The Eldritch New Adventures of Becky Sharp
Micah S Harris
To say that The Eldritch New Adventures of Becky Sharp has been a passion project for author Micah S. Harris would clearly be a distinct understatement; one need only flip through the first few pages of the book to see just how much time, effort and money Harris has clearly poured into this novel. Indeed, I think this is perhaps the most lavishly illustrated and constructed novel that I have ever seen, even managing to outdo the amazing efforts by 18thWall Productions, one of my favourite publishers and producer of some of the best Cthulhu Mythos and Occult titles to be seen in the genre for quite some time. Not only is there that outlandish cheeky piece of cover art by Loston Wallace, who also contributed some of the internal illustrations, but for this expanded 2020 edition of the novel, Harris commissioned legendary Mythos artist M. Wayne Miller to do some additional illustrations; Miller is an absolutely amazing artist, and his pieces alone make the novel worth purchasing.
But that’s far from all – in addition to the cover art and interior illustrations are added some fantastic font work and title page illustrations, and not one but two forewords. The first, by artist and comic book writer Mark Schultz, gives us a succinct summation of the character of Becky Sharp and why she works so well in the Mythos universe; while the second foreword is actually an introductory essay for this new edition, by no less a person than James Bojaciuk, editor of the amazing 18thWall Productions. They’re both great essays, Bojaciuk’s especially as he gives us a sublime literary analysis that compares both this novel and Vanity Fair, and demonstrates some of the uncanny similarities between Thackeray’s classic and Harris’ work. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that Bojaciuk’s essay deserves to be published separately, it being a fascinating and multi-layered analysis by turns of Vanity Fair, Harris’ novel, and the Cthulhu Mythos as a wider concept.
While I wasn’t familiar with Vanity Fair the novel, its author William Makepeace Thackeray, or its protagonist Becky Sharp, I do have an innate fondness for the concept of taking a character from one piece of media and dropping them into another genre; one of the first horror anthologies I read as a teenager was the classic Shadows Over Baker Street, which blended Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle together to make an unforgettable collection of short stories. As such, I was very curious to see what Harris could conjure up with this potent mixture of a 19th Century classic of English literature, and the mind-bending chaos of the Cthulhu Mythos; I’d certainly been impressed by his short story Tatterdemalion in Grey in The Chromatic Court anthology from 18thWall Productions, an eerie and powerful piece of Mythos fiction that demonstrated his skill as a writer and innate understanding of the complexities and potential of the Mythos.
The Eldritch New Adventures of Becky Sharp opens in the aftermath of the events of Vanity Fair, with our protagonist Becky Sharp walking through the slums she has been reduced to treading in the aftermath of the classic novel; she is accosted by armed members of Her Majesty’s government because of her links to her former fiancée and his dubious dealings with intelligence regarding Her Majesty’s Empire. Taken into custody, the agents’ attitude towards her changes significantly when they find a strange occult talisman gifted to her by a mysterious benefactor. Rather than imprisoned as she fears, Becky is instead fed a lavish dinner and casually introduced both to a young Benjamin Disraeli and a man calling himself ‘Magus’ who advises, almost as an aside, that he is actually a member of the time-travelling, reality-shifting Great Race of Yith. Regaling her with memories from her wayward youth that she barely remembers, and he could not possibly know, Magus provides Becky with some uncomfortable truths about the universe, known reality, and even the metatextual nature of her own person. The outcome is the revelation that she is a very rare kind of human, one who cannot be possessed by the Yith; and in turn this makes her a very valuable asset to the alien race. At the same time, still reeling from these insane-sounding revelations, Becky is coerced into joining a secretive unit of the British Army and is sent on a mission to the distant land of Kor to try and secure a valuable, otherworldly resource for the British monarchy. Betrayed multiple times within the span of mere minutes upon arrival in Kor, Becky then finds herself affected by the mysterious power at the heart of the realm; from there, she is thrown into a series of adventures that span the known earth – and places in between – across entire centuries far beyond her normal lifespan, all in aid of combating an ancient and world-destroying power.
