My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Why choose the lesser evil? Vote Cthulhu.
Francis Thurston starts fossicking through his uncle’s things and discovers some notes and a carving. Fascinated, he searches high and low to uncover the origins of the carving. Soon he is traversing the world to uncover a cult and the being they worship. Things only get better from there on in.
It is hard to review a classic work of fiction. Usually, there are only a few paths open to you:
1) Fawning sycophancy;
2) A belligerent dismissal of the work as rubbish which avoids engaging in anything other than superficial comment;
3) Overly detailed comment and critique that ends up being worthy of a Masters dissertation that no-one will bother reading and just assume you did #2 (i.e. a complete waste of time);
4) A review that is clearly based on having watched the movie adaptation.
The reasons that this is a hugely influential work are clear. The mystery being uncovered with a slow reveal. The dense and subtle narrative. The gradual rise in tension as we come to the realisation. It is also a bleak comment on human existence and our insignificance. But there is also the use of the memoir narrative that appears to have been very popular in speculative fiction in the past. For me, this style removes both the narrator and the reader from the events of the story, which removes much of the tension and emotion.
I feel comfortable saying my rating is “good but not great” because Lovecraft himself described this as a middling effort.
Beneath the Dark Ice was on my Amazon recommendations list for ages. Clearly it ticked a lot of boxes for my likes and being written by a fellow Aussie was another big tick. Needless to say, when I was in a bookstore that hadn’t been swallowed by a bank, I bought a copy.
For anyone who has read James Rollins’ Subterranean, or drowned themselves in HP Lovecraft at any stage in their life, you will see some similar ideas in this techno-thriller. Mix a super soldier and his team, his long time enemy, a band of scientists and a world beneath ours and you have the makings of a fine thriller. I always enjoy playing, “guess who dies next” in these sorts of novels.
So why only 3 stars? Well, I’m not a fan of exposition. Sorry, let me rephrase: you know how everyone loved Steig Larson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Well I hated it; because I didn’t need the first 50 pages of the book to describe flowers, home renovations and nautical exploits. Greig’s book is fast paced and doesn’t flounder in blocks of boring detail like Larson, but he does use a style of exposition in his writing that I don’t enjoy. Nothing wrong with the story, or the style, just that whilst I enjoyed the story, the style just didn’t do it for me.
This was Greig’s first book, so I expect his work will be ‘tighter’* in the subsequent books (which are rated higher on Goodreads). His super soldier, Alex Hunter, is definitely setup for another adventure. How Greig will top the story in this novel I don’t know though.
*tighter – this is reviewer talk for “I have no idea how to write a book but writers seem to get better at it somehow, I’m assuming magic”.