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Not Lovecraftian ... but not bad!
on April 6, 2013
Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle / 1594745919
"Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" is a new YA series I've stumbled into; the books are set in a world much like our own, with the minor difference that no one has ever heard of H.P. Lovecraft, and Cthulhu and Shoggoths and whatnot all exist and are rapidly crawling out of the woodwork at the local brand-new middle school. And our everyman YA protagonist Robert Arthur is stuck in the middle between the adults-who-don't-know and the monsters-who-do.
I love Lovecraftian stories and am always down for a new exploration of the mythos, but I will admit upfront that these books are a little disappointing in the execution of the themes. For me, at least, it's not really enough to slap demons and tentacle-monsters into a book for it to be Lovecraftian; if there's not soul-crushing foreboding and a descent into a horrified lonely mind-breaking nightmarish existence, then it's just not the same. And "Tales from Lovecraft Middle School" doesn't really delve into existential angst or soul-striping fear, probably because the targeted YA audience needs to be able to sleep at night. I get that, and I think the series is fine as a "Lovecraftverse, but not Lovecraftian feel", but if you are coming to the series for that, be aware you're probably not going to get it.
Once I got over my initial disappointment that the tone wasn't quite what I'd hoped for going in, I was pleased to find that this book is still solidly good. It reminds me a lot of the Percy Jackson series, but with Lovecraftian monsters instead of Ancient Greek Mythology ones, which I think we can all agree is a positive thing. The writing is solid, the action moves at a good clip, I never felt like the narrative got bogged down in any place, and the characterization is really well-developed. I think I liked the characterization the most, actually; Robert Arthur is an everyman, but avoids coming off as bland, and his girlfriend and sidekick are both surprisingly well realized. I was also pleased to note that while at least one twist is telegraphed reasonably far in advance for the genre-savvy reader, a final twist is justified nicely enough that it felt very natural indeed. So kudos for that.
Overall, this opening to the series is well-written and fast-paced and I enjoyed it thoroughly once I adjusted my expectations for the content. This probably won't curl your toes in fear, but if you like mythological YA school series, this one can scratch a somewhat edgier itch.
~ Ana Mardoll