What is Wrath of N’Kai
The first in a new range of novels of eldritch adventure from the wildly popular Arkham Horror; an international thief of esoteric artifacts stumbles onto a nightmarish cult in 1920s New England.
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.
My Review of Wrath of N’Kai
WRATH OF N’KAI by Josh Reynolds is a gamelit tie-in literature, specifically for Arkham Horror. I don’t play Arkham Horror but a friend of mine does and it basically seems to be a boardgame version of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, except published by Fantasy Flight Games. I have an interesting relationship with game tie-in fiction. Basically, it’s what made me the reader I am today.
I was a fanatical consumer of Dungeons and Dragons fiction from around thirteen to nineteen with perhaps two hundred or so books under my belt. All of them five dollar paperbacks from my local Waldenbooks: Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, and so on. Technically, my love of the Star Wars Expanded Universe was the same as I devoured the books chiefly because of my love of Star Wars D6 by West End Games. Later, I’d read a large chunk of Dan Abnett and William King’s work in Warhammer and Warhammer 40K.
Even as a teenager, I felt they were essentially like fast food. They were filling, what I wanted, and not at all “good” for me. Some of them were things that stayed with me for decades, though, like Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I always felt Chaosium missed the boat by not churning out Call of Cthulhu books the same way TSR did. Perhaps it was a fear that they would dilute the brand by having investigators fighting against the Mythos versus going insane or dying horribly as the stereotype of Lovecraft protagonists was.
Which is a very long winded introduction into saying that Wrath of N’Kai is book I wish I’d read twenty years ago and was a trilogy rather than a standalone. It’s exactly what I want from a Cthulhu Mythos themed adventure novel and a Pulpy throwback that hits the spot perfectly. No one will ever accuse me of having refined tastes but I read a lot (350 Goodreads ratings last year) and this is on track to being my favorite read of 2023. There’s a beauty to sincere use of adventure and classic horror movie tropes that jumps off the page.
The premise is a beautiful female cat burglar, Countess Alessandra Zorzi, has been hired to steal a mummy found by archaeologists working in Oklahoma. Existing in the world of Call of Cthulhu/Arkham Horror, a lot of her clients are occultist weirdos so this doesn’t strike her as too strange. Befriending a young cabbie named Pepper who becomes her sidekick, stalked by an insurance investigator PI out to see her jailed, and dealing with old enemies who want to see her dead–she would be an interesting protagonist even without the Cthulhu Mythos elements.
But the use of Cthulhu Mythos elements are well done and Arkham is brought to life in a rich not-entirely-realistic way that makes me feel the city is a Waterdeep or Mos Eisley I’d love to visit. I admit part of the fun is picking out all the references I get. The Order of the Silver Twilght? I remember those guys! They were the villains of The Shadows of Yog Sothoth! Is that a reference to HP Lovecraft’s The Mound? Why, yes it is.
The Countess is really the best reason to enjoy this book, though, as she has a kind of Phryne Fisher 1920s style free spirited energy and enjoyment factor that makes her a tremendous read. She’s not a real countess, she drove an ambulance in WW1, and keeps a pistol for dealing with disgruntled clients as well as victims both. It says what I think best needs to be said about this book that I really wish I had more books about her and Pepper robbing evil wizards across Europe or the Americas. Kudos also to the cover artist for successfully evoking what sort of book this is by the art style.
I recommend the GraphicAudio version of the story that is a full-cast production that is absolutely spectacular. The Countess, Pepper, and other characters are brought alive by the fully voiced cast. The regular audiobook version is fine but I feel like this is the sort of thing that was destined to be done as a Pulp radio style play. It’s not as tongue in cheek as the Dark Adventure Theatre adaptations of Lovecraft’s work by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society but it’s still very fun.