Deep Roots (2018), a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, is the sequel to Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide. This Lovecraft-inspired story is about a race of Americans living in the 1940s who worship, and are related to, the eldritch gods. They are long-lived and, when they eventually mature, they may grow gills and return to the sea.
Most of the People of the Water were exterminated or dispersed when the American government, spooked by their foreignness, rounded them up and put them in detention camps. As far as Aphra and her brother Caleb know, they are the only ones who survived.
Now, with the help of the FBI, Aphra and Caleb are trying to track down any lost relatives so they can bring them to Innsmouth and rebuild their community before real estate developers buy it all up. When the siblings find out about a likely cousin, they learn that he has recently disappeared. As they track him down, they discover that there are other Old Ones who are meddling in human affairs and do not necessarily have humans’ best interests in mind.
As I mentioned in my review of Winter Tide, I love the premise of Ruthanna Emrys’ stories. Inserting descendants and worshipers of the Elder Gods into the context of the Cold War and McCarthyism makes for a strange atmospheric tale that provides a platform for thinking about stereotyping, prejudice, and ghettoizing.
The brilliance of Winter Tide and Deep Roots is that Emrys makes us feel that it’s all very real and that these people may actually be living among us. Then, as we are hoping that Aphra and Caleb, who worship Cthulhu and other Old Ones, will be successful in their goal to round up and grow their congregation, we recognize the danger that the Old Ones represent for humanity. It’s a challenging mix of emotions.
Fans of Winter Tide will love Deep Roots. Both stories are slow moving — a little too slow for me — though Deep Roots is better paced than Winter Tide. But the leisurely pace, the numerous lovely descriptive passages, the characters’ introspections and ruminations, and the lack of flashy action scenes enhances the sense that these are real people living in our world.
Macmillan Audio’s version, which is 12 hours long, is nicely narrated by Gabra Zackman who managed to make all those Eldritch words sound chillingly otherworldly.