I have a confession.
I aspire to be the best writer I can be, but if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t read as much as I should.
Or ever, really.
I love books, but since getting jobs and planning a wedding for the past year, I haven’t had any time for reading, or so I tell myself. Sitting down with a book is just hard for me, I’m a fast writer, but a slow reader. It can be frustrating, especially when my other half can devour books in the span of hours what takes me weeks to get through. That’s nothing against her, but I want to be able to absorb stories like that too.
So I’ve made a switch and tried Audible (this isn’t an ad for them, although I wish they would give me money for saying cool things about them). I can listen while I work, and I can listen faster than I can usually read. The world of books is open to me again, and it feels good. So good, in fact, that I can share some thoughts on the things I can ‘read’ here.
Like I mentioned in the previous post, I’m not really doing reviews anymore, since reviews can keep people from making their own thoughts about things and experiencing the world. So, check it out and read it. Good or bad, it’s worth it, since today, we’re talking about Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. It might get a little spoiler heavy passed this point, so go read the book first. Or, if you do read this, don’t feel inclined to take my word for it. Experience it for yourself, it begs reading.
I wouldn’t read it if the premise wasn’t good, so here’s the gist.
The town of Innsmouth – a fictional town created by writer H.P. Lovecraft – is thriving until 1928, when it’s raided by the American government. The residents are placed in internment camps, which would then be re-purposed for the Japanese during the Second World War. Most of the people of the town perish except for two, a sister and brother. They are released along with the Japanese when the camps are shut down. As she puts her life back together and tries to recover the scattered pieces of her history and religion, Aphra Marsh is approached by the government that imprisoned her, and they need her help. Now in the Cold War, the Americans have word that the Russians are planning on using cosmic magics to turn the tide of global powers, and they need Aphra’s experience and resources to track them down through old books and library halls, while also figuring out what to do with her life and her freedom.
Pretty neat, right?
I’m all about Lovecraft and cosmic horror, so I thought that was a nice book to start out with. Thirty-Five chapters and twelve hours later… I wasn’t sure what I thought.
Because it’s good. The character is atypical, not usually someone you would follow. A weaker author would have been more interested in Aphra’s brother, a white guy, but they went with his sister. They look a little like fish people, much like the story their inspired from, which is something they must deal with, and it adds depth to the character, making them easier to relate back to the world they come from. They’re ugly looking and off-putting, which connects them more to an alien universe and the oceans of the world than humans, which made for an interesting character.
The connections to the source material were also interesting, bringing in various parts of the Lovecraft mythos: Miskatonic, the Deep Ones, various old Gods, and cosmic forces. At Miskatonic University, students can are educated in Ancient Alien Folklore, or 10-Dimensional Geometry and Symbolism. Other species appear in interesting ways, so that was something I enjoyed. Aphra’s respect for the world she came from and its beliefs made it all seem less like horror and more like an alternative religion, which I thought really worked for the narrative. There was purpose behind all the bleakness and darkness, and it made the character that much deeper.
Lots of things happen, it is a full length book. But although there are plenty of scenes, not a lot happens. Many important scenes are wrapped in character dialogues and conversations, which isn’t bad, but characters can spend chapter after chapter just… talking to each other, without a lot really changing or the mystery evolving.
What’s more, the book has some interesting priorities. Or perhaps misplaced? The characters do an extensive amount of research, but they seem much more inclined to reclaiming their lost culture than finding out who, if anyone, has stolen arcane secrets from the institution. Which is fine, the search for their old lives is interesting in its own right. But that’s not how the book was marketed, and so I kept wondering about the mystery and when it was going to come back into the limelight. In some moments, it seemed almost entirely forgotten, before some character, in the numerous conversations, would bring it up again. It was always on the side, but never in the forefront.
Things come and go throughout the story, and I had a challenging time understanding what was mundane and what was cosmically important. Often, I would be deep into a conversation between characters before realizing, “oh, something is really happening here. Things are going places”. But those moments were rare. Just as often, I would think something was important, only to have the moment pass and consequences fall through the cracks, unexplored. Problems would arise, and then resolve. I thought of Max Landis talking about writing “and then” as opposed to “therefore”, in which there’s a significant difference. Moments just seemed to happen from a checklist, because the author wanted them to happen, rather than the characters making decisions and then dealing with the outcomes of those decisions, which is more compelling. Of course, I can’t know what Emrys was thinking, but it’s how I felt.
If you’re a fan of Lovecraft, like me, it’s an interesting exploration. The characters are well written enough for me to keep reading. If you have patience, the book can reveal some very entertaining moments. If you’re not a fan, or you’re not patient, it might be a struggle, but not impossible.
Try it, let me know what you think in the comments if you care. Otherwise, feel free to stick around, there are more books to be read. Posts about books might be rare, I have to buy an engagement ring for books since it takes me so long to finish them. But every couple weeks, I can write some thoughts down. I’m shooting for a thousand books read in my entire lifetime, not as easy as it sounds.
But that should be a lot of material for this blog <3.