Over the last several years, many prominent titles in the SFF space have taken HP Lovecraft’s work, carved out the virulent racism and left what remains of old Howard Phillips in a pile of bloody viscera on the floor. What’s left is all the Good Stuff: cosmic horror, eldritch abominations with unpronounceable names, and the encroaching death of the universe under the nightmarish rule of ancient evils.
Premee Mohamed’s Beneath the Rising is the Good Stuff.
Nick — who has the misfortune of being a Pakistani male in a world immediately post-9/11– has a best friend, Joanna “Johnny” Chambers. Johnny is a refreshing kind of Child Prodigy trope, closer to the Vivian Liao’s of fiction and less like the Musks and Jobses of reality: a powerful woman with great ideas, a big heart, and absolutely the capability to succumb to the evil that comes with holding wealth, power, and privilege from a shockingly young age. Johnny has been inventing things for a long time, but is still a teenager, and the reasons for this surprised me in the best way.
Johnny’s friendship with Nick, a mostly-platonic-except-for-some-Feelings dynamic, drives the story, and flies it across the world because, after her latest invention, unspeakable abominations and old gods pop into the neighborhood ready to wreck shop. This kicks off a genuinely thrilling adventure, and these two messed up kids make many mistakes, work some magic, and go through a realistic, sometimes crushing arc. Johnny has skyrocketed to fame, is beloved around the world, while Nick is a streetsmart everyman with a good heart and a sensible head. The way they revolve around one another, pushing and pulling at one another, makes for a brilliant book that’s a little fantasy, a little horror, a tiny bit sci-fi, and wholly excellent.
Among what I love the most about Beneath the Rising is how it is set just after September 11, 2001, not as an affectation, but as an account of real-feeling people during a tumultuous era. The Two Towers movie is not out yet and Nick and Johnny anticipate some hilarious things about Ents. There are cell- but not smart-phones, no GPS, and lots of wonderful things Only Nineties Kids Will Understand. These two almost-adults, one a genius but the other smart, scour the globe for invisible libraries and magic and bring a lot (a lot) of baggage with them. Traveling abroad is, of course, fraught with the potential for a demonic presence to emerge Agent Smithlike from any passerby, something Nick is already familiar with by virtue of being brown in the West in the early aughts.
If, like me, you had read none or very little of Premee Mohamed, this is a great place to start!