The lucky country.
Land of the Southern Cross.
The nation where everything is venomous, poisonous, or just plain freaky looking. An ancient land filled with fictional possibility and hidden terrors that lurk just beneath its dusty plains.
So what do you get when you combine all of this with the mythos of H. P. Lovecraft? A brilliant and thrilling tome, that's what.
I've been on a bit of a Lovecraftian and Cosmic Horror adventure this year. I've snapped up every story that I could find, consuming them with glee and gusto into the early hours of every morning. So when I first stumbled across Cthulhu: Deep Down Under I was beside myself. A Lovecraftian anthology focused entirely on Australia and its neighbours... holy shit... take all of my money!
I obtained a copy, jumped right in, and lost myself in a haze of eldritch violence, thrilling plots, and other worldly weirdness. And did I mention the amazing artworks that accompany every single story in the anthology? Pure... fucking... awesome.
Cthulhu: Deep Down Under literally has everything. Scintillating action, mysterious locations and events that defy explanation, and a raft of protagonists and antagonists that will suck you down into the deep dark holes of the Australian landscape. Every single story (there are 24.. I won't mention them all in this review) stands out, and every single one of them enhances the anthology in unique and wonderful ways. Aaron Sterns opens the book with 'Vanguard', a tale that wouldn't look out of place on the big screen. Imagine SOG (Australian version of SWAT) operatives going toe to toe with cultists, troubled detectives trying to protect their only witness, and a ball clenching cultist assault on a safe house and you've only just scratched the surface. Sterns sets the bar high, and every story that follows reaches it. I adored Jason Fischer's 'The Dog Pit', with its nods to Australian history and its great protagonist (The Dutchman), and I was enthralled by Kaaron Warren's 'In the Drawback', a mysterious and creepy tale exploring what happens when the tide recedes and never comes back in. Jason Nahrung's 'An Incident at Portsea, 1967' also impressed me, creepily reimagining what happened to Harold Holt when he went for that fateful swim and I also loved G. N. Braun's dark and terrifying tale 'Depth Lurker', where after a mining accident a rescue party uncovers a monster of cosmic proportions.
Some of the other notable stories in this anthology include 'Where the Madmen Meet' by T. S. P. Sweeny, a dark and terrifying story of soldiers returning from war changed and under the influence of something sinister, and 'Darkness Beyond' by Jason Franks, a fantastically moody and creepy piece about a Port Arthur prisoner and his encounter with a strange beast. I also loved the short piece 'Dreamgirl' by Stephen Dedman, where an indigenous woman gets her revenge on the son of a mining magnate by stranding him in another dimension, and it was also wonderful to see David Conyers at his best with 'Impossible Object'. Robert Hood once again proved how talented he is with 'The Black Lake's Fatal Flood', a tale that delighted and freaked me out at the same time. In fact I can't think of any stories in this anthology that disappointed me. The editors have done an outstanding job in assembling a cast of writers and artists who not only fulfil the brief, but smash it out of the park. Every single contributor not only brings a distinctly Lovecraftian feel to their work, but also a wonderful touch of Australia. The inclusion of Australian history, locations, and vernacular into the Lovecraftian mythos added an incredibly fascinating layer to what is already a detailed and vivid universe, and I was enthralled by the nods that were made towards issues such as land rights and the impact of mining on the environment.
I mentioned the artwork earlier, but I have to mention it again. It is, to put it simply, jaw dropping. Talented artists such as Greg Chapman, Andrew J. McKiernan, Lindsay C. Walker, and Macelo Baez all delight and terrify with their pieces, and each sets the tone for the story to come. I was over the moon to see every story has a piece of art to accompany it, and it made my reading experience so much more special seeing the stories come to life in wonderful pieces of art.
If I had one small criticism it would be that there are a number of editing and spelling oversights throughout the anthology. I can, however, overlook this issue as it's only a small amount.
Cthulhu: Deep Down Under is a special anthology. It is special because it not only entertains you, but also takes you on a terrifying and thrilling journey into the darkness. All of the stories are riveting, and all of the artwork is outstanding. Mixing the ancient and burnt landscape of Australia into a melting pot filled to the brim with Old Ones, cultists, dark tomes and strange creatures not only works well, it works brilliantly. There are some amazing Lovecraftian anthologies out there, and Cthulhu: Deep Down Under ranks up there with the best of them.
A truly superb anthology, and one that I am stoked to have sitting on my shelves.
5 out of 5 stars.