her brother perished in the camps, Aphra is disconnected from her culture and longs to find a family to share it with.  However, she is also distrustful of the Deep Ones who lived in the ocean, for they saw what happened to her family and yet did nothing.

A+: Winter Tide is another addition to the bevy of books seeking to reclaim Lovecraft.  It’s set in the 1950s, where most people—at least, most of the white characters—are casually racist.  Aphra has to deal with other peoples’ disgust at her odd appearance and curiosity over what arcane secrets she might possess.  Though her people have committed no crime, she has to deal with suspicious government agents who view her as a traitor solely because of her race.  When Aphra isn’t isolated with her open-minded group of friends, the casual racism is constant and exhausting.

F-: Though Aphra goes to Miskatonic to investigate a possible Russian spy, very little attention is given to this plotline.  It’s more of a MacGuffin to get the characters to the university.  From there, there are a series of subplots: Aphra and Caleb want to reclaim their family property, Aphra and friends want to learn magic, Aphra doesn’t know if she wants to resettle in Innsmouth, etc.  That is, there are a lot of subplots, but no main plot.  As a result, the novel lacks any sort of forward momentum.  Everything seems to move at a glacial pace.  It doesn’t help that some scenes are repetitive: I could swear that Aphra and friends perform the same magic ritual a good ten times.  It’s very difficult to remain interested in the story.

Does it Represent…

Women: Since the novel is set in the 1960s, sexism is omnipresent in American society.  Only male students are admitted to Miskatonic University, though it does have a sister school that is a women’s college.  The women who go there have very little personal freedom, and have constraints, such as curfews, that their male counterparts do not.  There is only one female professor at Miskatonic, and she is mostly ignored by her male counterparts.  Though Aphra is able to justify her presence at Miskatonic by her knowledge of the occult, the other female members of her party are regarded with suspicion by the University president.

People of Color: Institutionalized bigotry is tackled head-on by the novel, though admittedly, the most prevalent form of bigotry is against a race that does not actually exist.  That is not to say there are no ethnic minorities in Winter Tide.  Ron Spector is a Jewish FBI agent whose employers suspect that he is more loyal to Israel than the US.  Aphra’s brother Caleb carries on a flirtation with an African-American FBI mole named Dawson; the two are regarded with suspicion by the other white characters.  Aphra has a friend named Neko whom she met in the internment camps.  Neko doesn’t really do much, and is probably only included because she was in the short story this novel spun off of.

LGBT People: Ron Spector has an affair with Aphra’s employer and pupil in the occult, Charlie.  The two keep their relationship a secret, as knowledge of their relationship would end Spector’s career.  Professor Trumble was in love with her maid, though the two are never seen together during the course of the novel.

The Disabled: Uh, Charlie has a bad knee?

Memorable Quote: “Odd how automatic masks are, even with those who’ve seen beneath them.”

Recommended for: This book was a bit of a let-down.  The spy stuff is played down, and though it borrows heavily from Lovecraft, it’s not creepy enough to appeal to his fans.  Despite its progressive themes, it’s dull and repetitive enough that it’s not worth checking out, unless you’re someone who wants to read everything Lovecraft-related.

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