Cover Image: Wrath of N'kai

Wrath of N'kai

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I hadn't read an Arkham/Lovecraft story before, but very much enjoyed it. Loved the characters of Alessandra and especially Pepper, would love to see more of their adventures in the future. The whodunnit aspect of who'd stolen the mummy I didn't feel that interested in, but the core plot of the mess Alessandra had gotten herself into and how she was going to get out given she was dealing with otherworldly forces was great. I enjoyed that it was focused on those characters rather than too much of the actual cults or gods, though the passages from the Other One folding in on himself to hide were also enjoyable.
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(posted to Goodreads)
Review copy provided by the publisher.

I'm familiar with Josh's work for Black Library but this is the first book I've read of his outside that range, and the first under the Arkham Horror banner. 

Wrath of N'Kai is a pulp adventure/thriller set in the titular American town of Arkham between the wars, starring gentlewoman-thief Alessandra Zorzi and a supporting cast of expected and unexpected characters. Bootleggers, detectives, professors, hoodlums, cultists and cabbies all make an appearance, but the passages from the perspective of a being beyond mortal understanding are highlights.

There are echoes of Indiana Jones here, both in the time period as well as the occult-archaeology of the piece's villains. Zorzi is more Belloq than Jones, however, as she is in the hunt for the artifact in question for mercenary motives only. She is a specialised thief servicing a high-class clientele of dabblers in historical curiosities. In Arkham to obtain a recently unearthed mummy, she quickly finds herself up against rivals willing to kill to secure it themselves, and with an employer positively eager to kill her if she should fail.

While Zorzi's line of work makes her an ideal candidate to star in a potential series of pulp adventures, I found her sidekick Pepper to be the most compelling character. A recent arrival to Arkham who disguises her gender to work as a cab driver, she's well out of her depth both socially and esoterically but makes a great foil for our protagonist, and the character I most wanted to know more about after finishing.

While there is a supernatural mystery for Zorzi to unravel and some unnerving moments, this was never a particularly horrifying tale. It plays into the tropes you might expect, but with just enough twists on them to keep things interesting. I felt a bit more could have been done to describe Arkham to me, if it's to be the setting of a series of books, though that may not be what's intended. As it is the Arkham of Arkham Horror feels a bit bare-bones.

Overall I enjoyed it, particularly the character Pepper and seeing the point of view of a gribbly horror. I would have appreciated some more detail in the setting, but this did allow the plot to keep up a rollicking pace. If "Gentlewoman-thief and plucky cab driver plot to steal a mummy amongst a between-the-wars cast of socialites, gangsters, academics and cultists" sounds like a good time then I heartily recommend Wrath of N'Kai.
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What a fun ride this book was! It has everything I could personally want in a Cthulhu Mythos adventure story - copious references to Lovecraft’s stories, a grisly mystery, the occult, evil sorcerers, and a healthy sprinkling of nasty Mythos monsters. It’s enough to make a girl like me swoon. And to top it all off it has a mummy!

The Arkham Horror fiction line does a wonderful job walking the fine line where Lovecraft fans like me can appreciate all of their references to his Mythos while not excluding those who are new to Lovecraft’s world. The liberal use of Arkham Horror’s game characters work the same way - fun usage of characters that fans of the game will enjoy while being just characters that fit into the narrative for those who aren’t familiar. The references don’t distract and won’t confuse those who haven’t read the stories, but rather just give you a sense of a larger universe that has many stories to tell. 

I loved all of the callbacks to Lovecraft’s The Mound. If you’ve read that story there are names and characters that will be very familiar, and I enjoyed every moment a certain recurring character would show up. I feel The Mound is a very underrated Lovecraft story and I’m glad to see it get some love here. You can really tell the author Josh Reynolds has a love for the source material.
 
Wrath of N’kai has been one of my favorite reads of the year so far, and an excellent start to Arkham Horror’s new trilogy. I eagerly look forward to the next two books! 

My thanks to Netgalley for a review copy.
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What we have here is a classic 1920’s pulp cthulhuoid classic: A noir Cthulhu Mythos horror mystery. It is an Arkham Horror novel, a tie in to the popular board game of the same name and published by Aconyte Books. This is a solid book at 336 pages so it definitely took me a few sittings to get through.  I had an idea of what I would be getting into when I saw the title and the cover and was not disappointed. This book treads familiar waters to anyone who has played Call of Cthulhu or Arkham Horror.

Wrath of N’kai is a solidly written tale that delivers a fast-paced story with ample amounts of action, intrigue, and mystery. I loved the cover, with a flapper-type femme fatale holding a gun and behind her some horrible entity is emerging from the mist on the night of a full moon. The art work perfectly represents what kind of story is inside.

