Book Review: “The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel”
The Devourer Below is the second book of the Arkham Horror Aconyte series of books. I saw the first one, N’Kai’s Wrathand i really loved it. I expected the series to continue the story of the last volume so I was surprised to see that The Devourer Below was an anthology. Moreover, he did not follow the characters of Nkai. Instead, each story in the collection deals with different citizens of Arkham as they encounter the ancient, Umordhoth, and the terrifying cult devoted to him. While I was disappointed at first, because I liked the first one so much, I ended up enjoying The Devourer Below almost as much as N’Kai’s Wrath.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Aconyte Books for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Devourer Below contains some spoilers!]
The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel contains a variety of horrors
This collection of tales focuses on three different aspects of the terror of Umordhoth. There is the human aspect – members of a cult devoted to his darkness. The cult worships him and finds ways to nurture him. He eats the deceased recently. Usually this involves procuring unclaimed corpses from the morgue, as this reduces suspicion. But his followers aren’t so picky about the origin of the bodies, especially if someone is too curious about their activities.
Then there’s the creature aspect – creatures that appear to be a cross between dogs and humans, but definitely not werewolves, more like a mole-man kind of thing. They live underground and are responsible for bringing him food from Umordhoth. Although they can be vicious, the “All My Friends Are Monsters” tale of david mana reveals that they are kind and even loving creatures despite their monstrous master.
And of course there is Umordhoth himself. Mostly just the menace lurking in the shadows throughout the book, we only actually see Umordhoth in the collection’s final story, “Sins In The Blood” by Thomas Parrot. And even then, he’s just a blacker-than-black darkness that covers everything while she feasts. It makes sense that the greatest horror remains undefined. Like all elders, their true nature is beyond humanity’s comprehension.
Different perspectives create a terrifying image
This Arkham horror novel is like a photo album. Each story is a snapshot of Arkham, showing different people in different places but still all connected. Like a photo album, different images focus on different people, but there is some overlap. Characters intersect, appearing in different places throughout the story, creating a strong sense of a real world being revealed to us.
I really liked how even though the stories were all written by different writers, they connected like that. It made the world of Arkham richer and easier to connect.
servant creatures in The Devourer Below
I also liked that not all of the main characters end up fighting against the cult of Umordhoth. In “All My Friends Are Monsters” by david mana the main character, Ruth, befriends the creatures that serve Umordhoth. They are more accepting of her and her differences than her peers ever were. It gave a very different take on why some people gravitate toward darker groups, neglecting or even embracing the more ghastly aspects. Deep down we all want to be accepted and we will take it where we can get it.
“The Dogs From Below” by Josh Reynolds shares a similar theme but with a twist. The Creatures Below save Philip Drew from death during World War I, but he doesn’t realize what they are or what he has become until he is already deeply entrenched in their world. Once he realizes what they are, he tries to break free, but can he really get clean again?
“Labyrinth” and “Sins In The Blood”, both from Thomas Parrot, are the two halves of a story. In the first, “Labyrinth”, we travel to ancient Crete to see the myth of the Minotaur from a different perspective, the famous labyrinth being an elaborate way to feed Umordhoth an annual tribute.
Fast forward a few millennia and Umordhoth still wants his tribute from those marked as descendants of the original royal family. “Sins In The Blood” depicts one of these descendants and her desperate attempts to escape her terrible fate. While these two stories are quite dark and deal most directly with Umordhoth, they are also the most uplifting of the stories. Although the Elder is never defeated, he is restrained in both stories and the intended victims escape.
It reminds me of the Harry Potter Quotation:
“It is important to fight and to fight again, and to continue to fight, because only then can the evil be kept at bay, but never quite eradicated.”– Albus Dumbledore Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (JK Rowling).
It may seem disheartening that evil is never completely defeated, but it is comforting that it is thwarted in the present.
Humans are the worst
“Dawn of Shadows” by Georgina Kamsika and “The Darkling Woods” from Cath Laurie both focus on human worship devoted to Umordhoth. In “Shadows Dawning”, a young widow tries to suppress the cult after killing her husband. She is willing to risk everything and do anything to achieve her goal. Along the way, she learns that not everyone who works with (or for) the cult is believers, many are victims, just like her husband, trying to protect the people they love. Of course, not everyone is a victim.
In “The Darkling Woods”, Wendy and her self-adopted brother James meet one such woman. Mrs. Duncan appears to be a nice old lady who runs a bed and breakfast on the edge of the woods. But Wendy can’t help but think that something is wrong with the woman. After a terrifying journey through the woods with her, Wendy learns more about the nature of people and her town. And she is determined to defend him!
These two are perhaps the scariest of the lot because they deal with what to me is hands down the scariest thing in the world, other people. I love monsters, creatures, spirits, entities, etc., but the scariest thing is the depravity of other humans. Probably because these stories seem the most real. People do really horrible things to each other and believe that they are completely justified in what they are doing. Therefore, the cult trumps nameless creatures for the fear factor.
Always different angles in The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel
“Running The Night Whiskey” by Evan Dicken was unique in that most of the story took place outside of Arkham. Leo owes a debt to a local mobster, but luckily the enforcer sent to collect his debt is an old friend.
Donny, makes a deal with Leo, runs a very special moonshine and he’ll have enough to repay his boss and more. Leo is skeptical that a race can pay that much, but Donny presses and Leo can’t pass up the opportunity. But like all good things, it’s not quite what it seems. Night whiskey is not for humans and nothing good can come of it. Leo manages to put an end to the affair of the night whiskey, at least for that night. “Running the Night Whiskey” has goosebumps woven throughout the story.
Some of it isn’t really story related, but hearing about a drowned town that may be haunted in the middle of nowhere right before you get shot by a crazed hermit who doesn’t seem to speak English, really sets the tone. In fact, as the first story in the anthology, it sets the tone for the whole book.
Inauguration of Professor Warren by David Annandale puts a different spin on how evil can spread. Professor Peter Warren has dedicated his life to documenting and ordering the occult world. He knows that his research is important but he does not know what to do with all this knowledge.
Then he is approached by a colleague who seems to understand his position. Moreover, she knows what to do with the knowledge. However, his plan is to fight evil from within. She convinces the teacher to do the same. But can such gruesome means really justify the ends? Or will he get lost in evil? This is a very tricky question Annandale poses with her story. It leaves you thinking about the answer long after the story is over.
Different perspectives present deep questions
The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel approaches the horror of Umordhoth from several different angles. It exposes the depth of evil in Arkham in a very unique way. By compiling an anthology and providing so many different viewpoints on Umordhoth and his followers, we see the omnipresence of evil and it leaves a shiver long after the book is finished. Even though there were several authors involved in the collection, they manage to use very similar voices, so the compilation sounds very cohesive.
Even though The Devourer was not the sequel to N’Kai as I expected, I was not disappointed. The characters were just as endearing and the stories were just as interesting. I really enjoyed thinking about what constitutes evil and the different kinds of evil. If you liked the first book, or are looking for a scary book for the season, or just like scary books, check out The Devourer Below for sure!
My rating for The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel: 10/10
The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel edited by Charlotte Llewelyn Wells and Aconyte Books is currently available at Barnes & Nobles, BAM!and other booksellers. [As affiliates of B&N and BAM! we may receive a commission from purchases made via these links]
Did you read The Devourer Below? What did you think of the novel? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter! If you haven’t already, check out my review of Aconyte’s first novel in the Arkham Horror series, Warth of N’Kai by Josh Reynolds!
Book review: Wrath of N’Kai: A Horror in Arkham Novel of Josh Reynolds