Review: The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys

Posted by DarkChaplain at 9/18/2016
The state took Aphra away from Innsmouth. They took her history, her home, her family, her god. They tried to take the sea. Now, years later, when she is just beginning to rebuild a life, an agent of that government intrudes on her life again, with an offer she wishes she could refuse. "The Litany of Earth" is a dark fantasy story inspired by the Lovecraft mythos.
You probably know I'm a sucker for Lovecraftian Horror. Somehow, whenever I try to dabble in hobby writing myself, it turns into that type of story, and Lovecraft's dark visions of cosmic horror might have been as big an influence on my tastes in fiction as Tolkien and Poe were growing up. So yes, I'm excited to read new spins on his legacy, even though, sadly, a lot of authors miss the mark by an aeon and try to turn it upside down, or try to counter Lovecraft's often xenophobic tendencies in his works. Thankfully, this is a good one!

The Story:
"The state took Aphra away from Innsmouth. They took her history, her home, her family, her god. They tried to take the sea. Now, years later, when she is just beginning to rebuild a life, an agent of that government intrudes on her life again, with an offer she wishes she could refuse. "The Litany of Earth" is a dark fantasy story inspired by the Lovecraft mythos."
Disclaimer
After buying this story and procrastinating on getting started, the novel sequel to it appeared as an ARC in my mailbox. While I made the purchase independently, I read it with that knowledge in mind.

The Review:
The Litany of Earth is the first story written by Ruthanna Emrys that I've read so far. The idea of a somewhat-sequel to H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth caught my attention while browsing Amazon for Kindle short stories, and I picked it up.
However, this story was/is also available to read for free on Tor.com, in case you don't want to spend a buck on this story (though I'd say it is well worth that much, at least).

The Litany of Earth plays on Lovecraft's themes and the horrors of Innsmouth in way that feels familiar as far as the Mythos is concerned, yet is decidedly different from HPL's works. It puts us into the story of Aphra Marsh, a survivor of the raid of Innsmouth and the traumatic experiences resulting in it. She is a Deep One, has the "Innsmouth look" (long-limbed, ugly, bulging eyes etc) and suffered from the persecution of her kin.
Emrys aims to give the cults, described as Aeonism here, in a more sympathetic light, like a religion like any other with its nutters and good people searching for more. She succeeded in making the cultists here more than extremists willing to throw their lives away to doom the world, and give them more depth, which I liked a lot.

While not nearly as bleak or hopeless as a classic Lovecraft (nobody actually goes insane, or commits suicide out of desperation or paranoia, for example), it still expands on the Mythos in multiple directions, to the point of elaborating on the Yith and other Mythos beings, and the inevitable death of the Earth.
It is delivered in a way that doesn't feel out of place in the context of the story, or makes light of Lovecraft's ideas and concepts, like many stories by other authors I've read on the matter sadly did.
As a result I'd consider this a worthwhile extension to the Mythos, written by somebody with a noticeable degree of passion for the subject, even if it is a stylistic departure.

A bonus for me was the likeable cast of characters (which, with Lovecraft, I don't normally expect). Aphra herself is intriguing and gives the whole topic a more esoteric feeling, and tying her into the Innsmouth raids was a cool core concept. She lives with a japanese family who also suffered ethnical persecution, so there's a certain degree of understanding and trust there which makes Aphra's situation appear more grounded. Her employer, a bookstore owner and collector of occult books, gives the story the opening to delve into the matter of magic and talk about the Mythos's larger themes. The cultists, too, offer a look at the Aeonist movement, zealotry and desperation of the common human.

The one thing that I didn't enjoy as much was the abrupt ending. I was surprised to find that the story was over already. I didn't feel lost, or that plotlines weren't wrapped up sufficiently, but I'd have liked to see a little more happen before the curtain call. Still, I enjoyed the ambiguity in it, and figured that would be the logical conclusion, so I am satisfied with it.

Seeing how much I enjoyed The Litany of Earth, I am looking forward to reading more of Emrys's lovecraftian horror / Mythos stories in the future. I'll probably start with Winter Tide, since hey, it's already in my mailbox and continues the story of Aphra Marsh and co. If it is anything like this short story, it'll be a nice treat for Lovecraft fans like me.

The Litany of Earth on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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