We take another little trip to our favorite small town in The Last Ritual by S.A. Sidor. This time, young reporter Andy Van Nortwisk is reporting on the grand reopening of the Silver Gate Hotel after a fire shut it down a year ago. Andy is lucky enough to score an interview with one of the famous guests that have been invited to the opening night party, Alden Oakes. Even better, Oakes was present the night that the fire destroyed the hotel.
Andy is just looking for a simple story of what happened then, and how Oakes feels being back. What he gets is a dark and twisted tale of sacrifices, nightmares, and eroding reality that culminated in the fire that almost burned the whole world.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Aconyte for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Last Ritual contains some spoilers!]
From the beginning
Alden Oakes insists that the only way to share his story is to go back to the very beginning. So he goes back almost two years, to when he was just an aspiring artist from Arkham’s elite taking a continental tour for inspiration. Unexpectedly, his old friend, Preston Fairmont, tracks him down. Preston reveals that he is getting married and presses Alden to come back to Arkham for the festivities. Oakes is reluctant at first but as they talk Fairmont manages to win him over and he agrees to return.
Once Oakes returns to Arkham he meets a young woman named Nita Tarrington. Nita shares with Alden that she is looking into various mysterious deaths and disappearances that the police are either unable or uninterested in solving. Alden is drawn in by Nita’s overwhelming personality and begins to help her investigate some of these deaths. The more they investigate, the odder the mystery becomes.
The murders and missing persons are not only unusual, but they seem to be connected. What’s more, there seems to be a supernatural side to the murders that puts the two investigators in even more danger. Can Alden and Nina find the connections and uncover the perpetrator of these gristly deaths before they become the next victims?
A deeper conspiracy in this novel from Aconyte Books
As The Last Ritual progresses, it becomes obvious that something more than simple murder (if a murder can ever be called “simple”) is happening in Arkham. And it all seems to be centered around Alden and Nita. The two seem to be very important to whoever is committing these ritual sacrifices. But just why doesn’t come into focus until the very end.
Like most happenings in Arkham, the rituals are concerned with an ancient being that wishes to come to our reality and wreak havoc. They’re being carried out by psychotic people who believe that they will reap huge benefits from helping this being.
I will never understand why puny humans believe that an ancient deity seeking only destruction and mayhem will reward its helpers with anything other than destruction. But for some reason, people think that they are special and will receive rewards despite all signs pointing to the opposite. So the dangerous conspiracies continue in the dark back rooms and basements of Arkham.
A disaffected artist in The Last Ritual
Alden Oakes, by his own admission, was not a great artist. He has good technical skills but prior to the events of The Last Ritual, his work all lacked a certain je ne sais quois that kept them from being inspiring (or good). Lucky for him, his family had plenty of money, allowing him to traipse around the world searching for inspiration.
As he searched for inspiration he did plenty of complaining and whining about how awful it was to paint these pictures that were technically beautiful but had no heart. After he returns home, he continues to whine a lot. About everything. Alden is put under some intense pressure but he still mostly comes across as a rich whiner who doesn’t really have any business complaining.
Nina is a more compelling character. She too is a rich girl playing at being an artist (well writer in her case, but she argues they are the same thing and I do see her point). But instead of whining all the time about how hard and sad her life is and focusing solely on herself, she cares about the people around her. She takes the time to notice people. She connects with them. And when people are dying and the police don’t seem to care, she takes it upon herself to seek justice for them. I much preferred her to Alden and am very happy that Sidor added her as a foil to his gloomy and self-absorbed personality.
A drug-free drug-addled feel
Yes, that heading doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let me explain. While there is some drinking (okay, quite a bit of drinking at times), despite prohibition being in full swing, Alden doesn’t partake in any stronger drugs. Despite this, he spends most of the book in a foggy, unsure place. He’s never quite sure what is happening, who is around, or if anything is real. His narration very much feels like it’s being told by someone who is perpetually high. The magic and rituals swirling around him probably account for his perception being so off. But it still created the feeling on my part that he was perpetually high. Hence a drug-free but drug-addled feel to the story.
Overall, this wasn’t my favorite Arkham adventure but it wasn’t a terrible story either. Alden wasn’t the most sympathetic main character but his companion, Nina, helps make up for his failings.
The murder mystery aspect of the book was interesting and there was plenty of subterfuge and intrigue. Both Alden and Nina experience a huge amount of gaslighting from the people around them (who knew, something for both the 2020s and the 1920s). The ending was also a bit of a twist that I rather enjoyed being surprised by. So if you’re looking for a surreal story to get lost in, check out S.A. Sidor’s The Last Ritual.
My Rating: 7/10
The Last Ritual by S.A. Sidor is available now. Are you interested in this novel? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of another Arkham Horror novel, Mask of Silver!
Book Review: Mask of Silver: An Arkham Horror Novel by Rosemary Jones