Cthulhu’s Daughter and Other Horror Tales by Rhiannon Frater. Book review

Cthulhu’s Daughter and Other Horror Tales by Rhiannon Frater, Self-Published, p/b, £5.60/Kindle, £1.94, Author’s website

Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

I can’t deny that it was the title that attracted me to this book. I’m a Cthulhu Mythos fan. I had some trepidation, though. The title story, ‘Cthulhu’s Daughter’, could easily have been something that Lovecraft purists would hate. Thankfully, there was no tentacle porn here. Lulu got her name from her mother’s incoherent screams, as she tried to cut her unborn baby out of her womb. They assumed she was screaming the child’s name, but she was actually screaming the name of her father.

In the introduction to ‘Flesh and Circuits’, Rhiannon Frater mentions that she’d like to write a full length novel about Henrietta, the robot protagonist of this story. I think she probably should. It’s a sweet tale, in which the monster is actually the human—humankind, in fact, when one considers the fate they have in store for Henrietta and all those like her. Where it lacks, is in detail: such as how David came to be in the house when he did; how they could do what they did in the end, without alerting the authorities. With more space, Andy’s uncaring, career-obsessed, drunken loser of a mother could have been fleshed out much more. I’d like to read that novel someday.

Vampires are up next, in ‘The Two Mothers’. In her intro, Rhiannon Frater states that, “The popularity of vampires in the last few years has tainted the once fearsome creatures of the night in the eyes of many horror fans. They’re now known as romantic heroes that sparkle in the sunlight, or muscle-bound shirtless men with flowing hair on the covers of romance novels.” While the vampires in this story are a far cry from the angst-ridden sparklers she mentions, they are still very much subject to human emotions. In this case, love is still the major factor: not romantic love, rather the maternal instincts of both the dying child’s real mother, and the desperately lonely vampire, who has lived for far too long without someone to love.

‘Fleeing’ is the werewolf story in this collection. A soldier, having realised that staying and dying, wouldn’t actually help anyone, decides to get the hell out. He proves himself not a coward, when he decides to help a woman who has been taken captive by a werewolf, who is also fleeing the scene. Again, it’s not bad, but suffers from being too short to really capture the reader.

My favourite story in this collection is ‘Amunet’, which involves an Egyptian mummy. The author claims a ‘Twilight Zone’ influence here, in the structure and ending, which can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Roland, an archaeologist, has become obsessed with the recently excavated mummy of the Egyptian queen, Amunet, much to the distress of his heavily pregnant wife and child. The fact that their Egyptian household staff have all deserted, muttering curses, doesn’t bode well.

I’d not been looking forward to the next story. Zombies are my absolute least favourite horror monster. I knew there would be a zombie story in the book, as Rhiannon Frater is perhaps best known for her zombie trilogy, ‘As the World Dies’, published by Tor. I actually liked this odd little story, ‘Stop Requested’, told from the perspective of a young blind woman’s guide dog. It was quirky and interesting. I particularly liked the narrow focus of Bonnie, the guide dog’s perceptions of the chaos that was taking hold around her.

Finally, we come to ‘The Key’, a story of monsters from beyond. Originally written as the prologue of a novel that the author may one day write, it works pretty well as a stand-alone piece. Susan isn’t terrified of mirrors—she’s terrified of the things she sees in the mirrors, and the possibility that those things intend using her as a means of ingress to our world. It’s Lovecraft by way of Clive Barker, with some nicely imagined extra-dimensional horrors. It works OK on its own, but if the author does write that novel, I think I’d like to read it.

Each story comes with a brief introduction by the author, which brings me to my one complaint about the Kindle formatting. Each of these intros has it’s own title, and it’s these titles that are listed in the table of contents, rather than the actual story titles. For instance, to go to the second story, ‘Flesh and Circuits’, one has to click on ‘The Monster With the Human Face’, which is confusing. It would have worked much better to have both the introductions and the actual stories linked in the table of contents.

Rhiannon Frater admits quite openly in her introduction that she is not very comfortable writing in the short form. Those stories that previously saw print in anthologies have been revised now they are freed from the shackles of constrictive word counts. In some cases, they still felt too limited and would be served better by being part of a larger whole. The writing is of a very high standard throughout and serves well as an introduction to this talented author.