Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
Published by Tor Books
Publication Date : April 4th, 2017
Available as eBook & hardcover – 400 Pages
Source : NetGalley (Thank You!)
I do recommend checking out The Litany of Earth on Tor.com before reading Winter Tide though it is completely not necessary.
This is going to be a long one so strap yourselves in guys. Winter Tide is going to be a hard one for me to sell. I really enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I’d recommend to everyone. This takes the well-known Innsmouth story of H.P. Lovecraft and shows us the humanity there. This is another in the recent trend of examining what we think of as monsters (especially using H.P. Lovecraft, because it’s such a plentiful source). It did a lot that honestly I don’t think I’m smart enough or clever enough to describe. The cover is a stunning piece done by John Jude Palencar, with graphic design by Jamie Stafford Hill. I highly recommend checking both of them out as well! John Jude Palencar here, and Jamie Stafford Hill here (he did the wonderful Goblin Emperor design work!).
Aphra Marsh and her brother Caleb are the only survivors of the Innsmouth raid. The government either murdered or captured all of the people, wiping out the entire town in what looks to be almost an one night. Those that weren’t killed in the raid were placed in internment camps, the same camps that the Japanese were placed into later. There the survivors died off slowly, taken far from the ocean they call home. These Innsmouth people are not horrible twisted half demons but simply another subrace of humanity, the People of the Water. Once they reach the appropriate age they transform and return to the sea. By being kept in this desert camp those adults that survived long enough to transform are experimented on, left to die slow and dry deaths. Aphra and Caleb survive on what seems like luck. They are the last, the youngest. When the Japanese are moved into the camps there are only three of them, the siblings and one dying elder. They are takin in by an amazing family and when they are released Aphra and Caleb go with them. Since then Aphra has been living with her new family while Caleb travels around trying to recover something of their family. You can meet Aphra in a short on Tor.com – which I highly, highly recommend as it also introduces a few other characters – and see a tickle of what the actual novel is about. Aphra is now asked help the government that destroyed her people, demonized them and treated them poorly. The Russians are looming on the minds of Big Brother and they’re worried that something Aphra’s people studied could be being used by their enemies.
Now like I said above, I really think you should pick up Litany of Earth before picking up Winter Tide. You’ll be introduced to not just Aphra but Spector (the agent that approaches her), and Charlie. It will also give you a taste of what you’re in for here. The book isn’t light, at least it wasn’t for me. It took what it was about seriously and it did it very well. It’s dense (thus my hesitancy on recommending it widely) but engaging. Honestly I’ll be purchasing this for myself to reread and markup. Ruthanna Emrys does a wonder job of examining what we consider ‘a monster’. She uses Aphra, of course, but parallels her with not just Neko (her adopted sister from the camps) but Spector who is a Jewish man in the government. Later we get even more diversity and more examples. We also have a varied cast but one that’s heavy on the ladies and gives us amazingly unique ones. The women face the judgement of just being a woman, occasionally language is thrown about in reference to Neko and Dawson (another lady of color to pop into the narrative) that is accurate to the time but shut down so fast and expertly that I just wanted to cheer. I can’t convey exactly how the book affected me but the way she showed us what is ‘monster’ and what is ‘human’ (all three subraces considered there) is amazing.
The characters are strong as hell. Oddly enough the weakest for me was Aphra but that was less in the writing and more on how I connected. Aphra was cautious (with damn good reason). She’s a thinker, she ponders, she’s soft spoken at times, but she’s a leader in her own right. It was characters like Trumbull, the only female professor on the campus they’re investigating at who has secrets of her own, and Audrey that I loved. Even Neko, whose part is smaller but just as rich, stood out to me. Look – I’m going to be honest here. I’m SO bad at names. So bad that I’ll finish a review for a book I finished the night before and will still have to look up the character names. I do not have that problem here. This characters are so ingrained in my head I can’t get them out. Our male cast is just as strong. Caleb is angry, he meets the group to assist in the investigation and he has every right to be angry but he develops and learns alongside the rest. Spector is between a rock and hard place but acts believably and honestly. The only male character I wanted more of was Charlie, but he has a strong role in Litany of Earth. I can look at each character and give you a way they evolved and changed, for good or ill. And for someone like Trumbull that’s saying something. Characters are big for me, and a big cast doesn’t always work strongly. These do.
The story is the only part that has an obvious flaw, but it’ll only be that way for some readers. It’s dense and slow to start. If you want thrown into a mess early than you’re not going to like the first 40-50% of this. It’s a slow burn. I also took it slowly so that could be part of it. We get the basis of everything we need to attach and care about the characters and then we take a jump off the deep end and get into the action. But even then it doesn’t move too fast. It’s not a wildly different pacing, just a touch faster so that it seems consistent. The appropriate pay off to the slow build up. It’s also not going to be as wacky weird H.P. Lovecraft as you may expect. Remember, the book is taking apart the ‘monster’ construct. It reduces and gives us instead a beautiful religion and magic.
I’ve got to cut this short. I know I’ve been posting a lot of good reviews recently, I must be on a roll. This though was a stunner. It crept up on me. I finished it feeling good about it. Then the more I thought and thought the better I liked it. Like I said at the start, this isn’t a light read but a read well worth your time. If the premise sounds appealing and you have some dedication to give – try this, please!
Final note. I want one of those salt cakes Aphra makes. They sound amazing.