Title: The Devourer Below
Author: Josh Reynolds, Evan Dicken, Davide Mana, Georgina Kamsika, Thomas Parrott, David Annandale, Cath Lauria
Published by: Aconyte
Publication date: 6 Jul 2021
Genre: Horror/Mystery & Thriller
Something monstrous has come to Arkham, Massachusetts. There have always been shadows here, but now a new hunger has risen from the depths and threatens those who dwell here. But there are heroes too – people who stand up and fight to stem the tide, even when it costs them everything. Explore eight shocking new tales of occult horror, captivating mystery, and existential fear – from a zealous new heroine to conniving cultists, bootleg whiskey to night terrors, and fiends that crawl from open graves. A nightmare has fallen across Arkham, and it will devour all.
I was given an eARC of The Devourer Below by Aconyte Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review. I hope that you find my review of this book acceptable.
The Devourer Below is a short story anthology from the Arkham Horror setting – dealing with scenes of cosmic horror; dealing with unknowable horror rather than relying upon shock or violent horror. In The Devourer Below, there is a central theme to each of the short stories concentrating on one particular deity throughout the series of work. Each story within in written by a different author – aside from one which comes as a two-part series.
Running the Night Whiskey – Evan Dicken
A very solid start to the short story collection focusing on Leo, a lovable rogue who, along with a recently returned friend embarks on an illegal importing run. A fast-paced adventure novel that brings with it the undertones of something much more sinister.
The two central characters in this novel are well-written and have a flavour of their own while also working well together. The plot of exciting in itself and has scenes that dip into the overall feeling of horror. Each of the individual scenes were clear in their intent and there is a real feeling of connection with the characters and their thoughts and feelings to what was happening around them.
This short story sets the tone for the rest of the series of work and give the first glimpse of the overall theme of the future stories.
Shadows Dawning – Georgina Kamsika
Selfishly, I enjoyed this particular short story for the central character – Lita Chandler – who has turned up in a game that I play with my regular gaming group. It was insightful to read more of her back story and discovering more about her. There was a real feeling of desperation from the central character in her desire to uncover the truth behind a life-shattering event for her and I did find myself rooting for her tragic, yet, heroic cause.
As a story, I did find it somewhat weaker than others in the novel and a bit lacking in the ‘horror’ department. As a short story there wasn’t anything wrong with it per-say, but I didn’t connect with the plot as easily as some of the other stories within the collection.
The Hounds Below – Josh Reynolds
Mr Holsten is a journalist investigating the unsettling peculiarity of anthropophagic compulsion and seeks out mental asylum inmate Mr Drew in order to aid him on his quest for knowledge.
Featuring a broken narrative and a flash-back that details Mr Drew’s decent into the affliction, The Hounds Below is one of the strongest short stories in the anthology – chilling and intense, this one was a real page turner; filled with enough mystery to keep the reader guessing and a horrific twist of a conclusion.
Labyrinth – Thomas Parrott
The first of a two-parter in the anthology, setting the scene with Private Investigator Joe Diamond, who is on the case trying to safe the life of Nadia Leandros. The investigation takes him to the Miskatonic Universities Library where we’re transported back in time to the era of Mythical Greece, where a truly horrifying scene is set.
An atmospheric short story that keep the over-arching theme running throughout the rest of the series. While I had some struggles with the jump in time and wondering where the story was heading (not realising that it was going to be picked up again later in Sins in the Blood) I was left wondering if I’d missed something!
Still another solid entry in the collection.
All my Friends are Monsters – Davide Mana
A mystery themed horror novel that focuses on Ruth Turner, morgue worker by day, cross-dressing, speak-easy visiting, aficionado by night. Blackmailed by powerful individuals to ‘turn the other way’ in regards to aspects of her job, she makes a new set of ‘friends’ that threaten her blossoming relationship with Charlie.
Of all the stories in the anthology, this one was my personal favourite. I found it had a chilling atmosphere, despite some of the more up-beat elements to the story. There is a tragedy to Ruth and the events she endures and I found myself connecting to her plight. The plot felt more engaging and gripped me more than some of the other stories on offer, with a pace that felt well considered and came to a chilling crescendo.
The Darkling Woods – Cath Lauria
Wendy and James are orphans on the run. Escaping the clutches of gang hierarchy on Arkhams docks brings them to a run-down hostel in Riverside; near the Arkham Woods.
I wasn’t such a fan of this particular short story. I found the characters more difficult to connect to and their plight felt forced somehow. It wasn’t a poorly written story, but I did feel that there was something lacking on the horror level. Whereas the other stories all led to a chilling conclusion, this one didn’t feel like it had the same level of threat compared.
Professor Warren’s Investiture – David Annandale
Professor Peter Warren has been gathering evidence for his lifes work for the past 20ish years. Working doggedly to explain some of lifes greater mysteries – too much mockery by his colleagues at the Miskatonic University. Frustration abound, Peter finds himself at the Orne library where everything he wanted is delivered.
An interesting take on the overall theme of the stories! It offers a different insight into the cultists that have shown their faces time and again throughout the series. Offering a different perspective to the heroes and villians trope. While Professor Warren isn’t the easiest character to relate to his motivations are highly understandable due to the treatment he endures at the hands of his peers. It’s an engaging short story that had me partially enjoying and somehow cringing for the blindness of the lead character; very well written to inspire such conflicted emotions.
Sins in the Blood – Thomas Parrott
The concluding half of Labyrinth, building on the knowledge that has been imparted through research, Joe Diamond must do what he can in order to save Nadia Leandros the same fate suffered by her bloodline.
Sadly, I struggled with this particular short story; while it stands up as a good conclusion to the previous part, there were some characters that I struggled to connect with. I found waitress Agnes, was overbearing and tried to steal the show from Joe Diamond, rather than complimented him. The conclusion of the story was well-considered and brought the anthology to a sublime ending – just a shame it was hindered by such a bolshy character trying to shoe-horn her way into an otherwise decent plot.
Overall, I enjoyed the anthology and found the collection of short stories thrilling and chilling. As always, there were stories that I enjoyed and preferred over others – this is always going to be the case with short story collections – some conveyed the chilling horror of the Lovecraftian-inspired Arkham more successfully than others.
Some characters will connect more than others, some will even inspire insipid amounts of hatred. Due to the nature of the short story, I did feel that some characters weren’t as well developed or considered compared to others and while the overall theme of The Devourer Below was carried between each of the short stories at times I did feel that there was something lacking in the horror elements of the stories. None-to-often did it seem that there was much to cause our heroes any real level of concern for their overall well-being. They seemed to deal with what they were seeing with relative ease; considering the vastness of what they were having to contend with.
Each of the stories is of just the right length for the anthology, not once did I find myself becoming bored with any of the particular stories and nor did I feel like any of them were too short. They filled the time away over several evenings, taking my time to digest the information within.
The Devourer Below does a fantastic job of setting the scene for the Arkham Horror setting for those new to the world – giving a fantastic, collective, glimpse into the abject horror that can be found in the ill-fated city.
A wonderful collection of short stories that keeps The Devourer Below at its heart. Successfully carrying through a central theme throughout. With connected world building that helps newcomers understand the setting, while expanding upon this for those already canny with the universe. As always with short story anthologies, some stories were better than others and individual readers will pick their favourites from amongst the collection.