The lead character is an international cat burglar named Alessandra Zorzi who is tasked by a mysterious deep-pocketed organization to steal a mummy from an exhibit at a certain college in Arkham, Massachusetts. Of course, things don’t go as planned and mystery and intrigue ensue. Secret societies, rival gangs, unhinged college professors, rich occultists, and ancient evil add to the web of mystery that must be unraveled. I really didn’t know where it was going until the end so it was a good page-turner. Some of the characters were a little one dimensional but that goes with the genre. I can see this book being good inspiration for someone running a Call of Cthulhu RPG. I especially enjoyed the parts of the book that focused on the Great Old One’s point of view, which adds a nice touch.
I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Between its weird cults, fast-talking gangsters and ancient horrors, Wrath of N’Kai squeezes so much pulp into its pagecount that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a squashed orange. This is not, however, a bad thing.

The fast-paced book draws us into a tale of Countess Alessandra Zorzi, international thief and daring adventurer, as she takes on a contract in the small town of Arkham, Massachusetts. Naturally, what starts out as a larcenous trip through high society parties and prohibition-era speakeasies soon descends into a web of mystical horror. Almost from the moment you turn the first page Zorzi is brushing up against secret societies, consulting dusty old professors about lost artefacts and tangling with tommy-gun-toting gangsters.

It is not, to be frank, the most original plot in the world. In fact, it’s pretty much the kind of story you’d expect an algorithm to spit out after you fed it a stack of Cthulhu Mythos products and Arkham Horror games. However, it’s delivered at such a rollicking pace and with so much frenetic charm that you’re unlikely to actually care.

This isn’t the kind of book to ponder and ruminate on, but rather the ideal thing to make a lengthy train journey fly past in the blink of an eye. It’s something to crack open when you get into bed, and then accidentally tear through in a single sleepy sitting.

On the thought of late nights, it’s also worth pointing out that despite its obvious Lovecraftian influences, Wrath of N’Kai is not – strictly speaking – a horror story. Yes, there are occasional elements pulled from Lovecraft’s weird and creepy tales, but these are mostly used to drive the action rather than spook out a terrified reader.

Instead, it sits rather neatly in the category of pulp adventure, tinged with the set-dressing and stylings of the Arkham Horror board games. If you’re already a fan of those you can expect a scattershot of references and cameos, such as the presence of the Silver Twilight Lodge, but I doubt you need any extensive knowledge of the series to have a good time with Wrath of N’Kai.

Honestly, all you really need to get on with the book is a desire for a little fun. Blood-soaked, otherworldly fun, but fun nonetheless.
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It's fair to say I have barely scratched the surface of the Arkham universe. Early on in my gaming life I picked up Elder Sign, giving me my first insight into the Massachusetts town where nothing is as it seems. While it was good, the story wasn't really there, with the theme feeling more like a monster of the week game set in a Ripley's Believe it or Not. While I've played many Cthulhu themed games in the years that followed, none of them really dragged me into the story. Mostly they relied on the titular tentacled monster on card art and named a mechanic "sanity".

It wasn't until I picked up Arkham Horror: The Card Game that the story of the Arkham universe started to flesh out (sometimes far too literally) in front of my very eyes. Giving you a series of campaign missions with choices made during gameplay changing the story in future missions. Arkham LCG tells the tale of hapless investigators who soon find out that the world is a whole lot stranger than they could ever imagine. While the Arkham LCG is a highly story driven game, one thing I have never managed to pick up is one of the many novellas set in the universe. Each containing an investigator card ready to add to your games these small books sought to drag you further into the life of an Investigator. My understanding from more experienced Arkham players is that you bought these for the bonus cards, not for the literature.


Which brings us on to today's review. Wrath of N'kai is the first in a line of full fledged novels set in the Arkham Horror universe, bravely releasing without any included bonus cards! Wrath of N'Kai follows the story of Countess Alessandra Zorzi, a thief, and a damn good one at that. Over the years she has earned something of a reputation for her abilities to steal abnormal treasures from museums and private collections. Only to deposit them into completely different people's museums and private collections. Why do people want these odd carvings, statues and amulets? Damned if she cares, all she cares is that the money keeps coming in from the wealthy oddballs and their love of the macabre.

Anyone who knows anything about the Arkham universe would therefore assume that the countess' line of work has resulted in her coming face to face with the strange creatures that dwell beyond human sight more than once. But Wrath of N'kai is more of a 'coming of age' story than one of a seasoned investigator. At the start of the book she is in denial that there is anything that can't be logically explained, and while she has encountered the occasional oddity in her past, in her mind this can all be explained away, or repressed. Unsurprisingly this is not to last. Alessandra comes to Arkham with a job to steal the archaeological find of a lifetime: an American mummy. Curiously this is not one that died of natural causes and got preserved, but one that bares the markings of ritualistic mummification never before seen in America.

