Superhero fiction is a niche genre in a niche genre. Superheroes thrive in comic books, video games, and movies but aren't so very popular in prose fiction. Perhaps because it's such a visual medium but I think it's more there's just never been an iconic example of the genre. Despite this, there's some truly great examples of superhero fiction which I've been proud to review. Things like Wearing the Cape, Origins of a D-List Supervillain, Soon I Will Be Invincible, and Villains Rule.
BROKEN NIGHTS opens with a pair of petty crooks breaking into a store in order to steal a bunch of iphones when they're confronted by a shadowy cowled figure. They jump across a pair of rooftops when the figure jumps to catch them and misses the roof before smashing into the ground a couple of stories below. Wannabe Batman, Jason Night, does not begin his career in an auspicious manner.
THE TRIALS OF OBED MARSH is a novel by Matthew Davenport (Broken Nights, The Statement of Andrew Doran). It is a prequel pastiche written in homage of H.P. Lovecraft's immortal THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH. Obed Marsh was a posthumous character in that novel, being a sea captain who made the monstrous pact with the Deep Ones that condemned his hometown to degeneration into horrific fish monsters.
Anyone who is familiar with my writing (Cthulhu Armageddon, The Tower of Zhaal) knows I'm a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan. So much so that I fully was aware of who Obed Marsh was by the title as well as intrigued at someone choosing to write an expansion on his backstory only given in hints by the original Lovecraft novella. Indeed, Obed Marsh is one of the few characters in H.P. Lovecraft's short stories who can be said to have an actual story arc since the majority of characters were either depraved and insane to begin with or fall shockingly fast. Not so here.
The Trials of Obed Marsh follows Obed Marsh as he leaves his dying fishing village and searches for a way to save it. He encounters the mysterious people of an island and rather foolishly believes he can manipulate them into providing him with gold along with other useful items to sell. Soon, he discovers their supernatural powers are real but let's his greed overcome him. The book follows his degeneration and rationalizations right until we see what becomes of him.
By nature, this is a book which can't really be appreciated unless you've made a recent read of The Shadows over Innsmouth. It's a book for Lovecraft fans by a Lovecraft fan and that impacts my appreciation. Nevertheless, I'm not going to judge a cat for not being a dog. If you're a fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft then I think you're going to enjoy this work. Part of what I like about this book is the focus isn't on the Lovecraftian abominations or even the Deep Ones themselves. It is, ironically enough, a very Christian themed work in an atheist materialist universe. In this universe, Obed Marsh is a figure doomed by the principles of Pride, Greed, and other sins he cannot overcome despite his best effort. In proper Dickens-esque fashion, he's aware of these flaws but his struggles are things he cannot overcome.
I also appreciate how the people of Innsmouth bear a portion of the guilt for their ultimate damnation. They are all too eager to paper over the blasphemy, murder, rape, and other crimes which are at the heart of their deal with the Deep Ones. I tend to think there's an element of racism involved as they all believe themselves incapable of being fooled by the "dumb natives."
Ironically, I think the Deep Ones actually get a bit of a heroic upgrade as they're individuals who don't try to deceive Obed or the Innsmouthers. While they make their deals with ulterior motives, they are never dishonest about the costs or price of what they're offering. Obed Marsh walks into his deal with his eyes wide-open.
The supporting cast isn't badly defined, even though the main character remains Obed Marsh throughout and everything is seen from his perspective. His wife, his son, the townsfolk, and his crew are all individuals who reflect what he supposedly values more than gold but who are the means to ultimately torment him. I was especially fond of the Deep One's high priest as he remained sensible and stoic throughout--all the better to serve as the Devil who leads Obed to his doom. Though, again, it's not his fault as while he showed Obed Marsh the way, he didn't force him to walk it.
Overall, I have to give this book a good 4 out of 5 stars because it's a solid piece of writing throughout. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will enjoy the book as it manages to tell the origin story of the accursed town quite well with few if any contradictions to the original text. The book is remarkably inexpensive on Kindle but I actually bought a physical copy because I enjoyed it enough to put in my collection.