Book Review: ‘The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel’ edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells

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The Devourer Below is the second book in the Arkham Horror series from Aconyte books. I reviewed the first one, The Wrath of N’Kai, and absolutely loved it. I was expecting the series to continue the story from the last book so I was surprised to see that The Devourer Below was an anthology. Moreover, it didn’t follow the characters from N’kai. Instead, each story in the collection deals with different citizens of Arkham as they encounter the ancient one, Umordhoth, and the terrifying cult devoted to him. While I was initially disappointed, because I loved the first one so much, I ended up enjoying The Devourer Below nearly as much as The Wrath of N’Kai.

[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Aconyte Books for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Devourer Below contains some spoilers!]

The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel contains a variety of horrors

This collection of tales focuses on three different aspects of Umordhoth’s terror. There is the human aspect – members of a cult devoted to his darkness. The cult worships him and finds ways to feed him. He eats the recently deceased. Usually, this involves procuring unclaimed dead bodies from the morgue as this keeps suspicions down. But his followers aren’t all that picky about where the bodies come from, especially if anyone gets too nosey about their activities. 

Then there is the creature aspect – creatures that seem to be a cross between dogs and humans, but definitely not werewolves, more of a mole-man species. They live underground and are responsible for actually getting Umordhoth’s food to him. Although they can be vicious, the tale “All My Friends Are Monsters” by Davide Mana reveals them to be kind and even loving creatures despite their monstrous master.

And of course, there is Umordhoth themself. Mostly just the threat lurking in the shadows throughout the book, we only actually see Umordhoth in the final story of the collection, “Sins In The Blood” by Thomas Parrott. And even then he’s just a blacker than black darkness that covers everything as it feasts. It makes sense though that the greatest horror would remain undefined. Like all ancient ones, their true nature is beyond humanity’s understanding.

Different perspectives create a terrifying image

This Arkham horror novel is like a photo album. Each story is a snapshot of Arkham, showing different people in different places but still all connected. Like a photo album, different pictures focus on different people but there is some overlap. Characters cross over, appearing in different places as the story dictates, creating a strong sense of a real world being revealed to us.

I really liked how even though the stories were all written by different authors they connected like this. It made the world of Arkham richer and easier to connect with. 

Creature servants in The Devourer Below

I also liked that not all the main characters end up fighting against the Umordhoth cult. In “All My Friends Are Monsters” by Davide Mana the main character, Ruth, finds friendship with the creatures that serve Umordhoth. They are more accepting of her and her differences than her fellow humans ever were. It gave a very different view of why some people turn to darker groups, overlooking or even embracing the more dreadful aspects. Deep down we all want acceptance and we’ll take it where we can get it.

“The Hounds Below” by Josh Reynolds shares a similar theme but with a twist. The creatures from below save Philip Drew from death in World War I, but he doesn’t realize what they are, or what he’s become until he’s already deeply ingrained in their world. Once he realizes what they are he tries to break free but can he ever really be clean again?

Unseen horror

“Labyrinth” and “Sins In The Blood”, both by Thomas Parrott, are two halves of one story. In the first, “Labyrinth”, we travel all the way back to ancient Crete to see the myth of the Minotaur from a different perspective, with the famous labyrinth being an elaborate way to feed Umordhoth a yearly tribute.

Fast forward a couple of millennia and Umordhoth still wants his tribute from those marked as descendants of the original royal family. “Sins In The Blood” features one of these descendants and her desperate attempts to escape her dire fate. Even though these are both pretty dark and deal most directly with Umordhoth, they are also the most uplifting of the stories. Although the ancient one is never defeated it is held off in both stories and intended victims escape.

It reminds me of the Harry Potter quote:

“It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay though never quite eradicated.”– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling).

It may seem dispiriting that the evil is never completely defeated but it’s heartening that it is thwarted in the present.

Humans are the worst

“Shadows Dawning” By Georgina Kamsika and “The Darkling Woods” by Cath Lauria both focus on the human cult devoted to Umordhoth. In “Shadows Dawning” a young widow is trying to take the cult down after they kill her husband. She is willing to risk everything and go to any lengths to achieve her goal. Along the way she learns that not everyone working with (or for) the cult are believers, plenty are victims just like her husband, trying to protect the people they love. Of course, not everyone is a victim. 

In “The Darkling Woods” Wendy and her self-adopted brother James meet one such woman. Mrs. Duncan appears to be a sweet old lady running a bed and breakfast on the edge of the woods. But Wendy can’t help thinking something is off about the woman. After a terrifying trip to the woods with her, Wendy learns more about the nature of people and her town. And she is determined to defend it!

These two are maybe the scariest of the batch because they deal with what to me is hands down the scariest thing in the world, other people. I love monsters, creatures, spirits, entities, etc, but the scariest thing is the depravity of other humans. Probably because these stories feel the most real. People really do awful things to each other and believe they are perfectly justified in what they do. Hence cult trumps unnamed creatures for the scare factor.

Still different angles in The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel

“Running The Night Whiskey” by Evan Dicken was unique in that most of the story took place outside of Arkham. Leo is in debt to a local mobster, but luckily the enforcer sent to collect on his debt is an old friend.

Donny, makes Leo a deal, runs some very special moonshine and he’ll have enough to pay back his boss and then some. Leo is skeptical that one run could pay that much but Donny presses and Leo can’t pass up the opportunity. But like all good things, it’s not quite what it seems. The night whiskey isn’t meant for humans and no good can come of it. Leo manages to put an end to the night whiskey business, at least for that night. “Running the Night Whiskey” has creepiness woven throughout the story.

Some of it isn’t really related to the story but hearing all about a drowned town that may be haunted in the middle of nowhere just before being shot at by a crazy hermit moonshiner who doesn’t seem to speak English, really sets a tone. In fact, as the first story in the anthology, it sets the tone for the entire book.

“Professor Warren’s Investiture” by David Annandale puts a different spin on how evil can spread. Professor Peter Warren has devoted his life to documenting and ordering the occult world. He knows his research is important but he doesn’t know what to do with all this knowledge.

Then he is approached by a colleague who seems to understand his position. Moreover, she knows what to do with the knowledge. However, her plan is to fight evil from the inside. She convinces the Professor to do the same. But can such awful means truly justify the ends? Or will he lose himself to evil? It is a very thorny question that Annandale poses with his story. It leaves you thinking about the answer long after the story ends.

Different views present deep questions

The Devourer Down Below: An Arkham Horror Novel approaches the horror of Umordhoth from several different angles. It exposes the depth of evil in Arkham in a very unique way. By compiling an anthology and providing so many different views of Umordhoth and his followers we see the pervasiveness of evil and it leaves a chill long after the book is over. Even though there were multiple authors involved in the collection they manage to use very similar voices so the compilation feels very cohesive.

Even though The Devourer wasn’t the continuation of N’Kai like I was hoping for, I wasn’t disappointed. The characters were just as engaging and the stories were just as interesting. I really did like thinking about what constitutes evil and the different kinds of evil. If you enjoyed the first book, or are looking for a spooky book for the season, or just like scary books check out The Devourer Below for sure!

My rating for The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel: 10/10

The Devourer Below: An Arkham Horror Novel edited by Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells and Aconyte Books is currently available at most booksellers.

Have you read The Devourer Below? What did you think of the novel? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter! If you haven’t already, check out my review of the first novel in Aconyte’s Arkham Horror series, Warth of N’Kai by Josh Reynolds!

Book Review: Wrath of N’Kai: A Arkham Horror Novel by Josh Reynolds

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