Book Review: Winter Tide
I'm a big fan of the Lovecraftian mythos; I enjoy the overarching theme of outsiders and ethereal beings and creeping horrors that would consume our planet. But Lovecraft's work is loaded with racism and sexism, so reading his stories can be a revolting experience at times.
Enter Winter Tide, a lovely take on the Lovecraftian mythos from the point of view of the "monsters" which tackles that racism and sexism head-on.
Winter Tide follows Aphra Marsh, former resident of Innsmouth, in the aftermath of Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth. After horrible rumors spread about Innsmouth, the U.S. government raided the town and placed Aphra and all her people in desert concentration camps, where they died slowly, unable to take to the water as they should have post-transformation. Aphra and her brother Caleb were eventually joined by Japanese Americans during the WWII internment and released after the war- the only two still alive on land of their family and friends. Now, years later, the government that destroyed her life wants Aphra's help to stop Russians from getting access to body-swapping technology that could escalate the Cold War.
Winter Tide, at its core, is a nuanced portrayal of how humans can be just as monstrous as anything Lovecraft dreamed up, and the in-world history weighs heavily on the story. Emrys utilizes the real-life analog of the Japanese internment camps to ground what happened to the residents of Innsmouth. Here, the people of Innsmouth, while strange-looking, are no more evil than the next person. They're simply a different variety of human, with a different set of ancient gods and a transformation that grants them a longer lifespan. What happened to them was unfair and cruel, and Aphra and her brother struggle over the course of the novel to come to terms with what they've lost and decide what can be rebuilt.
That emotional conflict is what carries this novel and makes it so enjoyable. The diverse set of characters (which includes POC and LGBTQ representation) are well-drawn and fleshed out with their own histories and their own demons. There's a certain beauty in their interactions, in how they form their own new family unit together.
If I'm being honest, the plot itself isn't much to shake a stick at. It moves slowly, and the "monster" that catalyzes the climax appears very late in the game, more of a mcguffin for emotional impact than anything else. There's also not much resolution to the story: we never truly find out whether the Russians discovered body-swapping magic (perhaps Emrys is saving that for the sequel).
But the plot is playing second fiddle to the characters here, and that's perfectly fine by me. I was happy to bask in Emrys' beautiful prose, to rejoice with Aphra upon seeing her family's books again, to rage with her that they weren't easily accessible. To savor the magic Aphra and her friends share that binds them together, and to bite my fingernails as Aphra, her apprentice and a (not-so-innocent) bystander fall prey to something from the outside.
Emrys' re-imagining of Lovecraft's mythos would have him rolling in his grave - and as far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.