The story then develops with twists and turns that I won't spoil here, comrades and enemies alike are made. Strange goings on get stranger and stranger until ultimately they can't be denied any longer and there's a cult. It's Arkham. There's always a cult. The story is gripping enough, though hardly about to become a classic. There were certainly some characters that I could have told you their character progression when they were first introduced. The characters are predictable even to their final story beats, which is a bit of a shame as I do prefer my horror stories willing to be horrifying.

Where the book does extremely well is in fitting the mood of Arkham. You get to explore this world while sitting on the shoulders of someone else who is only just discovering it.  Meanwhile the locals all see to understand some underlying rules that no-one quite talks about. While I'm all for the increasing paranoia in the characters showing an increasing understanding, and dread, of what is going on. This might have been handled without every third sentence being about Alessandra reaching for, or putting away her gun. I genuinely think that her sidearm is the second most mentioned character in the book! The creatures of the mythos are also done a hard deal in the book, oh sure they are scary, in your typical biology that "defies explanation" way that Cthulhu monsters are, but despite being powerful things fighting soft, squishy humans they don't fare as well as you might expect.

Perhaps though, that is me looking at Wrath of N'kai in the wrong light. The story isn't as horrific as other Cthulhu stories I've encountered, the odds are not as far against our heroes. This isn't a Horror book, it's a pulp book with tentacles. When looked at with this lens everything starts to make more sense, and it's not a bad thing for it to be. The book is gripping from start to finish, the mystery successfully drives it and the villains are nasty enough to keep you entertained and understand the character's fear, if not instilling any into you. Overall it's a good read which makes for a great entrance into the world of Arkham Horror.
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Aconyte Books’ exploration of the world of Arkham Horror begins in fine style with Josh Reynolds’ Wrath of N’Kai, an entertainingly dark tale of a gentlewoman thief getting more than she bargained for. Countess Alessandra Zorzi has been commissioned to travel to Arkham, where a recently-discovered ancient American mummy is to be displayed, and steal it. What sounds like a relatively simple job, however, is complicated by the presence of an investigator from the insurance company underwriting the exhibition, and the dawning realisation that there’s more going on than meets the eye in both Arkham’s criminal underworld and its wealthy upper class.

What seems at first to be building up to a heist story quickly turns into much more of a mystery, as Alessandra’s plans are scuppered by the arrival of others who whisk the mummy away before she has the chance to make her move. Despite the Arkham Horror label this is more occult fantasy than outright horror, its pulp stylings perfectly suited to the 1920s America in which it takes place. The setting is heavily built upon the Lovecraftian mythos, but here that provides the backdrop to an evocative, entertaining mystery/adventure which stands on its own whether or not the reader is aware of Lovecraft or Arkham Horror already. Take away the monster(s), however, and you’d still be left with an enjoyable mystery to untangle, the sort of enjoyable, character-driven, personal-stakes story that Reynolds writes consistently well. It’s great fun, and hopefully not the last we’ve seen of Countess Alessandra Zorzi.
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(Review originally posted at https://fistfulofmeeples.wordpress.com/2020/05/29/book-review-wrath-of-nkai/)

For anyone who missed the announcements, the newly-launched Aconyte Books (an Asmodee subsidiary) are going to be putting out tie-in fiction for some of their major game-lines: Keyforge, Legend of the Five Rings, Terrinoth (Descent, Runebound, Legend of Dragonholt etc) and – most importantly for today – Arkham Horror!

It’s been several years since FFG produced tie-in novels for Arkham. The Dark Waters Trilogy, the Lord of Nightmares Trilogy, and (my personal favourite) Feeders From Within were entertaining stories in their own right, although they seem to have slipped to non-cannonical status since the soft-reboot of Arkham lore which came with 2017’s The Investigators of Arkham Horror. 
We also have, of course, had some novellas direct from FFG, often (unfairly in my opinion) dismissed as “those things the promo cards come in,” but this is the first time in a long while that we’ve had full-length fiction to really sink our teeth into.

