Winter Tide (Review) by Ruthanna Emrys

Let me be honest, not only did I score an e-ARC but I’ve been looking forward to this book since The Litany of Earth. It’s rare for me to fall so in love with books that I want to both devour them in one go and savour them over a span of days like chocolate. So, with that in mind, I originally read this is one day but am now, thanks to the audiobook, slowly appreciating all the subtle nuances I might have missed.

Winter Tide is gorgeous. It’s the cosmology of Lovecraft without the nastiness (aka the racism, the bigotry and other ideas which sadly taint a stunning literary universe). Indeed, identity, culture and otherness, they’re all front and centre; Aphra isn’t a ‘Person of the Air’, she’s got the sea running in her blood and, after her transformation, will live in the Deep Once cities until the sun burns out. It’s not forever but it’s still billions of years. The language is so Lovecraftian but it’s a gentle kind of esoteric, it doesn’t put you off but instead makes you ponder words and their meaning. At the same time, she’s still recovering from her people’s incarceration and genocide in camps later reused for the internment of the Japanese. This leads her into the lives of the Koto family with her brother, Caleb, as her only remaining kin on land. Oh and it’s left her scarred, mentally, as such a traumatic experience is wont to do. It’s even more relevant, now, for example than I think even the author thought it would be.

The story does kick off from Litany, as well as some mentions to the short story (which you should so go and read. Now. I’ll wait.) but the Tor short is essentially a prologue to a much bigger arc. Searching after old magics and fears Russians are using body-switching as the next weapon in a magical cold war, Aphra, her government minder and Neko, her adopted Japanese sister, return to Innsmouth and Miskatonic University. Both are, of course, important locations in the world of Lovecraft and they are eerie in the extreme. It feels odd to be somewhere so familiar but so strange, a place where you can study folklore and other subjects which are literal fusions of magic with physical sciences.

Occasionally, I was thrown by the odd flashback (especially in audio where the demarcation between scenes is just absent). Along the way, Aphra encounters new friends and old family. It does feel a tad deus ex machina to encounter not only a Yith but also transformed members of Aphra’s own people, now living in the depths below Innsmouth. Yet the idea of her faith, Aeonism, being openly worshipped with its own temples and rituals, is gorgeous and transforms the book from a simple mystery with magical overtones to a true Lovecraft mythos novel, reimagined for a new era but enduring never the less.

Winter Tide, Book One of The Innsmouth Legacy, is available now in ebook, print and audio from all the usual places. You can also follow the author on Twitter and you totally should.

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