I love the premise of Winter Tide. It’s about a sister and brother (Aphra and Caleb Marsh) who were living in Innsmouth when it was invaded by the U.S. government in 1928 (a fictional town and event created by H.P. Lovecraft). The Marshes and their neighbors were descendants, and worshipers, of the Great Old Ones…. you know, like Dagon and Cthulhu. Paranoid, the government sent them to detention camps, keeping them there until the Japanese-Americans were released from the camps in 1946. Away from the ocean and their gods, only siblings Aphra and Caleb survived the experience.
Now the government wants their help. The cold war has begun and there is some intel suggesting the Russians are trying to gain access to eldritch secrets, particularly the magic that could allow someone to switch into another person’s body. If the Russians find the information they seek, they could use it as a way to infiltrate the U.S. government.
The secrets may be written in one of the many books seized from Innsmouth in 1928. They are being stored in a restricted area of the Miskatonic University library (another of Lovecraft’s creations). The Marsh siblings are willing to help, but only because they want access to their people’s books (including The Necronomicon). With the assistance of a couple of friends and some college students they meet along the way, they hope to reclaim their library.
As I said, I love the premise of Ruthanna Emrys’ debut novel; it’s unique and clever. She stays totally true to Lovecraft’s mythos, yet gives us a completely different perspective, and one that can be related to our world’s current (and constant) struggles with prejudice and suspicion of the immigrant.
Emrys’ prose is quite nice and suits the atmosphere. I also love the setting. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that Innsmouth and Miskatonic University were real places — Emrys, clearly familiar with Lovecraft’s work, makes them come alive. And I’m always up for a story set on a college campus, especially when the library plays such an important role.
I should have loved everything about Winter Tide, but I didn’t. Mostly that’s because the story moves so slowly and so much of the plot involves meetings and talking. (There is more talking than doing.) Several times the protagonists have trance-like sessions in which they connect with each other emotionally, but I just didn’t feel it. When there was tension, it was usually resolved before the story got exciting, as if the story was being reigned in before it got out of control. And there were times when I just didn’t believe in the characters’ actions. In the final climactic scenes, I found myself distracted, thinking about what I was going to read next. I was disappointed in this because I so much admire what this story could have been.
Winter Tide is a sequel (demanded by fans) to Emry’s novelette called “The Litany of the Earth.” I think I might enjoy the novelette better and will put that on my TBR list. Winter Tide has been nominated for Locus’ 2018 Best First Novel Award. I listened to the audio version which was produced by Macmillan Audio and nicely narrated by Gabra Zackman. It’s 12.5 hours long. A sequel, Deep Roots, will be released next month.