For anyone who missed the announcements, Aconyte Books (a still-fairly-new Asmodee subsidiary) are going to be putting out tie-in fiction for some of Asmodee’s major game-lines: Keyforge, Legend of the Five Rings, Terrinoth (Descent, Runebound, Legend of Dragonholt etc) and – most relevant for fans of the Card Game Cooperative – Arkham Horror!
It’s been several years since FFG produced tie-in novels for Arkham. The Dark Waters Trilogy, the Lord of Nightmares Trilogy, and (my personal favourite) Feeders From Within were entertaining stories in their own right, although they seem to have slipped to non-cannonical status since the soft-reboot of Arkham lore which came with 2017’s The Investigators of Arkham Horror.
We also have, of course, had some novellas direct from FFG, often (unfairly in my opinion) dismissed as “those things the promo cards come in,” but this is the first time in a long while that we’ve had full-length fiction to really sink our teeth into.
The first of 2 announced Arkham novels coming from Aconyte, Wrath of N’Kai is written by Joshua Reynolds, a prolific writer who brings a huge amount of experience from writing Warhammer tie-in fiction, as well as his own original creations (you can find out more about his work here)
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a review copy of Wrath of N’Kai, and, whilst I haven’t seen the final, published book yet, I’ve seen enough of the writing and the story to be able to share a few thoughts with everyone today…
Our protagonist for The Wrath of N’Kai, is one Countess Alessandra Zorzi, a self-declared “acquisitionist” (you or I would probably say “thief…”). Specialising in the acquisition of weird and esoteric items, Alessandra has come to Arkham to steal a mummy, recently unearthed from a mound in Oklahoma, of all places. Unfortunately for her, she is not the only interested party, and Alessandra soon finds herself becoming rather more familiar with Arkham than she would have liked, caught between numerous factions as she tries to uncover the truth, get paid, and maybe even make it out alive.
Alessandra herself is an interesting character. The author does a good job in presenting us with a loveable rogue who we can sympathise with, despite her chosen occupation being squarely on the wrong side of the law. We’re gradually given hints at her background, previous brushes with the supernatural, as well as some thoroughly human tragedy in her past: there’s enough there to make her feel real without overwhelming us with an info-dump, or removing that element of mystery.
The story starts off at a good pace, and events keep ticking along at a rate to keep us engaged. I felt like the plot got a little bit loose in the middle, but by then, hopefully, you’re engaged enough with the story and the key characters that you won’t mind too much.
If, like me, you’re coming to Wrath of N’Kai as an huge Arkham Horror Files fan, one of your biggest questions is probably whether your favourite investigators will be putting in an appearance. I’m on a strict “no-spoilers” warning, so won’t be naming any names, but I counted 4 who actually appeared, (plus a 5th who gets mentioned by name). Of these, 2 are essentially cameo appearances, whilst the others get to actually make a proper contribution to events.
In some respects, the FFG-investigators were the one aspect of Wrath of N’Kai that I found a bit disappointing: in particular, the one who appears the most never feels particularly developed as a character, even by the end. However, that probably says as much about the expectations and preconceptions I already had about the character (and how I would have expected them to have behaved) as it does about their depiction in the novel.
Unlike the FFG novellas, the board/card-game Investigators are not the stars of the show, and whilst they play a key part in making Arkham feel like Arkham, Wrath of N’Kai is primarily its own story: Alessandra, her sidekick, her foil, her chief adversary – are all new creations from Reynolds’ pen, and these characters all feel believable enough for a story of this length.
Whilst Alessandra herself is an intriguing character, the real reason that Wrath of N’Kai works is that Reynolds has captured the flavour of Arkham so well. This might not be Lovecraft’s Arkham – Wrath of N’Kai certainly isn’t a work of cosmic horror – but it is FFG and Chaosium’s Arkham. That subtle, creeping, wrongness that leaves an all-pervasive sense of unease, the nagging voice that cuts through the loudest jazz and gunfire. There are appearances from plenty of key Arkham figures, those recurring characters who crop up in many of the stories, but beyond that, the city itself is a character
All-in-all, I really enjoyed Wrath of N’Kai. Tie-in fiction always walks a difficult line, and I think this book does it well. We have an engaging lead whose story you will want to follow, plenty of Easter-Eggs for die-hard fans, but also a work that is accessible for those with only the most superficial knowledge of the setting. If this is the standard that we can expect from Aconyte, then I’ll be watching their upcoming releases with interest.
As someone who reads a lot of secondary world Fantasy, I could find holes to pick in the world-building, but you don’t need to spend long looking at the cover to understand that Wrath of N’Kai is wearing its pulpy heart on its sleeve. This is a fast-paced story that doesn’t burden you with more detail than the story really needs. All-in-all a satisfying read.
Now we just need to lobby FFG for Alessandra to start appearing in the games.
If you’re a fan of all things Arkham Horror lore, you might enjoy my Chance Encounters series – narrativized accounts of an Arkham Horror the Card Game campaign.
You can also check out my Investigators Revisited series to understand why I get quite so over-obsessed with the portrayal of the FFG characters in fiction – once Wrath of N’Kai is released properly, it might even get referenced in an upcoming article in this series!