Thursday, 19 August 2021

Arkham Horror: The Wrath of N'Kai by Josh Reynolds - Book Review


'Countess Alessandra Zorzi, international adventurer and thief, arrives in  Arkham pursuing an ancient body freshly exhumed from a  mound in Oklahoma, of curious provenance and peculiar characteristics. But before she can steal it, another party beats her to it. During the resulting gunfight at the Miskatonic Museum, the countess makes eye contact with the petrified corpse and begins an adventure of discovery outside her wildest experiences. Now, caught between her mysterious client, the police, and a society of necrophagic connoisseurs, she finds herself on the trail of a resurrected mummy as well as the star-born terror gestating within it.'

I've been really enjoying the Arkham Horror series of novels being produced by Aconyte books, but I missed The Wrath of N'Kai when it was first released. So, whilst I had a day free from other, upcoming books to read, I decided to sit down with the first book in the set and see what I'd missed. And I was so glad that I did.

The Wrath of N'Kai follows Countess Alessandra Zorzi, possibly the coolest protagonist in the entire Arkham Horror range. An international thief who spends her time stealing strange artefact and odd trinkets for various collectors of the occult, Alessandra has been called to the city of Arkham by a new client, one who gives her her most daring mission yet. He wants her to steal an entire mummy from a museum. Not one to turn down a challenge, especially one that pays so well, Alessandra agrees to the job; little realising that it's one that could change her life, if it doesn't end it first.

The mummy in question is about to go on display in Arkham before a national tour, having generated huge buzz because it was found in the middle of Oregon. A find that could change the way people look at the history of America, the mummy is drawing attention from several parties. Unfortunately for Alessandra, one of these parties also wants to mummy, and whilst she's at the unveiling the museum is robbed at gunpoint, and the mummy stolen.

Worse still, one of the security detail, Abner Whitlock, is an investigator who recognises Alessandra from a theft in Europe. With the police suspecting her involvement in the theft of the mummy Alessandra finds herself in an impossible situation, as the people who hire her make it clear that if she doesn't recover the mummy soon they'll make her the target of their wrath. With the police, mobsters, and these frightening employers all setting their sights on Alessandra she'll have to rely on every trick she's ever learnt to complete her mission and get out with her life.

I adored this book. It was just so much fun. Unlike many of the other Arkham Horror novels, all of which have an element of mystery but really push the horror side of things, this book was actually pretty light on horror. There's a pervading sense of strangeness across the entire book, due in large part to the very nature of Arkham itself, but it never really played up on these themes. Instead, Reynolds made the mystery the focus of the story, and made it into a spooky adventure story.

There are some moments throughout the book where there are some scares, mainly when Alessandra begins to have strange nightmares and hallucinations after coming face to face with the mummy, but these moments don't override the main story. Instead, they add flavour, giving the book a little something extra, a promise of scares and horror to come that doesn't really come into play until the final few chapters of the book.

What The Wrath of N'Kai really focuses on it Alessandra. It makes her the focus, showcasing her detective skills, her bravery, and her quick thinking that she uses to get out of tight spots. She's an incredibly smart woman, one who's had to learn her skills just to survive, and who doesn't take risks lightly. She feels like a femme fatale, but one who isn't a bad person, one who will only turn her gun on you if you give her no other choice. If anything, she makes me think of characters like Catwoman, these people who should really be classed as villains, but you can't help but enjoy seeing them win.

Alessandra is joined on her adventure by Pepper, a young woman posing as a man who drives a cab around Arkham. Having quickly figured out that the man driving her into Arkham is actually a woman, Alessandra offers her the opportunity to keep working with her as her local guide, and it's a pairing that works well. Pepper has the local knowledge that Alessandra needs, and whilst she's willing to listen to her and do what she asks most of the time she's not afraid to put herself in danger too, helping out her new friend if the opportunity arrives.

With other books in the series having male protagonists it was great to see the heroes of the book be an all female pair, even if one is pretending to be a guy. It made it feel different, and showcased that the women in Arkham Horror are just as formidable and cool as the men. If anything, these are two characters that I'd be more than happy to see more of, and would read a series of books about the two of them travelling the world stealing dangerous artefacts away from villains in a heartbeat. 

As the first book in the Arkham Horror series The Wrath of N'Kai is a great introduction to this world. It shows readers how the stories will involve shadowy cults, strange groups of otherworldly beings, criminals, academics, those local to Arkham, and those new to town. It has so many elements in it that you'll see play out in the other books in various ways, but even if you've read the other books first, as I have, it'll feel fresh and new, it'll be doing its own thing and will entertain you in more ways than you'll expect. A perfect example of what makes this a great franchise.

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