Fantasy · historical fiction

Winter Tide – Ruthanna Emrys

5 Stars

On the recommendation of one of my favorite authors, Seanan McGuire, I picked up Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. I knew little about the story other than it was Lovecraftian, queer and highly recommended. I have read very little Lovecraft, given his reputation for being sexist and racist.

Cover from Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads:

After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.

The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.

Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

I fell in love with Aphra and her struggle to balance her safety, comfort, sanity and her desire to learn with the pressure that comes from being the last of her kind. She struggles with what she wants and what she is told is her duty to her people. She grapples with doing what is right in the short term, in the long term and what is easy. Aphra struggles with the weight of the future of all the Deep Ones on her shoulders.


Ruthanna Emrys paints a poignant picture of what it is to be Other. Aphra and Caleb’s tenuous existence is contrasted with the Japanese and African American experiences and set against the political backdrop of a post-WWII, pre-Cold War America. Aphra and other important characters have the additional barrier of being women to navigate.

Despite the historical setting, Emrys uses a diverse cast, not defaulting to “everyone is white because History!” and making Winter Tide more richly developed because of it.

I listened to Winter Tide on audiobook and found the narrator to be a wonderful additional layer to the story. I certainly appreciated her pronunciation of many of the words that were I to read would mentally come across as “kfslkjf” – Lovecraftian vocabulary is notoriously hard to pronounce.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series, out later this year, Deep Roots and am so glad I picked up Winter Tide.