Sent to me by Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 21/11/17
Publisher: Titan Books
Format: Hardback, 464pp
Summed up in a word: Lovecraftian
It is great to revisit this series. The Shadwell Shadows really grabbed me being both a homage to H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle. I am a pretty big fan of both authors so for them to be combined in a well thought out and gripping book was a dream come true. Miskatonic Monstrosities continues this homage in a good way, focusing even more on the Lovecraftian lore than the previous title. James Lovegrove’s appreciation for these genre defining authors is both inspiring and infectious. It is clear that it is a dream of his to write this series and it is easy to get caught up in his interest. Miskatonic Monstrosities is for fans of Sherlock and Lovecraft, mainly for those who believe they would appreciate a mash-up of the two. Full review below! Here are some of the Lovecraft monstrosities you can expect within the novel.
It is the spring of 1895, and more than a decade of combating eldritch entities has cost Dr John Watson his beloved wife Mary, and nearly broken the health of Sherlock Holmes. Yet the companions do not hesitate when they are called to the infamous Bedlam lunatic asylum, where they find an inmate speaking in R’lyehian, the language of the Old Ones. Moreover, the man is horribly scarred and has no memory of who he is.
The detectives discover that the inmate was once a scientist, a student of Miskatonic University, and one of two survivors of a doomed voyage down the Miskatonic River to capture the semi-mythical shoggoth. Yet how has he ended up in London, without his wits? And when the man is taken from Bedlam by forces beyond normal mortal comprehension, it becomes clear that there is far more to the case than one disturbed Bostonian. It is only by learning what truly happened on that fateful New England voyage that Holmes and Watson will uncover the truth, and learn who is behind the Miskatonic monstrosity…
“Since the events of Christmas 1880, which I have related in The Shadwell Shadows, Holmes, Gregson and I, along with Mycroft Holmes, had forged a secret brotherhood. Together we made a pact to keep the world safe from unholy horrors and unearthly threats, and we had stuck by it during the intervening fifteen years, albeit at a cost to each of us in his own way.” Watson p26
It is so satisfying being back reading this series again. Sherlock fighting evil has been done many times before but James Lovegrove’s iteration is brilliant because of his own infectious appreciation of both H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur C. Doyle. The fact that he is having a great time creating these novels, infusing them with both Sherlockian and Lovecraftian lore and also bringing us a fascinating story that explores the line between science and dark magic, is entertaining and satisfying for fans. Incorporating both writing styles as well as his own, Miskatonic Monstrosities is a testament to two of the most influential and genre defining authors of the 19th/20th century. It is also happens to be a really good, if not slightly uneven, mystery tale surrounding gods, demons and humanity’s tendency to push the boundaries of reality.
Taking place 15 years on from the events in The Shadwell Shadows, Miskatonic Monstrosities follows a drained and enervated Sherlock and a grief ridden Watson. A decade and a half of fighting the forces of evil, and the death of a loved one, will do that to you. The illustrious duo are still at work and they have another mystery on their hands. A mutilated inmate at a nearby Bedlam mental asylum, who has failed to show any signs of speaking or communication, has begun to scribble odd looking hieroglyphs on the walls of his cell.
“The institution’s central block loomed before us, fronted by a colonnaded, dome-capped portico. Three-storey-high wings stretched to either side for nearly a hundred yards. It was a huge and intimidating pile, its dark brick façade seemingly overhung by shadow for all that the day was sunny and bright and the sky a cloudless blue. As we climbed the front steps a faint, anguished scream emanated from a far window. This was answered by a torrent of oaths from somewhere also indoors but nearer by, then a shrill cry from somewhere else in a voice that sounded only tangentially human.”
Sherlock identifies these etchings to be the language of the Old and Outer gods. Before Sherlock and Watson can investigate further, the inmate seemingly escapes from custody. The duo must utilise all their resources, including some of the black magic items they have retrieved over the years, to find this man before he does something he regrets, like summon a god to earth.
I had a lot of fun with Miskatonic Monstrosities as it tapped into a lot of the Lovecraftian lore that I haven’t come across yet. James Lovegrove does use a generous helping of Sherlock lore but it is quite few and far between. Arthur C. Doyles’s influences are mainly structural but there is enough depth to keep a fan like myself sated. A purely Sherlock fan who has no experience of H. P. Lovecraft would probably, not definitely, find this a hard read. It is certainly Lovecraft heavy and JL’s choice to move half of the narrative away from Sherlock and Watson and to another character had its good sides and bad sides. It certainly reinforced the dark, evil and demonic side to this novel but the imagery is pure fascination so it was good for me, but again Sherlock fans might be thinking otherwise as it can be overwhelming at times.
JL’s writing is both immensely readable and hugely satisfying. I read this book in no time because of the fast paced plot, concise prose and descriptive and imaginative writing. Miskatonic is filled with dark themes surrounding gods, demons, science and the soul. There are several humorous moments but for the most part this is a seriously dark tale. The story kept me invested as it explored many interesting ideas about science and consciousness; Blurring the line between where science ends and the arcane begins.
I also really enjoyed this version of Sherlock. Battle-worn, wise and less unbearable. Sherlock is battling the image of himself depicted in Watson’s tales (which are strictly magic free to keep the world unaware). He is still a hero but if he carries on fighting Cthulhu and his godly compatriots then he will die. This version of the Sherlock meaningful and full of purpose. Not just sat on a couch waiting for things to happen. All the characters are fleshed out well and included properly within the narrative which I really appreciated. The choice to move the 2nd Act to another character and time period made sense after I had read it but I was initially cautious. I can happily say, in my opinion, that it was a good direction to take the book and I thought the concepts and imagery shown within were captivating and interesting.
Overall I highly recommend this to current fans of the series. Newcomers beware but give it a go as it might open you up to a whole new dimension of fiction. I appreciated the heavy Lovecraftian influences but it may frustrate readers who picked it up for Sherlock purposes. I am loving this series and it is a shame that it is coming to a close but we still have The Sussex Sea-Devils to go!
About James Lovegrove
James Lovegrove is the New York Times best-selling author of The Age of Odin. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004. He also reviews fiction for the Financial Times. He is the author of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War, Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares, Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine and Sherlock Holmes: The Labyrinth of Death for Titan Books.