Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Romance
Categories: M/M, mystery, eldritch
Content Warnings: Highlight to read: Abuse of the mentally ill. References to previous rapes, and an onscreen attempted rape.
Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Description: Investigating a man’s murder is complicated enough without some god from the depths of the sea attempting to communicate with museum philologist Percival Whyborne. But that’s what he and his lover, the private investigator and ex-pinkerton Griffin Flaherty have to deal with, taking them to the horrors of the asylum and memories that Griffin can’t escape. And if that’s not enough, Griffin’s family have come to visit, making him have to pretend to live a normal, heterosexual life in front of them—and they’ve brought a young lady along for him to court.
Impression: This book was R’lyeh good!
Okay, jokes aside, it was a completely engaging and well-written read. Hawk has at this point solidified their narrative voice for the series, and the pacing is dead on. The back and forth between the investigation, Griffin’s family outings, and Whyborne’s conflict with the sense of what ‘normal’ is or can be or should be were all braided together—loosely at first, but with increasing tightness, until by the end of the book they were inseparable from each other.
As always, the visuals of the narrative were breathtaking. The image of Whyborne, half in dream-hallucination and half in reality, with seaweed and coral clinging to the library bookshelves… hngh, so good!! Not for the first time, I wished there was a TV series of these books to see these visuals actually in a visual medium. Come on, Netflix, get on it! It’s got drama, romance, and action, what more do you need?!
The climax and resolution was flawlessly done—the ‘twist’ had been set up so perfectly that I was hoping throughout the lead up to it that it would be the case, and it was deeply rewarding to see that pay off. Likewise, I mentioned in earlier reviews how Whyborne’s pride was his biggest flaw—his love for himself that he’s twisted into a form of self-hate—and how that was leading him down a dangerous path with the magic, because he was so ready to react to betrayal at a moment’s notice. I loved what was done with that in this book, both its portrayal and its outcome.
I mentioned in my review of Threshold that I hate jealousy plots, and I admit I rolled my eyes at Whyborne’s first bit of nerves over Ruth, but I found I actually didn’t mind how it was handled here. It wasn’t really about Ruth but about appearances—the question wasn’t another case of ‘can this other person give him something I can’t’ (aka, did Whyborne again fear that Griffin was cheating on/betraying him) but instead ‘when our love is illegal, can I give him the social comfort that he desires’, which is a very, very different thing to have jealousy over. Looking at the three books back to back, I find I like the evolution of the question: ‘Can he want me?’, ‘Can he love me?’, and ‘Can I be enough for him in the face of society’s expectations?’. Like Christine, though, I hope that we can all look forward to a great deal less drama in the future, since if it does come up again there’d better be a really compelling question it answers; otherwise, it just impacts my view of the trust they have for each other.
What I didn’t like—and it’s not enough to impact my rating, but it still gave me pause—was the introduction of a rape backstory (and, given the people involved, the introduction of the risk of rape in the story itself). It was so nice to not have to put content warnings on my reviews for these books, and to not feel like I had to be on alert for the Possible Sexual Assault Storyline in them, so I wasn’t particularly happy to have it come up here. I especially didn’t like how it was immediately a hurt-comfort scenario after Griffin revealed it—I’m not a big fan of the revelation of past abuse used to lead into a sex scene in any context, generally. (This could simply be an IC thing, but I find that a lot of times they have sex when I just want them to actually have more of a conversation about what they’re thinking and feeling. They do still have it, but often abbreviated, or in the afterglow, so I find myself speeding through the sex to get to the ‘payoff’. I’ve got blue balls, but for in-depth emotional discussions at those key moments!) I do know about the abuses that took place in such institutions—I wasn’t surprised to hear that Stormhaven was based on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum—but it still was just a feeling of, you know. “Oh no. Here we go.” [braces self when I didn’t previously have to be braced].
That was a small thing overall, though. I’m excited to see what comes next, and as always, Hawk has set things up so that I find myself exploring my Lovecraft lexicon to figure it out. The introduction of electric lights is of course appropriate for the time period, and Whyborne’s discomfort with it and the implications of Change Coming To Widdershins is very much in the spirit of the zeitgeist (the introduction of electricity as a general city utility extended the day and very much changed the way public spaces were used). In fact, Lovecraft comments on this… in his poem Nyarlathotep, where he blames the Crawling Chaos for the public’s fascination with scientific wonders. (Because of course he does). So I’m hoping that we get more Nyarlathotep soon—and given that the next book is called Necropolis, I’ve got a strong feeling it might be going that way! Onward to (I assume) the Catacombs of Nephren-ka!