The first of 2 announced Arkham novels coming from Aconyte, Wrath of N’Kai is written by Joshua Reynolds, a prolific writer who brings a huge amount of experience from writing Warhammer tie-in fiction, as well as his own original creations (you can find out more about his work here - https://joshuamreynolds.co.uk/)

I was lucky to get my hands on a review copy of Wrath of N’Kai, and, whilst I haven’t seen the final, published book yet, I’ve seen enough of the writing and the story to be able to share a few thoughts with everyone today…

Our protagonist for The Wrath of N’Kai, is one Countess Alessandra Zorzi, a self-declared “acquisitionist” (you or I would probably say “thief…”). Specialising in the acquisition of weird and esoteric items, Alessandra has come to Arkham to steal a mummy, recently unearthed from a mound in Oklahoma, of all places. Unfortunately for her, she is not the only interested party, and Alessandra soon finds herself becoming rather more familiar with Arkham than she would have liked, caught between numerous factions as she tries to uncover the truth, get paid, and maybe even make it out alive.
Alessandra herself is an interesting character. The author does a good job in presenting us with a loveable rogue who we can sympathise with, despite her chosen occupation being squarely on the wrong side of the law. We’re gradually given hints at her background, previous brushes with the supernatural, as well as some thoroughly human tragedy in her past: there’s enough there to make her feel real without overwhelming us with an info-dump, or removing that element of mystery.
The story starts off at a good pace, and events keep ticking along at a rate to keep us engaged. I felt like the plot got a little bit loose in the middle, but by then, hopefully, you’re engaged enough with the story and the key characters that you won’t mind too much.
If, like me, you’re coming to Wrath of N’Kai as an huge Arkham Horror Files fan, one of your biggest questions is probably whether your favourite investigators will be putting in an appearance. I’m on a strict “no-spoilers” warning, so won’t be naming any names, but I counted 4 who actually appeared, (plus a 5th who gets mentioned by name). Of these, 2 are essentially cameo appearances, whilst the others get to actually make a proper contribution to events.
In some respects, the FFG-investigators were the one aspect of Wrath of N’Kai that I found a bit disappointing: in particular, the one who appears the most never feels particularly developed as a character, even by the end. However, that probably says as much about the expectations and preconceptions I already had about the character (and how I would have expected them to have behaved) as it does about their depiction in the novel.
Unlike the FFG novellas, the board/card-game Investigators are not the stars of the show, and whilst they play a key part in making Arkham feel like Arkham, Wrath of N’Kai is primarily its own story: Alessandra, her sidekick, her foil, her chief adversary – are all new creations from Reynolds’ pen, and these characters all feel believable enough for a story of this length.
Whilst Alessandra herself is an intriguing character, the real reason that Wrath of N’Kai works is that Reynolds has captured the flavour of Arkham so well. This might not be Lovecraft’s Arkham – Wrath of N’Kai certainly isn’t a work of cosmic horror – but it is FFG and Chaosium’s Arkham. That subtle, creeping, wrongness that leaves an all-pervasive sense of unease, the nagging voice that cuts through the loudest jazz and gunfire. There are appearances from plenty of key Arkham figures, those recurring characters who crop up in many of the stories, but beyond that, the city itself is a character

All-in-all, I really enjoyed Wrath of N’Kai. Tie-in fiction always walks a difficult line, and I think this book does it well. We have an engaging lead whose story you will want to follow, plenty of Easter-Eggs for die-hard fans, but also a work that is accessible for those with only the most superficial knowledge of the setting. If this is the standard that we can expect from Aconyte, then I’ll be watching their upcoming releases with interest.
As someone who reads a lot of secondary world Fantasy, I could find holes to pick in the world-building, but you don’t need to spend long looking at the cover to understand that Wrath of N’Kai is wearing its pulpy heart on its sleeve. This is a fast-paced story that doesn’t burden you with more detail than the story really needs. All-in-all a satisfying read.
 Now we just need to lobby FFG for Alessandra to start appearing in the games...
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After my review of Tales from The Crucible, Aconyte reached out to set me up with a new copy of Wrath if N’Kai by Josh Reynolds.

So here are some disclaimers which are always important to put out there first. I am a friend of Josh on Facebook, and whilst we aren’t beat buds, we do interact with each other and I consider him a class person, and I have very much enjoyed his work with Black Library.

Secondly I have a casual work contact with Asmodee to demonstrate board games for them in stores and at conventions. Asmodee being the parent company of Aconyte the publisher.

I am going to try my best to not let these things cloud my judgement in this review, but I accept that subconsciously it might.

So Arkham Horror is not a game I have actually played, I fancy it, but me and the Cthulhu mythos have never been quite on the same wavelength.

I have never read any H.P. Lovecraft books, my first exposure to them was at a small convention in London when I was about 12, it was actually a convention for Corps of Drums, not even speculative fiction.

Basically an older chap was reading a book and it lead into a discussion lead by a BAME person about the issues of racism in his work, and even the chap reading the book was pretty clear that there was some nasty racism in some of his work.

As I said I have never read any, that discussion put me off, but I have read stuff by other authors, never a novel, usually short stories and played games set in the mythos. I have so many Cthulhu expansions for games that one would think I am a huge fan.

