Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus
Golden Goblin Press
Brian M. Sammons & Oscar Rios
Having fortunately found some time to keep writing when I thought it might be otherwise, I can now turn to the second of the Golden Goblin Press anthologies that editor Brian M. Sammons kindly provided to me in return for fair and honest reviews. Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus is, as the title suggests, a direct sequel to the first anthology I reviewed from the publisher, Tales of Cthulhu Invictus. Once again, Golden Goblin have put together a number of short stories that portray the might of the Roman Empire – the strongest power in the known world at the time – clashing with the otherworldly powers of the Cthulhu Mythos in an inevitably futile attempt to resist their vile, predatory encroachment on humanity. Veteran Mythos editor Brian M. Sammons returns once again to provide his services in curating an excellent anthology, and here he is joined by Oscar Rios, Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of Golden Goblin Press.
Starting, as always, with the cover illustration, I was happy to see that artist Alberto Guerra has returned again to the Cthulhu Invictus world, providing another fantastic and evocative piece of cover art as he did for the first anthology. The cover art for Cthulhu Invictus portrayed a Roman Trireme surging away from Elder God Cthulhu as he erupted from the oceans, but that was at least a sign of Rome’s inherent power. But with the cover art for Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus, Guerra provides the reader with a far more fatalistic image: a Roman Centurion hastily ties a woman to a stone pillar engraved with blasphemous sigils, as fearful citizens watch tentacles raise from the waters of the nearby bay. The haunting message is quite clear: for all of its might and power, Rome is reduced to fear and sacrifice, the same as any other human power across the millennia when it confronts the deities that inhabit Lovecraftian space and time
Moving onto the contents of the anthology, Mr Sammons has done a stellar job in bringing together another group of distinguished Mythos writers, many of whom provided stories for the first anthology in the series, and there are ten stories in total – one more than its predecessor. It opens with another atmospheric, ethereal tale from the pen of William Meikle, Outpost telling the tale of a small team of veteran soldiers being dispatched to the ragged edges of the Roman Empire, the Antonine Wall in Scotland; the protagonist, Marcus Caelius, has been tasked with assisting the local Centurion with a devilish and inhuman weapon that the hostile natives have unleashed – a strange fog accompanied by unsettling music that kills any it touches. As Caelius investigates, he discovers a cult trying to unleash an insanely powerful weapon on the Roman forces, which he struggles to bring to an end. Outpost is another chance for Mr Meikle to introduce his unique take on the Mythos canon, with strange, unearthly music threatening to take away the sanity of any who hear it, and it’s nice to see it pitched in such a different time period and location. It results in a fast-paced, moody adventure with a chilling ending, highlighting that any victory that Rome achieves is purely temporary.
After such a strong start, the anthology continues upwards with The Eye of Cybele from Pete Rawlik, who delivers a rather interesting story of a small Roman forces sent to the distant Sibyl of Delphi in order to find and recover a token of the goddess Cybele, and return it to Rome; only then, claim the Decemviri Sacrorum, will the Empire be safe from an oncoming catastrophe. The involvement of the Decemviri is a nice tie-in to the previous anthology, and also provides a natural start point to the tale; before long, Rawlik is effortlessly weaving together Roman, Greek and Lovecraftian mythos together to create a tense and often quietly disturbing story of desperation, religious fanaticism and betrayal that also provides a ‘classic’ Lovecraftian ending of an apocalypse only delayed, not averted.
The third story in the collection, The Apotheosis of Osirantinous: The Reborn and Everlasting is set in the same universe as his story from the previous anthology, The Unrepeatables, and once again involves soldier Modius Macula and philosopher Damis of Nineveh as they are once again dragged unwillingly into another conspiracy involving the highest reaches of Roman society and yet more Elder Gods. I loved Mr Erdelac’s first story, in which he created a fun, fast-paced and action-packed occult detective story, and I’m happy to report that The Apotheosis of Osirantinous is just as good, if not better. This time the author has created a complex and compelling story that involves Emperor Hadrian, his ‘friend’ Antinous, and a plot that could well bring the Empire to its knees. The author obviously had some fun writing the story, as there’s a great energy here as Macula and Damis race through tombs and then out onto the open sea to try and thwart the plot, and there are some twists and turns and back-stabbing that would astonish even the great Poirot as the story comes to a climax. Hugely enjoyable and one of the highlights of the anthology.
Going through the anthology, Penelope Love delivers another cracking tale, this time charting the fortunes and misfortunes of Lucilla of the family Avitus as she becomes entangled in the prophecies of The Sybil at Cumae, the story delivering another demonstration of why tangling with the occult can only ever lead to death, disaster and insanity, even if one tries to escape and ignore it. Co-editor Oscar Rios also provides a story for the collection, A Special Day, which I found to be a touching and also grim look at fate, love and the depths that misfortune can cast people into after the death of a loved one; the supposedly simple trade that pleb Marcus Calvus is given at a local cemetery – his beloved wife’s body for a fortune that will ensure he and his family can finally prosper – turns out to have sinister consequences. But unlike many Mythos tales, the consequences aren’t earth-shattering or apocalyptic; cleverly, Rios instead shows how personal they can be, and even more painful as a result, as Calvus never sees the grim fate his wife’s body meets.
Coming to the end, Christine Morgan yet again shows that she is one of the finest writers in the Mythos genre today, with an instinctive understanding of the themes of the genre, and how true Lovecraftian horror is provided in dribs and drabs, little incidents coming together to presage a final, devastating and mind-shattering conclusion. The Eighth Hill tells the tale of the eighth sacred hill in Rome, forgotten by all but a few, and the disgrace that has come as a result; auger Cadmeus has fallen onto hard times, becoming bitter and indolent and caring little for the sacred duties he once performed. But when birds begin falling from the sky, and an old stone gateway shows signs of activity, leading to another, very wrong world, Cadmeus discovers that augers all over Rome have seen signs of an oncoming apocalypse for the Empire. Morgan’s world-building and writing skills are as brilliant as ever, and she deftly pulls the reader along in the wake of Cadmeus and his colleagues, until insanity beckons in the last few lines. And finally, fittingly, Joseph S. Pulver Sr. provides an ethereal, mind-bending and (at times) word-bending tale in What The Moonlight Brought, as a group of unfortunate Legionaries encounter the Elder Gods Nyarlathotep and Hialdiabrun with mind-shattering (and text-shattering) consequences.
Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus is another winner from editor Brian M. Sammons and Golden Goblin Press – fantastic cover art, first-rate curation and stories that explore and exploit the depths of the Roman-Cthulhu Mythos setting to the degree that it deserves. An entertaining and captivating anthology that I hope is one day joined by a third in the series – there certainly seems to be a great deal more that can be mined from such a fertile setting