QUICKIE REVIEW: “The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

The Destroyer of Worlds feels like a “middle installment” in every sense of the phrase. On the one hand, it offers a very welcome return to the world of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country. On display once again is this startlingly haunting marriage of Lovecraftian horror and Jim Crow-era racism. While not quite as scary as the first book, it still offers a fast-paced, thrilling ride through some classic, pulpy sci-fi tropes. And getting to spend more time with these characters is a delight, too, especially those characters that didn’t get quite as much focus in the first book (like Hippolyta and Ruby). 

But on the other hand, The Destroyer of Worlds just doesn’t work quite as well as Lovecraft Country did. For starters, gone is the first book’s structure – a series of interconnected short stories, each riffing on a subgenre found in the pulp novels of yesteryear. In their place is a far more standard story, cutting back and forth between a half dozen or so plotlines. And while I know the first novel’s structure proved a bit polarizing to some, I think it’s what made the book stand out amongst the crowd. Without that structure, it just doesn’t feel quite as special. 

But the much bigger issue is that, both narratively and character-wise, nothing really happens in this book. I mean, there certainly is a plot. And Ruff once again does an expert job at interweaving all of these seemingly disparate storylines into a remarkably cohesive whole. But at the same time, it feels like The Destroyer of Worlds spends less time telling its own story and more time moving chess pieces around the board, paving the way for a much more exciting story in the next installment. This book feels like a smaller piece of a larger story rather than an entire story in its own right. And coming off the heels of the original Lovecraft Country, which was such a good standalone story for over six years, that’s definitely disappointing.

That being said, The Destroyer of Worlds is rarely anything less than enthralling. The pacing is nice and quick, even if the frantic jumps back and forth between storylines hinder that pacing some. The characters are as well-rounded as ever, and Ruff spends a lot of time beefing up characters who didn’t get as much focus in the first book. If you’re looking for the further adventures of Montrose and Atticus, you probably won’t adore this book. But if you were itching to spend time with Hippolyta, Horace, Ruby, George, and/or Letitia, then buckle up for a true joyride. 

Ultimately, I didn’t like The Destroyer of Worlds as much as the first Lovecraft Country book. But as it is, it’s still a worthy sequel, packed with most of the elements that made that first book so enjoyable. And, perhaps more importantly, it lays a lot of the groundwork for what should hopefully be a remarkable third installment. Hopefully, we won’t be waiting another seven years for the next book. 

3.5 out of 5 wands.

Disclaimer: A review copy of the novel was provided by the publisher. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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