TITLE: Red Right Hand (Mythos War 01)
AUTHOR: Levi Black
GENRE: Fiction, Horror, Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHED: July 25, 2017
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon
MOBILISM LINK: Mobilism
First in Levi Black's Mythos War series, Red Right Hand follows the story of Charlie Tristan Moore, a woman who has been through hell and back and has tried very, very hard to forget a very dark time in her past. But just when she thinks life could not be any worse, ferocious dogs that look like they have been flayed show up in the house she shares with a few friends. Fearing that her friends are all dead and that she will be next, she tries to flee but the skinless dogs corner her and get ready to rip her throat out.
But then, at the very last moment, a mysterious Man in Black with a strange, red right hand comes from out of nowhere and saves her. But her rescue does not come without a price. For the Man in Black is an Elder God who walks among humans, and, in exchange for saving her, he wants Charlie to help him in his quest to make war upon his fellow Elder Gods in order to stop them from destroying humanity entirely. Accompanied by Daniel, an acquaintance of Charlie’s whom the Man in Black holds as a hostage to ensure her obedience, the three of them seek out the other Elder Gods in order to stop the coming apocalypse - but is that what the Man in Black really wants?
One of the first things that drew me to this novel was the choice of protagonist. It’s not often that women headline stories based in the Cthulhu Mythos - Lovecraft himself did not write any female protagonists and it can be hard to find books in the spirit of the Mythos that have women as primary characters. That has been changing lately, fortunately, as authors push back against Lovecraft’s misogynistic and racist politics by featuring people of colour and women as prominent characters in Mythos-based stories.
Red Right Hand is one of those books - although Charlie is not immediately a likable character. She has a past that has done a number on her outlook on and approach to life, and I am certain that quite a few readers out there will not like her at all. The following excerpt is a good illustration of why some readers might not like Charlie:
Guilt stabbed deep as I remembered pushing Thom to tie off, to shoot up, to nod away. He’d been headed there before me, but I needed him to give me painkillers and company without the threat of sex. Threat is the wrong word. He was too nice to push, never would if I’d given him the chance, but he’d want it, all boys do, and I just couldn’t. Just before he would drop all the way gone, he would loll his head over, give me his crooked smile, pat my arm, and say, Don’t worry, babe, you’re always gonna be my heroin.
I wasn’t proud of what I’d done. Not at all. I hurt, and I saw a way out of it and, at the time, couldn’t see anything besides that. It only lasted a few months. I got Thom to NA before I parted ways with him, but it was still shitty of me.
Shittiest thing I’ve ever done in a long list of shitty things.
Don’t judge me.
While the above situation is utterly reprehensible, it also is very much in keeping with Charlie’s state of mind after the traumatic event that precipitated her downward spiral in the first place. Said traumatic event certainly does not excuse her terrible treatment of Thom, but at least Charlie has enough self-awareness to realise that what she has done is wrong, and tries to make amends for it in whatever way she can - up to and including leaving Thom so she does not destroy him further.
This is also why I like Charlie: she’s not perfect. As I might have mentioned elsewhere, I am always interested in flawed characters, especially flawed female characters, and Charlie is a good fit for that description. She is not a good person - indeed she admits that she is a “terrible person” - but she does what she can to do what is right. That, in the end, is all anyone can really ask of anyone else; that, when the time comes, he or she will rise above their own self-absorption and selfishness and do what is right for others, even if it means hurting himself or herself in the process.
Equally intriguing are the Elder Gods present in this novel. While keen readers of the Mythos and Mythos-related stories probably already know who the Man in Black really is, there are other Elder Gods in this novel, and some of them are presented in some rather unexpected ways - ways that might even feel out-of-character for said Elder Gods. However, if the reader is willing to let their mind wrap around the strangeness of seeing these Elder Gods portrayed in ways he or she is unaccustomed to, then he or she might find himself or herself actually rather amenable to the alterations made. Mileage will vary, of course, from reader to reader but readers who are flexible about what is and is not permitted within the context of the Mythos will likely get a kick from reading these Elder Gods portrayed rather differently.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned aspects of this novel are not enough to save it from the plot and the overall style used in its telling. While I appreciate a sense of urgency in more action-oriented stories, the first two-thirds of this novel feel like the author is forcefully driving the characters from one action scene to another in order to reach the final third. It makes reading the first two-thirds of the novel more of a duty than anything else, as the reader chases the inherent potential that is visible in those first two-thirds but does not really flower until the last third.
The above does no wonders for the romantic sub-plot either, since it is given no time to grow and develop properly. This means it feels completely inauthentic to the point of unnatural by the time it becomes significant to the plot. I have nothing against romantic sub-plots in general, since they can do wonders for character development and, in the hands of a capable writer, really push a plot forward instead of slowing it down. Unfortunately, that is not the case in this novel; the entire romantic subplot could be done away with and it would still read as essentially the same plot and story. Truth be told, I wish that had been the case; I would have rolled my eyes far less often if it were so.
Overall, Red Right Hand has elements that are very promising indeed; specifically, the flawed female lead character and the new take on certain well-known Elder Gods and the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole. Unfortunately, these elements are hobbled by a plot that is not really that compelling until the final third of the book and further marred by a romantic subplot that does not make any great difference to the plot as a whole. While I am still somewhat curious to find out where the rest of the series will go after this book, I am significantly less eager to pick up the second book after reading this one. Other readers will likely feel the same way I do.