I can play all of Munchkin Cthulhu, get all the references and jokes, but as I said never read a single Lovecraft story.

It’s a gap in my knowledge that I am actually going to try and fill, I was recently gifted an audiobook of the complete fiction of Lovecraft, so am considering giving that a listen, but I will admit the racism is something that I will be on edge about.

What is Arkham Horror

Anyway that put to one side, let’s look at this book, by first looking at the game Arkham Horror which is a cooperative game, originally designed by Richard Launius, and is now in its third edition which was released in 2019.

It’s published by Fantasy Flight Games, a subsidiary of Asmodee, and is set in 1926 in the town of Arkham, Massachusetts. Each player takes on the role of an investigator, who are working to stop the Ancient Ones, eldritch horrors which lurk in the void beyond space and time.

It’s a 1-6 player game and you work together to gather clues and defeat the evil of the Ancient Ones and save the world.

As I said I haven’t actually played Arkham Horror but I do own its spin off Elder Sign the cooperative dice game.

The Story

It’s a 1920 whodunit told mostly from the perspective of master thief Countess Alessandra Zorzi who arrives in the town of Arkham, hired by a mysterious cabal to steal a newly discovered mummy.

The eldritch prologue sets you up for some occult horror, but the book largely steered clear of that, which given that the protagonist is not that familiar with the intricacies of the occult makes sense.

The setting is deep and rich, with gangsters and bootleggers, all speaking with 1920s US slang. It’s a real atmospheric period piece that evokes the days of prohibition, with just a hint of eldritch terror and added tommy guns.

Alessandra herself is a very three dimensional character and extremely well developed beyond the trope of the aristocratic thief. We see her backstory teased out over the book, learning more about her as we go though, and as I said, she is more than just the trope.

Her driver Pepper was actually my favourite character in the story, they have their own secret, although this is revealed early on. They are full of spunk and as mentioned by a gangster they deal with, moxie.

It’s a really fast paced book, that I literally devoured over two sittings, one that got me 20% of the way in and the rest in an evening that kept me reading until 3am! I was just utterly drawn in by the story with its twists and turns.

As I said I haven’t played Arkham Horror, but I have played Elder Sign and I recognised lots of elements of that games story mechanics in this book.

And given my surface knowledge of Lovecrafts work, I did recognise a few little nods to those within the story that will please those who are more familiar.

There is a bit of a creep factor in there, and there were certainly bits that had my skin crawling just a little, but not so much to put me off. It’s very light in terms of horror, which makes it very accessible.

Conclusion

Personally I loved this book, it was a throughly enjoyable story which whilst grounded in the Cthulhu mythos, did not delve into it too deeply, nor did it require me to have more than passing knowledge.

In fact I think if a layperson was to pick up this book and read it, they would get on with it perfectly fine without knowing a thing about the mythos.

This book was great and for me it was a fantastic read. I particularly enjoyed a strong female protagonist who at no point needed any romantic entanglements, and the pulpy 1920s nature of the story was just delightful.

I really hope that the countess and Pepper return to Arkham for some more adventures, this is kind of hinted at, but please Josh, do it!

http://biggeordiegeek.uk/2020/05/15/wrath-of-nkai/
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Thank you to Aconyte Books for providing me with an advance review copy.

Wrath of N’kai is the newest novel set in the Arkham Horror universe by Fantasy Flight Games, and the first from Acontye Books. For those that remain blissfully unaware of the ancient things that lurk in the shadows, the Arkham Horror universe is set primarily in 1920s America and based largely on the works of H.P Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos.

Wrath of N'kai follows the European thief Countess Alessandra Zorzi who is hired by a mysterious employer to steal a recently excavated mummy found in middle America. During her visit to the public showing of the mummy in Arkham, a third party crashes the party and steals the mummy at gunpoint. Helped by her trusty cabbie, Pepper, Zorzi must hunt down the thieves and the mummy and reclaim it for her employer. What follows is a dive into the occult and the weird goings on in the city of Arkham.

Alessandra is a very strong willed, competent woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind. Written primarily from her perspective, what begins as a routine job quickly descends into something far more sinister the longer she stays in Arkham. As I mentioned, this touches on the fringes of Lovecraft's Mythos. Elder gods and lore are there, but not well explored which works very well as Alessandra, at the start, has no idea that things, in Arkham, do go bump in the night.

