I’m enjoying the current upswing in H.P. Lovecraft-influenced horror. Modern writers are expanding upon the best elements of his authorial legacy, like the Elder Gods, inter-dimensional travel, and Things Which Should Not Be, while setting aside (or, with regards to authors like Ruthanna Emrys and Victor Lavalle, directly subverting and confronting) the racism, classism, and sexism. Similarly-minded readers will want to make note of Red Right Hand (2016), Levi Black’s debut novel and a fine addition to the weird fiction genre.
Charlie Moore is a young woman with an impressive array of martial-arts skills and more emotional baggage than any one person should be asked to bear; something terrible happened when she was a teenager, and her years since then have been spent talking to therapists and training herself to survive almost any situation. One night, a gigantic man with, to quote an excellent song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “a dusty black coat and a red right hand,” shows up at Charlie’s house and saves her from a trio of hellhounds, though not before one of the beasts tears her ear to shreds. The man reveals himself to be Nyarlathotep, an ageless Elder God also known as the Crawling Chaos, and demands her assistance in preventing forces beyond her understanding from achieving their goal of eradicating humanity in stomach-churning, mind-destroying ways. He bestows tremendous power upon her — the ability to See between dimensions, to See the reality hiding behind human façades, and thus to strike where it is vulnerable — and to ensure her cooperation, he takes her friend Daniel hostage with the threat that, should Charlie disobey orders, Daniel will die horribly. Though he makes claims toward wanting to protect humanity, it’s clear that this Man in Black is anything but benevolent.
Black does a great job of conveying Charlie’s strength and determination, as well as her fear and confusion as the world she thought she knew is stripped away and she’s forced to reconcile her previous assumptions with a new reality. I also appreciated that Charlie begins this story as a tough-yet-vulnerable woman who grows even stronger as Red Right Hand progresses; while her past is hinted at and eventually confronted, and while her past informs the choices she makes when put in dangerous situations, Black heavily emphasizes Charlie’s present and potential future. Daniel’s sarcasm and unwavering emotional support further enrich the narrative: it would be easy for Black to simply tell the reader that Daniel and Charlie are friends, but he goes one step further by writing them as adults who respect and care for one another. Not only is this important because of what Charlie’s been through, it’s also important because of the scores of deranged cultists, countless tentacles, and massive cyclopean horrors they encounter. By puny human standards, Nyarlathotep is an awesome entity, inspiring both fanatical worship and mind-rending fear. The concept of the red right hand dates back to John Milton’s Paradise Lost as a signifier for the vengeful hand of God, and was popularized in 1994 in the aforementioned and fantastically creepy song, “Red Right Hand.” The image of a tall, powerfully-built man dressed in a long black coat with one red right hand is a potent one, and used to excellent effect.
Black also includes little nods to the body of work from Lovecraft and his contemporaries like Robert E. Howard, including shifting colors in space and the look of a person’s eyes, which won’t alienate unfamiliar readers but will definitely reward fans of the greater mythos. Even those who are novices when it comes to beings like Nyarlathotep or Cthulhu, and the sunken city beneath the stars, won’t need to keep a copy of Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon on hand in order to understand the principal and minor players in this tale. Black explains everything well, and in inventive enough ways that an old hand like myself was still thoroughly entertained. The level of detail is graphic and visceral, from the sound of a skinless hellhound’s footsteps to the odor of charred, still-living flesh, so I don’t recommend eating any snacks while reading Red Right Hand. I also don’t suggest reading this at night unless you’re in the mood to lie awake in the dark, wondering if that’s just a breeze rattling your window or a slippery, grasping tentacle.
Red Right Hand is a skillful amalgamation of old and new, and is a wonderful contribution to the effort to bring Lovecraft’s legacy into the modern age. I’m eager to read more of Charlie Moore’s adventures, and look forward to more phenomenal fiction from Levi Black. Highly recommended.
I watched the Nick Cave video. That wasn’t disturbing at all!
This sounds like a book I would enjoy.
No, not disturbing in the slightest! :D You’re the first person I was going to recommend this book to, actually.
Thanks for the review, Jana. Always looking for Lovercraft inspired stories.
Then I definitely recommend this one. Hope you enjoy it!
I just finished Red Right Hand and saw your review on Goodreads. I am not a horror fan, and I honestly cannot say why I continued reading RRH when I realized just how horrific it was becoming. But I gave it 5 stars, because I couldn’t stop reading it, and I want to read the sequel. Thanks for a great review.
It’s definitely a book that’s difficult to put down, and I’m very glad to hear that you liked it so much even if you aren’t a horror fan! Thanks for the feedback and for adding your own rating!