Along the way, she encounters characters from history and literary and film classics, both friendly and hostile, that either clash with her or seek the same sacred item she is charged with locating and securing. Seduction, murder, falsehoods and manipulation – all of these, and more, are the tools that Becky uses to survive in this terrifying new world, and even attempt to prosper even as an apocalyptic ending to the world threatens to dawn. Becky will clash with giant apes, fight shape-shifting lizards, help crush a slave-trading ring in Africa, and even witness the darkest days of the First World War before the final, cataclysmic ending. Harris has composed a fast-paced and highly energetic narrative that includes some amazingly inventive scenarios, all of which blend together effortlessly to transport Becky through an array of time periods and exotic locations, both on earth, within it, and even beyond it. The result is a fantastic process that merges many classics of literature and film into the Lovecraftian Mythos in order to create a unique, engaging and frequently surprising plot, with a fast-paced and entertaining flow that makes it a breeze to read; and Harris’ inventiveness is a joy to watch as he juggles a dozen different literary characters and deftly moves them around Becky and the different arcs of her near-immortal life.
Crucially, Harris’ characterisation is just as skilful and inventive as his plotting, as otherwise the entire enterprise just wouldn’t work as anywhere near as well as it does. Becky Sharp is an engaging protagonist, an immoral yet clear-headed character taken from her time, and doing whatever she has to do to survive in a chaotic, terrifying, often incomprehensible universe. You cannot help but sympathise with her as a result of Harris’ careful writing and plotting, especially as she is forced to move from a world of immorality within the strict boundaries of society, to a world entirely without morals; shorn of the stifling and misogynistic confines of Victorian ethics and standards, Becky is forced into an ultimate sort of freedom, doing whatever she needs to in order to survive and flourish as best she can in a world where terrifying, unknowable intelligences lurk behind the paper-thin walls of our reality. Harris imbues her with an inner strength, a ruthlessness born of her background and her new circumstances, that cannot fail to impress the reader: here is a protagonist, even an antihero, who does whatever she has to in order to prosper and does so without apology or regrets. Becky is accompanied in her journeys by some great supporting characters that she uses, abuses or is used by in turn. A particular favourite was the notorious Captain Clegg that she encounters while involuntarily involved with the slave ring; while he has a (deliberately) unassuming false persona, when his true form is revealed it is genuinely terrifying, especially when that form is given life by a fantastic piece of artwork by Wayne M. Miller. The relationship between Becky and Clegg is a touching one, two souls bound together by the machinations of the Yith and forever under threat of being cast apart again without a moment’s notice; it gives a vital touch of humanity to a woman who otherwise becomes hardened and cynical as the years pass and her mission becomes ever more difficult and obscure. Other characters who drift in and out of the narrative are also well-written, even if they are familiar literary creations; Harris has more than enough skill to deftly utilise even formidable characters like Sherlock Holmes without them becoming pastiches or stereotypes.
In The Eldritch New Adventures of Becky Sharp Micah S. Harris has constructed a delightfully bizarre and engaging take on the Cthulhu Mythos, one that is extremely fun to read and engage with as the author throws in one twist after another, all while deftly juggling a fascinating cast of secondary antagonists and support cast as they orbit around Becky Sharp. While on the surface it’s a fast-paced action-adventure mash-up of various genres and literary creations, the further you get into the novel, the more it reveals its intriguing depths and surprises, ensuring that it greatly benefits from multiple re-reads to see every reference, Easter Egg and thoughtful take on the Mythos that Harris has pulled from his imagination and placed into textual form. Taken all together, it means that The Eldritch New Adventures of Becky Sharp is as much a work of art as a novel, something to be experienced and savoured as much as read, all for a ridiculously low price for both the ebook and paperback editions. It’s certainly going to be a favourite on my (virtual) bookshelf for quite some time, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in genre mash-ups, classic literature, or the hidden depths of the Cthulhu Mythos.