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What is Cult of the Spider-Queen?

An ancient horror deep in the Amazon jungle spins a web of nightmares to ensnare adventurers, explorers, and their souls in this skin-crawling Arkham Horror novel of cosmic dread.

When Arkham Advertiser reporter Andy van Nortwick receives a mysterious film reel in the mail, with a simple note: “Maude Brion is very much alive!”, he steps onto a path which will lead him to the brink of madness. Brion, the famous actress and film director, vanished a year ago on an ill-fated expedition into the Amazon rainforest, delving into the legend of the Spider Queen. Thrilled by the prospect of his big break, Nortwick swings the funds to launch a rescue mission. He gathers a team of explorers and a keen folklorist to bring back Brion and cement his reputation. But deep in the Amazon jungle, the boundaries between intrepid adventurers, dreamers, and deranged fanatics blur inside a web of terror.

Review

CULT OF THE SPIDER-QUEEN by S.A. Sidor is the second of the “Andy Van Notwick” triliogy that loosely follows the adventures of said cub reporter as he becomes further and further immersed in the supernatural shenanigans of Arkham, Massachusetts. He was barely a character in the first book, THE LAST RITUAL, but takes center stage in this volume. Andy is an interesting contrast to the Countess Zorzi because he’s a Jimmy Olsen-esque type who is absolutely in over his head with the supernatural.

The premise for this book is that it takes our hero out of Arkham and brings him to the Amazon rain forest. Andy manages to hijack a package sent to his employers which turns out to be a film reel from a “lost expedition” hosted by a beautiful film starlet turned documentarian, Maude Brion. Engaging in some slight fraud on the basis of hunting “the big scoop”, Andy manages to get together an expedition including Ursula Downs (the resident Lara Croft stand-in of Arkham Horror), her sidekick/possible love interest Jake Williams, and disgraced anthropologist Iris Benett Reed. Also, enough money from a gold magnate to go searching for said expedition (as well as the rumors of a gold mine).

This isn’t really a very Lovecraftian story even though it involves the Dreamlands and has guest appearances by several Cthulhu Mythos creatures like the Men of Leng, ghouls, and gugs. It’s more of a Indiana Jones, Uncharted, or Tomb Raider-esque story. Which is fine because those are based on the older Allan Quartermain and Tarzan-esque stories that are period appropriate journeys for the 1920s. A bunch of white people head out into the jungle and find themselves facing things only a couple of them have any chance of surviving.

The book avoids a lot of the more unfortunate tropes of this kind of novel by the fact that the “weird cultists in the woods” are descendants of white people who used to run the local rubber plantation and their deranged colonialist leader. This isn’t a spoiler as it’s revealed in the original film reel that sends Andy on his quest. Andy just doesn’t bother to think about this when he’s focused on finding a giant spider to make himself famous.

I really enjoyed the characters of this book aside from, ironically, Andy Van Notwick. Ursula Downs is Lara Croft as I wish she’d be in the games, with a lot more focus on the nuts and bolts of adventuring as well as the realistic issues of archaeology. Jake Williams is a two-fisted man’s man who doesn’t have any problem working under Ursula or feels threatened by her. I even liked Iris Reed despite the fact she’s clearly not playing with a full deck early on. Indeed, the elusive Maude Brion is a fascinating character when we find out more about her.

The few native characters we meet mostly fill the role of, “This is incredibly stupid. Why are you going to this forbidden place that we have forbidden for a very good reason?” Which isn’t great representation but not offensive stereotyping either. Basically, the book just wants to tell an enjoyable adventure story and for the most part it succeeds.

Still, those looking for creeping Lovecraftian horror versus the pulpy combination of such with adventure that Arkham Horror specializes in will probably have to look elsewhere. Its finger is heavily on the scale of the “pulp” side of things. It’s a great novel, don’t get me wrong but it feels a lot more conventional. Adding some more characters to meet horrible demises or using a more traditional Great Old One than the Spider Queen (or revealing her to be the Spawn of Shub-Niggurath) might have been better.

Available here

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