This book was a joy to read. Josh Reynolds has made a very enjoyable story that touches the fringes of Lovecraft's Mythos whilst still being inclusive to those that aren't aware of the world Lovecraft created from either his books or Fantasy Flight Games card and board games.
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I could write a long paper about this book, full of blah blah but I want to be short: I loved this story and it was a lot of fun to read.
Horror, action, adventure and great characters.
I can only strongly recommend it.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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Objectively speaking, this is a stellar book. I enjoy the way Josh Reynolds has of writing, it's an era which I'm very fond of, the plot is interesting and the characters are well written, but subjectively, I feel like there's something missing. 

I'm not a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I haven't read much and with the exception of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which is to this day one of my favorite horror stories, I can't say that what I *have* read was all that interesting. The concept of eldritch gods *should* be something that really appeals to me, but Lovecraftiana is too abstract, too fuzzy and undefined to be interesting or scary. 
And that is my "issue" with The Wrath of N'Kai as well. 

Like I said, objectively this is a good story, and I think that the author is very adept at writing - I liked the little easter egg homages to Lovecraft hidden here and there - and I think that for those who love Lovecraft's imagination, this will be a treat.
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The world of Arkham Horror Files (usually just referred to as Arkham Horror these days) has been around since the publication of the first edition of the eponymous board game from Fantasy Flight Games. Best known from a series of follow-up board and card games (including my favorite board game of the last decade, the second edition of Mansions of Madness), Arkham Horror presents a Lovecraft-infused version of the roaring 20s, focused on the town of Arkham, then expanding out to all of New England and sometimes across the globe. It features eldritch adventure, investigators (alone or in teams), scholarly researchers, occult societies, organized crime, and – being in the Cthulhu Mythos genre – mysterious entities who threaten sanity in addition to life and limb.

In addition to the games, which are themselves steeped in a lot of flavor, Arkham Horror has been accompanied by stand-alone works of fiction for the last decade. That’s included a series of full-length novels and has more recently featured novellas tied in with Arkham Horror: The Card Game. With the release of Wrath of N’kai, Arkham Horror is moving back to longer-form fiction. The novel, written by Josh Reynolds (author of many books set in the Warhammer/40K universe) and published by Aconyte Books (the new book-publishing arm of Asmodee Entertainment), is scheduled to arrive on May 5, 2020.

Wrath of N’kai stars Countess Alessandra Zorzi, an international thief of occult curiosities, who has traveled to not-so-sleepy Arkham for a job involving the exhibition of a strange mummy recently unearthed in Oklahoma. Once there, she picks up a sidekick (cabbie Pepper Kelly), but gets beaten to the punch when gangsters snatch the mummy during a daylight gunfight. This leaves Zorzi stuck between an angry (and rather scary) employer, a police/insurance investigation, the unknown employer of the gangsters, a gruesome serial killer, and various factions in the city. To top it off, as Zorzi learns during the robbery, the mummy is not just a dead body, but a harbinger of terrors to come.

Zorzi’s position as an outsider means that readers don’t have to worry about whether they’re coming in with an extensive knowledge of the Arkham Horror universe – because the primary protagonist doesn’t know anything about it, the reader doesn’t need to go in knowing anything either. Kelly provides some exposition and local color as needed, but the Reynolds generally avoids compressed information overloads. While this slow rollout is solid for explaining the world, it doesn’t hold up quite as well for Zorzi herself, whose seemingly-shifting motivations leave the character feeling a bit muddled. I enjoyed the character (who reminds me of no one so much as Lady Christina de Souza from the Dr. Who episode Planet of the Dead), but I didn’t leave the novel with a hankering to see her appear in the next game expansion.

Zorzi borders on omnicompetent – she’s a highly-skilled thief, knows how to brawl and fire a machine gun, is multilingual, and possesses a potpourri of high-level classical education. However, she avoids coming across as annoyingly competent because most of this is used for flavor and witty commentary. The investigation itself is reminiscent of film noir, not Sherlock Holmes. Like a hardboiled detective moving through misty black-and-white streets, Zorzi successively pushes at the various suspects and involved parties, advancing the plot by seeing what information they cough up directly or through their reactions. She ultimately figures out who’s behind things (well, the human part of them, anyway) not by analyzing hard evidence (although there is some of that), but primarily by an examination of human motivation and opportunity. The supernatural elements of the plot are less prominent than usual for Arkham Horror (although still within the error bars); knowing what occult phenomenon is taking place is less significant than knowing what the humans are getting up to.

Past fiction set in the Arkham Horror universe have varied in their use of established characters, from extensive featuring of a wide selection of investigators known from the games to basically no mention of anyone you’d ever have heard before picking up the novel. As those who read my prior look at the Arkham Horror novels will know, I personally prefer the latter. There are around 50 investigators from the various games and expansions, and the canon of Arkham Horror fiction is not so large that I yearn for fiction set in the world that doesn’t include any of them. Wrath of N’kai is somewhere in between. Of the four semi-protagonists in the book, only Tommy Muldoon is an established character. However, other figures are drawn from the established world, including Carl Sanford (of the Silver Twilight Lodge) and Harvey Walters/Daisy Walker (of Miskatonic University). Some locations I was familiar with (the Orne Library), but others I was not (for example, there are two hotels mentioned in the book, but neither is the previously-featured Excelsior).

