Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness
Macabre Ink/Crossroad Press
Any novel that starts with the sentence, “In a heated gun battle, I chased a small group of Nazis across the Utah desert” will always gain my immediate attention and loyalty as a reader; in fact, I’m having real difficulty thinking of an opening sentence that would actually hook me any more efficiently or effectively. But that’s just the way that author Matthew Davenport, and protagonist Professor Andrew Doran, rolls in Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness. The first novel in the series, The Statement of Andrew Doran, deeply impressed me when I read and reviewed it a few weeks ago, and as such I jumped at the chance to review its sequel when the author offered me a review copy in return for a fair and honest review. Picking up almost immediately after the events of the first book, Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness finds the titular Doran in a desperate race against time to uncover the secrets of Professor William Dyer, noted geology expert and the only survivor of the disastrous Pabodie Expedition to Antarctica, before the Third Reich can do the same and unleash whatever evils Dyer discovered in the infamous Mountains of Madness.
So once again we’re back in the beautifully pulpy world of Professor Andrew Doran, an archaeologist by trade and a professor (and now Dean) at Miskatonic University, and a man who hates Nazis just as much as the Elder Gods, and the eldritch horrors which try and leak through into our reality. One of the reasons that I love Doran so much as a character, and the way in which Davenport portrays him, is because unlike the majority of protagonists in Lovecraftian fiction, he isn’t someone who quails at the sight of a shoggoth, or loses his sanity over the trifling fact that Yig cultists are wearing Swastika armbands and working with the Third Reich to unleash Armageddon. Instead he uses his skill and knowledge of the Void and its sanity-shredding inhabitants to take the fight to them, supplemented by a magical sabre, a large number of guns, and his own fists when the occasion demands it. While in the first book in the series, The Statement of Andrew Doran, the good Professor occasionally still came across as the (unashamedly) Indiana Jones pastiche that he started the series as, it didn’t take me long reading the sequel to realise that Davenport had made Doran a unique character who’s able to stand on his own two feet. I particularly enjoyed the character arc that Doran moves through as the novel progresses; a loner by trade and by nature, and one saddled with unimaginable burdens, both from his knowledge as the Dean of Miskatonic University, Doran slowly comes to realise that the stubborn, self-sacrificial attitude of the past will no longer work, as it does nothing but potentially destroy those few people who befriend him and want to help him stop the Third Reich.
Speaking of characterisation, the cast of the first title come along for the ride in the sequel, and they too undertake some evolution and get fleshed-out a little. The resistance fighter, Leo, starts to see the underlying nature of the Lovecraftian universe and the Void, changing him irrevocably; and Olivia, Doran’s mysterious companion, faces betrayal in an intriguing and surprisingly subtle take on how someone, even as powerful as Doran, musty deal with the way the Void challenges his sanity. Once again, Davenport also cheerfully takes interesting characters from Lovecraft’s original writings and transplants them into his universe, this time making clever use of Professor William Dyer from Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness as almost secondary protagonist, as well as extending the grim story of Ammi Pierce from The Colour Out of Space; both characters are seamlessly integrated into the story, and do much to enrichen the narrative and plot. There’s also some scenes set in and around the town of Innsmouth, just as approximately 75% of all Lovecraftian tales have; but with these, Davenport actually does something original with the town and its inhabitants, smartly and deftly chartering a course between the two extremes that are usually seen in Mythos fiction – that Innsmouth remains a ruined, deserted town in the aftermath of the FBI raid, or that it inexplicably becomes repopulated by Dagon worshippers. It’s another instance of Davenport’s growing confidence in the character of Doran and his universe, and a sign that he has an innate understanding of the Mythos and what makes it tick.
This sense of confidence extends to the overall plot – it’s an interesting take on the Mountains of Madness, and has enough globe-trotting, action sequences and tense and ethereal scenes set within the void (including some well-done chapters set in The Dreamlands) to satr any reader interested in Mythos fiction and the continuation of Lovecraft’s universe. The plot moves along smoothly and organically, never feeling like the author is deliberately changing things for the sake of it, or putting a thumb on the scales to artificially generate tension; from the get-go it’s quite obvious what the arc of the narrative will be, and that there will be enough dangers on that path to threaten the physical and spiritual death of Doran and his companions.
Ultimately, what Andrew Doran at the Mountains of Madness provides is an excellent piece of pulpy, action-adventure fiction set within the Lovecraftian universe, that does justice to both of its inspirations – the adventures of Indiana Jones and other such pulp adventurers, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s hugely enjoyable, has enough Nazi-punching and Shoggoth-shooting to satisfy even the most ardent reader, and also successfully invokes the terrifying and existentially-grim nature of being a character in the Mythos universe. What it also does is provide something of a rarity in Lovecraftian fiction – it gives the reader a (qualified) sense of hope, with a cast of characters that, although deeply and negatively affected by fighting eldritch horrors and visiting their dimension, are able to successfully counter the Void sufficiently to fight the Third Reich and challenge it’s attempts to end the world. It’s rather a relief to find a protaganist that can survive more than a single book, and even fight back against the beings that inhabit the ‘true’ nature of the universe.
I understand from the author that another adventure from the diaries of Professor Doran is being written, and certainly from my point of view that can only be a good thing. This series deserve to be read by anyone with an interest in Lovecraft, pulp adventures, or just good books in general.