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Book Review: ‘Herald of Ruin’ by Tim Pratt an Arkham Horror Novel

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Carl Sanford is the de facto king of Arkham. As the Magus of the Silver Twilight Lodge, there is nothing he doesn’t have his hands in. But that’s before a new player comes to town. Tillinghast purports to be a humble shopkeeper, hardly worth Sanford’s notice. But he has quietly begun undermining Sanford, subtly stealing his town out from under him. Just what does this new adversary want, and is Sanford strong enough to send him packing? Or is Sanford the one who will be leaving? Big things are being set in motion in Tim Pratt’s Herald of Ruin, and one thing is for sure, Arkham will never be the same.

[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 Herald of Ruin contains some spoilers!]

Herald of Ruin brings a new player to Arkham

Carl Sanford is used to being the biggest dog on the block. He’s created himself an empire in Arkham, and he rules it with all the care that has brought every past empire to ruin. That is, he’s forgotten about the “little people” who make his empire possible. He mainly inspired loyalty through fear and sees people as tools. Then along comes Randall Tillinghast.

Claiming to be just a simple shopkeeper, Tillinghast quietly comes to Arkham and sets up shop without Sanford’s knowledge. He begins passing out gifts to people that Sanford has largely overlooked or mistreated, and his generosity is most appreciated. At first, it isn’t clear if Tillinghast is a bad guy, a good guy, or maybe just a morally gray salesman like he claims. But as he chips away at the loyalty of those surrounding Sanford, it becomes clear that he carries a big stick to go with all those carrots, and he will use it to get what he wants. 

Sanford has been presented as a foe and as an “enemy of my enemy” ally in past Arkham books. Will Pratt make him a hero in Herald of Ruin, or is he just fighting to maintain his A level villain status? Even those who have vowed their loyalty to him aren’t sure if that’s for the best. Everyone, from Ruby the hired thief, to Altman his bodyguard, to the Warden who protects the Lodge, questions who to back in the coming fight, Sanford has to face the fact that he might not be the most powerful person in town anymore. But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up, he’ll fight until he’s dead, maybe even after.

Herald of Ruin echos another famous horror novel

As I was reading Herald of Ruin, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another book I read way back when I was a kid (no I should not have read it when I was a kid, that’s besides the point). The whole shop of people’s deepest desires that they get for increasingly nasty favors to the shopkeeper smacked of Stephen King’s Needful Things. Tillinghast is very similar to Gaunt, the shopkeeper in Needful Things, and he seems to know exactly what each person needs that he wants a favor from.  Now, I don’t mean to say that Pratt copied King, of course not! I’m just saying that he was definitely inspired by the gentlemanly shopkeeper who seems benevolent but ends up having very sinister intentions.

We never do get to learn exactly what Tillinghast’s intentions are in Herald of Ruin, beyond that he is completing a “great work”. But all things considered, I don’t think they’re good. He refuses to ever let anyone know just what his plans are and, in general, if you don’t want people to know what you’re doing, it means you shouldn’t be doing it. No one ever tries to hide good plans, just evil ones. So suffice it to say that Tillinghast isn’t there to improve the world and the people he draws to his side, especially Ruby, Altman, and the Warden, really should have thought harder before they just abandoned Sanford.

Herald of Ruin by Tim Pratt Arkham Horror

Pratt makes a bad guy the good guy in this Arkham Horror story

I’ve read the entire Arkham series, and Carl Sanford has appeared a number of times. He’s an awful guy. One of those power hungry jerks who thinks he’s better than everyone else and only sees what people can do for him, not actual people. Even when he’s been a more neutral ally character, it’s been in a completely self-serving role (think “if I don’t stop the bad guy, I die” not “I need to save the world”).

Needless to say, I don’t like him. Which made it really annoying that Pratt made me root for him in Herald of Ruin. I was quite happy at first to see Tillinghast come in and knock Sanford down a few pegs. He was always three steps ahead of him, and it was funny to see the unflappable Sanford, well, flapped?

But as it become obvious that Tillinghast was even worse than Sanford I changed sides. As everyone in the book jumped from team Sanford to Team Tillinghast, I did the exact opposite. Funny as it was to see the egotistical jerk cut down to size, he was a more gray character in his morality. He might be selfish and treat people like tools, but he wasn’t actively malicious, and he’d do anything to protect his town. Tillinghast however, is definitely evil. I don’t know what his total plan is yet, but I have a feeling that most won’t survive it, and those that do will wish they hadn’t. I’ll take Sanford’s awfulness over Tillinghast’s evil any day. 

So that left me in the awful position of hoping a character I hate can win because I know how much worse it will be if he loses. I’m very worried about what will happen to Ruby (who I like), Altman (who grew on me), and the Warden (who I empathize with) if Sanford does manage to win. But I worry about them, and the rest of the world, even more if Tillinghast manages to complete his “great work”.

Herald of Ruin is just the beginning

Most of the Arkham Horror Series are stand-alone stories. The characters continue to make appearances in other books, but each story is usually concluded (for better or worse) in the three hundred or so pages of their individual books. Not so for Herald of Ruin. As the name implies, it is simply the warning of something much worse on the horizon. Tillinghast neither completes his Great Work or is stopped. Sanford isn’t finished, but he doesn’t triumph. We don’t even get to learn what the ultimate danger really is. We just get to see the groundwork for future mayhem. 

I’m not sure if this is planning to lead up to a huge battle that will call in all the different secret societies and players that have been revealed so far in the Arkham Horror Series in anticipation of a series end. Or if it’s more of a miniseries within the series. But it does look to be a longer, multibook adventure with one main adversary and hero facing a single problem, which is different from anything else that Aconyte has done so far with the series. We’ve had the same bad guy in different books, and the same hero in different books, but always with new problems and plans, not a long, multipart plot. So I’m interested to see where this is going to go and am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Obviously, that means that I highly recommend Herald of Ruin. If you’ve enjoyed the other Arkham Horror books, you’ll love it. If you like horror in general, it’s going to be for you. If you have a weak stomach or just want sunshine and roses, probably not your jam. Also, no romance here. But there’s a couple of smart, sassy women, plenty of action, and a healthy dose of fear to get your heart pumping. A fun read for the summer that sets up more action coming soon, so check out Herald of Ruin from Aconyte.

Rating: 9/10

Heralds of Ruin by Tim Pratt is now available at Amazon and other book stores. Check out the other Arkham Horror series books I’ve reviews via the Arkham Horror tag or see one of my reviews below!

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Luna Gauthier

I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter

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