Overall, Wrath of N’kai is a nice introduction to Arkham Horror, although it’s more Chandler and less Lovecraft than is usual for the universe. In this, plus the selection of a newcomer protagonist, Wrath of N’kai leans in on favoring the newcomer over the 15-year veteran. Wrath of N’kai isn’t going to depose my favorite Arkham Horror fiction (the stand-alone Feeders from Within by Peter Evans and the Dark Waters trilogy by Graham McNeill), but it’s a solid entry in the canon. This makes Wrath of N’kai both a good introduction to the setting and a worthwhile read for the long-time fan.
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A Loveraftian piece of pul fiction set in the classic 1920's era. With a female lead! What a nice change of pace. Tough guys, tougher women, blazing guns, eldritch horrors. What more could you want? With the passing of C.J. Henderson there has been a lack of pulpy Cthulhu fiction. (It's out there, but hard to find). Hopefully, this reboot of the Arkham Horror line of fiction is the start of a new series featuring Countess Zorzi by the always rollicking Josh Reynolds. Just remember to count your fingers (or tentacles, your mileage may vary) when she leaves the room.
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Wrath of N’kai

Josh Reynolds

Aconyte Books

In the current climate, reading and reviewing horror titles really isn't doing it for me, if I'm being completely honest - I think I need to do some reading (and reviewing) of titles that aren't completely bound up in doom and gloom, and go for things that are at least slightly more upbeat in nature. A good way to start along that journey is to read the second Advanced Review Copy (ARC) I received from new publisher Aconyte Books: Wrath of N'Kai by Josh Reynolds, the first title in a new Arkham Horror series. This feels like it's going to act a sort of 'bridge' for me, a stepping-stone from the horror genre staples that are my bread and butter on this blog, to some science-fiction and perhaps even fantasy titles.

I was a huge fan of the old Arkham Horror novels that came out about a decade or so ago, and was sad to see them go out of print and the brand seemingly go into retirement, so you can probably imagine just how excited I was to see that Aconyte Books had the license to start up a whole new series of Arkham Horror titles, starting with Wrath of N'Kai. The title is intriguing and suitably Lovecraftian in nature, and that gorgeous noirish front cover artwork, evoking the old 1930s and 1940s black and white films, is superlative work by illustrator Daniel Strange. In addition, Josh Reynolds is a brilliant writer who can twist and meld the occult detective genre to do weird and wonderful things, so I couldn't wait to get reading and see what this new iteration of Arkham Horror had to offer me as a reader. Just who - or more likely what - is N'Kai; and what form will their wrath take?

After an unsettling, eldritch-drenched prologue that deftly sets up the background to the novel, and hints at some of the occult action to come in future chapters, we are introduced to our protagonist, Countess
Alessandra Zorzi, international adventurer and thief. She's one of those occult detective characters that Reynolds is just so good at creating and then imbuing with unique and engaging attributes. Cool, calm and collected on the surface, but with her own fears and worries lurking just below it, she breezes through life as an aristocratic thief, stealing occult objects to the order of various clients. As the book opens, she's on the way to a new job - stealing a strange preserved body recently unearthed in Oklahoma, and to be presented at the Miskatonic Museum in the infamous town of Arkham. It's an unusual commission, especially as she's uncertain how he actually got in contact with her to deliver the request, but money is money and she has little choice but to travel to provincial Arkham, Massachusetts.

Reynolds delivers a truly masterful depiction of Arkham and its ancient and often archaic architecture, as well as the constant, sinister air of wrongness that wreaths everything - the buildings, the weather, and most especially the people. He deftly builds up a picture of a slowly-expanding town in which modernity and antiquity clash, where everyone is hiding some sort of secret and no action, no matter how petty, is entirely innocent. There's a great Prohibition-era atmosphere that runs throughout the entire book that helps to underpin the plot and draws you into the mystery and the action, with the plot flowing smoothly between formal locations like museums and hotels, and dingy hideaway bars and even less salubrious (and far more dangerous) places. It's all artfully blended together to make something that is almost compulsively-readable.

