In today's publishing world, the horror genre is bloated with much of the same thing. If it isn't an all out gore or sex fest, then it is a slow paced ghost story with the occasional hint of the Gothic. I'm not saying I dislike these types of novels. In fact, part of the reason I'm so drawn to the horror genre is because of its formulaic and occasionally trite yarns. It gives me something to expect--something to enjoy--and usually, when an author tries to break these genre molds, I find myself bored and irritated.
However, once in a blue moon you get a novel that seems to not only draw on the Gothic and pulp classics created by the forefathers of the genre--but also draws in new elements to create a story that, while remaining in line with many of the expected tropes of horror, creates a fresh experience.
Red Right Hand written by Levi Black and published by TOR is one such novel. It is filled with heralds of the father of pulp horror, H.P. Lovecraft, while also delving into new ideas and concepts to keep the story fresh and interesting.
Red Right Hand follows a young woman named Charlie, who has experienced a harsh and psychologically damning past. Through years of therapy and self defense classes she has come to a place where she may finally cope with her inner demons.
Unfortunately, as is often the case in this genre of fiction, the dark things the lurk beyond the invisible threshold arrive at just the wrong time. Charlie feels emotionally weak when she has her first encounter with the outer black. A demon, one of the great elder gods of old, arrives on her doorstep and forces her to be his acolyte.
To sour the deal further, he also enslaves her only friend and romantic interest, Daniel. The two young people are then dragged along for a chaotic ride through the realms of the great old ones--in a mission to murder many of the old gods.
Red Right Hand takes many elements of the much loved Cthulhu Mythos and shows us just how sinister and dark those forces can be. For me, this creates a sort of "love/hate" relationship with the book.
As a student of the Lovecraft's mythos I have strong ideas and impressions of how the elder gods may exist, act, or behave. I have a set idea of how the magic and mystical powers of that world work. Honestly, Black's vision of this world is one of the closest examples I've seen to how I personally view the outer black, but some of his plot choices also grate on me as a fan and reader of Lovecraft.
Without spoiling any details, I'll simply say that I wish certain elder gods played a larger roll--or appeared more powerful or sinister--than he made them out to be. Also, there were certain elements in the main character that came off as unrealistic and forced--particularly the "romantic" side of her character. Whenever any element of romance appeared, and even sometimes when she struggled with her harsh past, in the story I felt myself instantly broken from my willing suspension of disbelief. It was a frustrating occurrence that I felt broke up the action of the story unnecessarily.
On the other hand, the main elder god of the story is one of the most frightening and twisted villains of any story I've read. There are many sickeningly satisfying moments involved Charlie and The Man in Black. This makes Red Right Hand one of the only truly frightening novels I've had the privilege of reviewing.
Overall, Red Right Hand--despite its occasional weaknesses of plot and relative realism--is a fairly good balance of urban fantasy alongside cosmic horror. I think the story in general captures much of Lovecraft's original mythos while also attempting to keep it fresh. If you enjoy modern Lovecraftian adventures, and don't mind the occasional romantic hiccup, then Red Right Hand might just be for you.
N.C. Patterson is a full-time writer of modern horror, crime, and thriller fiction.