Reading Time: about 6 hours
Dance of the Damned is another series set roughly around the time of Ghouls of the Miskatonic, although the stories are related in theme only. This is the second series released based on the Arkham Horror board game, and is the first book in a planned trilogy. Unfortunately it suffers from some of the same problems that plagues Ghouls of the Miskatonic.
This story takes place in New York, Arkham, and Kingsport, a coastal fishing town that was an expansion for the board game. The main characters are Daisy the librarian; Annabel, flighty and scared friend of Daisy; Morgan, bodyguard/convict; and Henri Damascus, the undead sorcerer. These characters are developed more than the ones in Ghouls of the Miskatonic; with fewer characters, Bligh can devote more pages to each. The interactions between the characters seems well thought out and believable.
The main struggles I had with this book revolve around the amount of detail Bligh uses to set a scene…it’s too much and bogs down the flow of the story. Several times early in the story I had to put the book down and come back to it later due to disinterest. Bligh tries to introduce action sequences in these early stages that are the result of minor characters meeting gruesome deaths, but these sequences are disjointed and don’t flow naturally, and they are few and far between.
Like Ghouls of the Miskatonic, Dance of the Damned builds up to a climatic ending, but with much different results. The story gets better as it nears the end, where Bligh focuses more on action than detail. And this is where Dance of the Damned differs greatly…where Ghouls of the Miskatonic wraps things up with a somewhat happy (using that term loosely) ending, Dance of the Damned is dark and twisted through to the end, with gory details provided along the way. In the board game, characters win by closing gates before the “Old One” can come through…in Ghouls of the Miskatonic the way in which this was done made no sense, but in Dance of the Damned, the attempt to close the gate is explained better. The story leaves more questions than answers at the end; the conclusion occurs rather abruptly, and answers are likely forthcoming in the next book.
Will I read the sequel? At this point I’m not sure. I will look to see if any of the same characters return and the story line continues. As far as a recommendation, if you can wade through the lagging beginning, you’ll be rewarded with more action, despite a few inconsistencies that make it feel staged. It is my belief that there were page constraints from the publisher (since both books are exactly the same length), and that with another 200-300 pages, Bligh could have written a fantastic novel. Still, for a game board adaptation, it’s not too bad…
Format: Paperback, 2011
Reading Time: about 6 hours
As a big fan of Arkham Horror, the successful board game by Fantasy Flight Games, I had looked forward to reading this book with great anticipation. Like many other media transitions (like books made from movies and vice-versa), Ghouls of the Miskatonic falls short of my expectations.
The story centers around Miskatonic University, in the fictional New England town of Arkham. The main characters are Amanda, a University student troubled by horrific dreams; Rita, a felow student and Amanda’s roommate; Oliver Grayson, a ridiculed professor; Rex Murphy, a reporter investigating the grisly murders on campus; Finn, an Irish gangster; and Gabriel Stone, a Pinkerton agent investigating the death of his daughter. With only so many pages to cover material and so many characters, there’s only so much background McNeill can flesh out. As a result the characters don’t have a lot of depth, but they do remain consistent. The characters feel a lot like board game characters, represented by a card listing attributes and a brief backstory.
The story originally begins as an investigation, but eventually morphs into a rescue attempt, as some of the characters are kidnapped by Cthulu cultists. I really struggled through the book, as the story moves along sluggishly and bounces around from one character to another. The action finally begins to pick up at the end of the book, but here is where the story falls apart completely.
*Minor spoiler alert*
At the end of the book a rescue is attempted, in which some characters confront the cultists in a University frat house. Inexplicably, a minor character locked in a mental hospital outside of town calls down fire from the sky, at the behest of the very god the cultists serve, and the fire only hits the frat house. In other words, this god destroys his worshipers, instead of empowering them to open a portal to bring the god through to this world where it can rule supreme. It makes absolutely no sense and completely ruined the story for me. Maybe things are explained in the next book, but I have no desire to pursue this further.
McNeill does the best job he can with what he’s given – I imagine he was required to follow certain guidelines when writing. Of the two Arkham Horror books I’ve read, Ghouls of the Miskatonic is superior, with McNeill’s writing style easier to follow. Still, the story feels shallow – like a group of players sat down to play a board game and wrote a book about their game experience. It was probably foolish of me to expect more, considering the source material, but I’ve learned my lesson and won’t be picking up the sequel.