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WesternSFA


Red Right Hand
by Levi Black
Tor, $24.99, 304pp
Published: July 2016

This novel, which, for some unexplained reason, established author James R. Tuck wrote under the admittedly cool pseudonym of Levi Black, looked like a whole bundle of fun. It turned out to be a whole bundle of fun too, but it wasn't quite what I expected for three reasons.

Firstly, there's actually very little here but that does sound far more dismissive than it should. The story leaps into motion immediately and blisters along at a rate of knots until we get most of the way through and realise how little time has actually unfolded. We get the introductory segment, then a couple of confrontations and suddenly the end is nigh. It just means that Tuck concentrated much more on character and coolness than he did on plot progression. In many ways, this is really an introduction with future episodes no doubt on the way.

Secondly, it's incredibly visual. I'd suggest that it felt like reading a movie but the way the scenes are set is much more reminiscent of a comic book, with each scene built out of a small set of carefully designed frames. That, along with the fact that there's precisely nothing inbetween each scene that doesn't follow the same sort of visual styling, means that this feels like a 300-page prose adaptation of a 30-page comic book.

Finally, the title is referred to often but apparently has no real purpose other than sounding cool. I knew the term and, like Tuck, I knew it from the Nick Cave song of that name (and from the lyrics of a later one too, 'Song of Joy') rather than the reference in 'Paradise Lost' from which he borrowed it. Milton actually borrowed it himself, from Horace's Odes, where it was also used in the context of vengeance. That fits here too, though it's a literal thing in this book, attached to one of the principal characters, as he fights to destroy Elder Gods wherever they happen to break through into our world to threaten humanity.

That sounds like the job of a hero, huh?

Well, this hero turns out to be Nyarlathotep, the Man in Black, the Crawling Chaos, the son of Azathoth. Now, I bet that's grabbed your attention! Yes, Nyarlathotep, an Elder God himself, whom Brian Lumley rationalised within the 'Titus Crow' books as the power of telepathy, is a physical being here, the architect of almost everything in the book, and that's frickin' awesome all on its own. Kudos to Tuck for having the balls to write Nyarlathotep as a primary character and more for managing to make him well worth reading about, too. He wears a coat fashioned from the living skin of an archangel 'who strayed too far from his appointed territory'. How bitchin' is that?

The real lead is actually a young lady by the name of Charlotte Tristan Moore. She goes home in a haze from a date that didn't go too well to find, two pages in, skinless hellhounds on her hardwood floor. A chapter later, the Man in Black shows up with 'amusement in his glittering eyes and death in his red right hand.' Frankly, we're off and running just as we're realising what a fantastic job Greg Collins did with the design of the book, with well-chosen fonts, neatly dirtied pages that appear white on black for the first in every chapter. We don't slow down until chapter 63, almost 300 pages later, at which point we can finally breathe again.

Charlotte thinks she's just a normal girl, albeit one with a dark history that's frequently hinted at but not actually detailed until the time is right some way into the book, during a scene in which the ladies in my life would revel. However, the Man in Black knows that she owns a particular talent, which he calls Sight, of which she's been, so far, blissfully unaware. His activation of her Sight prompts her to become his rather unwilling acolyte and a strange relationship begins, forged from the need and ability to destroy gods.

And there's really not a heck of a lot more to say that doesn't venture into spoiler territory. I'd happily talk about the gods they face off against but you deserve to discover them in your own time. I'd delve into Charlie's history, but that's unfair given how the novel is constructed. Trying to fashion a simple synopsis merely highlights once more how little is actually here. I'd especially love to detail the special guest appearance but that's surely a tentacle too far and I should try to hold on to my sanity instead.

Really it isn't what happens that's important here. It's how it happens with style. Just like the Man in Black scoops up Charlie, Tuck scoops us up and throws us into an adventure that unfolds with such speed that we have no time to prepare until it's over and we breathe in satisfaction because we survived the experience and, damn, wasn't it cool? I'll avoid talking about the details, so you can catch them as they fly by, fleshing out the background to their respective scenes.

What I can say is that I enjoyed it immensely, even if it felt like Tuck was trying a little too hard. It's not just the omnipresent red right hand of the title which never finds meaning beyond its cool imagery, it's the fact that he clearly started out with a checklist of Lovecraftian vocabulary that he just had to include in the book somewhere. Eldritch? Check. Cyclopean? Of course! Cimmerian? Now, c'mon. How does that one fit? I have no idea. The point is that they're all fantastic words whose mere presence helps to evoke that mood of cosmic terror that Lovecraft pioneered, but they don't necessarily have a valid place in this book.

But hey, if that's the worst thing I can say about it, there should be little to stop you picking up a copy and seeing if you can grab a breath partway through. Anything that features a line like, 'The Crawling Chaos was right,' automatically wins in my opinion. Now, let's see the sequel and, more importantly, let's see the graphic adaptation because that's what this really aches to be. Sure, it'll miss out on all of Tuck's agreeably descriptive prose ('Shapes and sigils twisted across the surface, finger-painted by lunatics'), but that's the artist's job in this story. His is to set the scene and keep it in motion. As overtly black and white as the design makes this, it screams to be read in colour, especially the colour red. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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