What is The Tower of Zhaal?
It has been a year since John Henry Booth’s exile from New America and the fall of the Black Cathedral. Cursed with a slow transformation into a monster, he has begun a doomed relationship with fellow escapee Mercury Halsey as they seek some way to arrest his transformation.
Dubious hope arrives in the form of the University, the deranged scientists and cultists descended from the staff of Miskatonic University. Except their offer of help comes at a price. Having sold themselves to ancient aliens called the Yith, they wish John and Mercury to join a group of rogues in hunting down a wayward member of their faculty: a man who intends to release the last of the sleeping Great Old Ones on an already ravaged planet. If they’re telling the truth, John and Mercury will be heroes. If.
The Tower of Zhaal is the second novel of the Cthulhu Armageddon series, a post-apocalyptic continuation of H.P. Lovecraft’s popular Cthulhu Mythos.
C.T. Phipps’s books tend to blend the lines between genres, and The Tower of Zhaal is certainly no exception. In fact, it probably mixes more genres than any of his other books, having elements of post-apocalyptic dystopia, weird west, Cthulhu mythos and horror mixed throughout. It’s this combination of elements that really sets this book apart, especially because it is very sparing in humor compared to the author’s other books.
The story centers around John Henry Booth, former ranger for one of the remaining human settlements, and now outcast in the wilds of the post-apocalyptic world left after the old ones returned. He is still trying to cling to his humanity, even though it was revealed in the first book, Cthulhu Armageddon, that Booth is not human, but something far different.
This struggle to hold onto his identity is a central theme in the book, especially as events spin out of control and he is forced to embrace what he has denied for so long, in an effort to save those he loves, and avoid becoming a bigger monster than those he fights against. He is just a tragic hero, and you can’t help but root for him, even though the odds are definitely stacked against him.
The secondary characters are excellent. Mercury Halsey is such a strong character on her own. She’s there to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and she’s all out of bubblegum. She is the perfect partner for Booth, although you have the feeling that her relationship with Booth has tragedy written all over it. She is his link to the humanity that he is slowly losing the fight to maintain, and it’s interesting the way her character develops throughout the book. There are several other side characters that get some attention as well, and they each have their own arcs as they go in and out of Booth’s sphere of influence.
The villains are a mixed bunch, ranging from cultists to post apocalyptic raiders of varying levels of humanity. Some of the villains are of the unexpected variety as well, as they didn’t appear to be villains until their sudden, inevitable betrayal. It’s an excellent mix to keep the tension ratcheted up throughout the story, and leads to an excellent epic showdown at the end.
The world building is what you would expect from a big fan of Lovecraftian worlds. It’s a world steeped in despair, where kindness is as rare as hens teeth. It’s a world where life is cheap, and might very much makes right. And over all this is the fact that the old ones could wipe all life out if they chose to, except life on earth is less than fleas to them, so they can’t be bothered, but the after effects of their mere presence in our dimension has caused world wide catastrophic events. You can feel the despair radiate from the page, but there is still a glimmer of hope, even if it’s faded.
The narration is performed by the prolific Jeffrey Kafer. Jeffrey narrates quite a few of the author’s audiobooks, and it’s obvious he gets what the author is trying to accomplish. He brings such a distinctive voice to each of the characters, giving them real emotional weight. He just really immerses you in the characters emotional struggles as they deal with situations no one should ever have to deal with. His narrative pacing is some of the best in the business, keeping you constantly engaged in the story throughout.
The Tower of Zhaal being the second book in the series means you should definitely read Cthulhu Armageddon first. This is an outstanding sequel, taking what worked in book one and expanding it in all new directions. The personal and emotional stakes are higher, as are possible consequences if Booth and his companions fail. I think the book has a lot to offer for fans of many genres, and I highly recommend this book, and series as a whole.
Rating: 9/10 Stars