The truth of Arkham and its unique nature is slowly but surely revealed to Zorzi, as it becomes obvious that the strange figure she is meant to steal is an unusual presence, even in her line of work. The mummy and its bejeweled mask has a strange presence, an eerie atmosphere to it, which is perhaps why she has been hired to steal it for a group of interested observers. However before she can do much more than reconnoitre the museum, a gunfight breaks out as a group of robbers attempt to steal the mummy; in the process Zorzi makes the mistake of looking into the mummy's eyes, resulting in an unwanted, Lovecraftian-style look into the stygian depths of its memories. That results in a quick exit from the museum, but fleeing Arkham is impossible; she is pursued not just by the authorities, but also a strange, crooked creature swathed in a trench coat and possessing a terrifying face. Lacking options, Zorzi finds herself forced into pursuing the robbers and locating the mummy and its ancient secret.

As well as a fast-paced plot that twists and turns and keeps you on your toes, there's also a nicely varied cast of characters that play with the tropes and stereotypes of the genre, and also the Arkham Horror game, while never being constrained by them. Reynolds successfully humanizes them, and as a result makes them interesting for the reader to follow along with. Zorzi is a enjoyable protagonist with a great suite of dry observations about American behaviours and attitudes, and surprising skills as a thief and investigator. She also has a fascinating backstory that's revealed in dribs and drabs by Reynolds, one that takes the usual genre cliche, being scarred by wartime service and twists into something fresh and unsettling. Then there's the dogged Abner Whitlock, investigator and 'fixer' for Argus Insurance, a blandly-titled company that has serious interests in occult items and occurrences. He's a dogged investigator who has a grudge against Zorzi and won't let her forget it, which adds an extra element of tension. Perhaps my favourite, however, was cab driver Pepper, someone with a deeply-hidden secret who becomes Zorzi's guide and side-kick throughout the novel, as well as another perspective to the occultism on display in Arkham. They have an invaluable knowledge of Arkham and its surroundings, as well as a good heart despite often being out of their depth; Reynolds himself perfectly describes then when he writes that they were "at once naive and hardboiled" and that duality comes through as the plot darkens. There are also a brace of antagonists who I won't go into to avoid any spoilers, but suffice to say they are highly competent, dangerous and terrifying in both their nature and the powers they wield, particularly the utterly inhuman N'Kai.

Wrath of N'Kai is the brilliant result of the new partnership between Aconyte Books and Josh Reynolds, and it has all the hallmarks of a classic occult detective horror title. There's a cast of engaging, three-dimensional characters who belong to the genre tropes without being constrained by them; a deeply atmospheric setting in Arkham and its surroundings that Reynolds has skilfully developed; heaps of fist-swinging, gun-blazing action against human and inhuman foes alike; and finally, crucially, that stubborn, frantic and all too-human refusal to believe, truly believe, in the occult and supernatural until it is almost too late. But it's not just all of that which makes Wrath of N'Kai such an enjoyable novel: it's also that Reynolds obviously enjoyed writing it, and in doing so created an original title that feels like a game of Arkham Horror brought to life, while avoiding the common genre pitfalls of becoming predictable, or a mere pastiche of something greater. Ultimately, Wrath of N'Kai is yet more evidence, were it needed, that Reynolds is the reigning master of the occult detective genre. There is no-one who does it better, and Wrath of N'Kai should take pride of place in anyone's occult horror collection.
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Thank you to Aconyte Books for providing me with an advance review copy
Wrath of N'kai is the first in a line of stories set in the Arkham Horror setting, a 1920s america directly based off of H.P. Lovecraft's works. The story follows master thief Alessandra Zorzi, who is hired by a mysterious man to steal a mummy that was recently uncovered in middle America. However, before she has a chance to do her job someone beats her to it and now she has to track down the culprits and recover the mummy. She is aided in her mission by an uncouth cabby named pepper, who is probably the most reliable person in the universe.

I really enjoyed this book, Reynolds did an excellent job in writing a story that is accessible to readers who have never read an H.P. Lovecraft story or played the board game, but still has plenty of nods to the readers who have. This really feels like a story that was set a hundred years ago, with characters often speaking in that 1920s slang and gangsters slinging tommy guns.
Alessandra makes for a very compelling protagonist, a competent and witty woman who's not going to take lip from anyone. We see most of the story from her perspective as she slowly unravels the mystery of who stole the mummy.
This book reads like a whodunit with supernatural creepy bits, which I did not expect when I started reading this, but works surprisingly well. The lovecraftian bits about cosmic horror and old gods are certainly there but they're not really explored, which does make sense because our protagonist is not the slightest versed in the occult.
The only issue I had with this story is that at a certain point there are a bit too many characters to keep track of, which isn't necessarily a big deal but I did get characters mixed up from time to time.

All in all, Wrath of N'kai is an eminently enjoyable read and sets the bar very high for future entries in the Arkham Horror series. 4.5 stars, closer to a five than a four.

Review on goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3214687821?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1
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