That Which Should Not Be: Heavy mythological Lovecraftian horror

That Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley horror book reviewsThat Which Should Not Be by Brett Talley

That Which Should Not Be is a dark and moody book, fit for a cold autumn or winter evening in front of a crackling, smoky fire. The writing style reeks of HP Lovecraft, but also of Bram Stoker. This is not surprising, of course, as the novel is an ode to Lovecraft’s pantheon and theme of elder gods. This is Brett Talley’s first novel, but he nails the voice and tone of late 19th/early 20th century fiction.

One can never truly know when he steps outside his door whether today will be a day that passes without consequence, or if it will be one that changes everything.

A student from Lovecraft’s famed Miskatonic University is hunting for a lost book of ancient renown. It’s not the well-known Necronomicon, but rather a companion piece to HP’s much discussed fictional tome. While seeking the book, Carter Weston stops at a pub to share a few drinks with locals to see what he can learn. Four locals then each dive into their own dark tale of the supernatural. Talley’s novel wraps these four stories around the persistent theme of Carter’s awakening to the elder gods and his search for the book.

Talley channels Lovecraft through plot development, theme, and mood. As is characteristic with this genre, there are few decisive conclusions. The monster in the back of the cave is built upon a pedestal of suggestion rather than true blood and gore. The horror resides in what’s unseen, or perhaps merely glimpsed at the corner of one’s eye. The truth is out there … just beyond reach … just outside of the lighted pathways … just within the darkest recesses of city alleys, of partially opened bedroom doors.

The following expresses the fulcrum upon which the story balances. Carter chats with the men in the pub between tales and can’t bring himself to accept the tales he’s told:

“Ah, the consummate skeptic,” the Captain said.
“And I would wear the name gladly,” I replied, “for it’s only the skeptic that gives value to the truth.”
“Yes,” the Captain said nodding, “but only when he is open to the truth. The skeptic with a closed mind becomes the worst kind of believer.”

Each story is unique and touches on something familiar. Myths run deep and rampant. And while the heft of the tales themselves focus on these legends, the characters themselves act as authorial mouthpieces for its analysis. The four individual stories, as well as the connective tissue of the arching narrative, address the threads of an uber-world religion … references to a common foe, to common legends, regionalized as each peoples evolved over time.

But as I said before, in all myth is truth. And do we not see, in the myths of all civilizations, this belief, this feeling, that the gods have lived amongst us? That they have walked on the Earth? That they have ruled it? And at some point were overthrown? From the ancient sands of Egypt to garden-girdled Babylon. From the schools of Greece to the most high and palmy state of Rome, all speak of the same legend, the same faith.

The writing is a bit clunky in parts and the stories are derivative. Some questionable plot points drive the narrative here and there, but upon reflection, this is likely due to the nascent efforts of an author learning and perfecting his trade. Overall, the plot is well-connected and the individual stories, though predictable, are well thought out and build upon the Lovecraftian foundation. It’s hard to find long-form fiction in the Lovecraftian horror sub-genre, and Talley does well to embed himself in this space.

That Which Should Not Be is the first in a two-book series. The second is called He Who Walks in the Shadow.

Published in 2011. Miskatonic University has a long-whispered reputation of being strongly connected to all things occult and supernatural. From the faculty to the students, the fascination with other-worldly legends and objects runs rampant. So, when Carter Weston’s professor Dr. Thayerson asks him to search a nearby village for a book that is believed to control the inhuman forces that rule the Earth, Incendium Maleficarum, The Inferno of the Witch, the student doesn’t hesitate to begin the quest. Weston’s journey takes an unexpected turn, however, when he ventures into a tavern in the small town of Anchorhead. Rather than passing the evening as a solitary patron, Weston joins four men who regale him with stories of their personal experiences with forces both preternatural and damned. Two stories hit close to home as they tie the tellers directly to Weston’s current mission. His unanticipated role as passive listener proves fortuitous, and Weston fulfills his goal. Bringing the book back to Miskatonic, though, proves to be a grave mistake. Quickly, Weston realizes he has played a role in potentially opening the gate between the netherworld and the world of Man. Reversing the course of events means forgetting all he thought he knew about Miskatonic and his professor and embracing an unknown beyond his wildest imagination.

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JASON GOLOMB, on our staff from September 2015 to November 2018, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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One comment

  1. Sounds like an interesting addition to the overall Lovecraft mythos. Thanks, Jason!

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  1. Reading Links…8/24/16 – Where Worlds Collide - […] http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/that-which-should-not-be/ A dark and moody book in the vein of Bram Stoker and Lovecraft. […]

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