Winter Tide: Great premise, but it drags

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys fantasy book reviewsWinter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys fantasy book reviewsWinter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

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.

Deep Roots (The Innsmouth Legacy) Kindle Edition by Ruthanna Emrys (Author)


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.

Published in 2017. The last daughter of Innsmouth returns to Miskatonic University in this bold and compassionate new take on the Cthulhu mythos. After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature. Winter Tide is the debut novel from Ruthanna Emrys. It is the first book in the Innsmouth Legacy series.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. I enjoyed Emrys’ original novelette quite a lot, so it’s disappointing to hear that you didn’t enjoy Winter Tide! I’d be curious to hear what you think of “The Litany of Earth” in comparison, should you get the chance to read it.

  2. Paul Connelly /

    Still reading it, but I somewhat agree with what you say. The story *feels* slow, mostly because the narrative voice doesn’t seem to vary much emotionally. Aphra and Caleb have been deeply wronged, and they traverse a range of emotion from mourning (for what was lost) to resentment (for the way they and the Japanese American internees have been treated). Aphra is more mournful and Caleb more resentful, but after a while they bring to mind the Dorothy Parker crack about Katharine Hepburn’s acting running the whole gamut of emotion from A to B. The small variation in emotion gives the story a subdued tone that makes it feel a bit less eventful than it actually is.

    But I’ve still got another hundred pages to go, so my opinion may change.

    • Paul, I think that’s a good insight and I agree. These characters have some things to be passionate about, but I felt very little passion from them. When I was writing my review, I briefly considered whether this may be the fault of the audiobook narrator, but decided it was not.

      • Paul Connelly /

        It actually picked up in intensity right after i resumed reading, at the point where the FBI team’s misguided summoning ritual goes wrong. But there was an awful lot of the book where people reacted in a very stolid (or in Audrey’s case, blase) way to some pretty weird things, which lessened the dramatic impact.

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