A gritty funhouse of Cthulhu Mythos horror and adventure – 4-Stars
The Tower of Zhaal by C.T. Phipps is an undeniably fun mixture of sci-fi anime + a romping indie horror video game + 1981’s Heavy Metal. I don’t make the reference to Heavy Metal lightly – if there was a cartoon adaptation of this novel, it’d be a wrecking ball.
The Tower of Zhaal is the second installment in C.T. Phipps Cthulhu Armageddon series. It follows a band of unlikely anti-heroes across a desolate future-earth ravaged by the Rising of the Great Old Ones. But there are worse fates than living in the ruins of a world destroyed by cosmic horrors – and a final devouring terror yet to be unleashed. Phipps’s ragged renegades, assembled together like the Seven Samurai meeting the end of the world, are all that stand between what’s left of mankind and the awakening of the last sleeping Great Old One – an act that promises the final oblivion for a dying world.
The Tower of Zhaal is fast-paced, witty, and darkly comedic, swinging snark like a hatchet. So when it comes in with the occasional backswing and takes the apocalyptic subject matter with sudden sincerity, it catches you off guard. There are surprising islands of seriousness throughout, reachable via stepping stones of black humor. Very reminiscent of the tone of Zombieland that way.
The book is steeped in enough crunchy Mythos lore that you might find yourself piecing together a red-string conspiracy wall to keep track of it all and going back for other colors of string. In a good way. Crazy things happen at the intersection of the red, green, and pink strings.
Which also makes me think Phipp’s Cthulhu Armageddon saga would make an excellent graphic novel or comic adaptation. The otherworldly, alien, perception-bending (and sometimes grotesque) imagery would be one hell of a thing to lay on a guy with a head full of acid. If ever there were pages of a book (or comic) that might start whispering and wiggling noodling appendages at you while you stare at them, this could definitely be the one.
I admit I had difficulty getting into the first book in this series. It had problems settling on tone and theme that I found off-putting. But The Tower of Zhaal definitely outgrew those wobbly legs. If Phipp’s Cthulhu Armageddon series has a “growing the beard” moment – The Tower of Zhaal is it.
Oh, and if you’ve been following this series and wondering when or if Cthulhu himself was ever going to make an appearance… Well… you’ll see. 😉
I’ll be looking forward to the third installment in this series – Azathoth’s Tree – when it lands.
Great popcorn fun – dark, witty, and a Biblical manifesto of Cthulhoid horror. 4-Stars.