The Mirror of the Nameless
William Brown reviews The Mirror of the Nameless by Luke Walker, a fast-paced creature-feature gorefest from a fantastic writer of action...
‘Do not panic. Our god is with us. You are offerings to Segoth. Give yourselves to him. Praise him.’
Post-apocalyptic fiction isn’t really my thing, but I loved every moment of Luke Walker’s The Mirror of the Nameless. It’s a fast-paced gorefest with blissfully little of the kind of technobabble and Atwoodian social critique that usually repels me from the genre. Best of all, there are no robots.
41-year old Dave Anderson (the Matrix-referencing surname made me wince, but I soon forgot about it) works in an English city pub, just trying to keep his head down. Easier said than done, we quickly discover: not two pages in, he’s being pursued by a gang of drunken religious maniacs intent on sacrificing him to an entity they call ‘our First Lord Naz Yaah’: ‘May she welcome our humble offering. May she swallow your soul and cast you into her belly for all time…’
Naz Yaah, Segoth, and Gatur are the three monstrous gods that have tyrannised humanity for the last thirty years, commanding utter devotion from their subjects, and wiping out swathes of the population at whim. The globe’s governments, attempting to preserve some modicum of dominance and elitism, encourage members of the public to give up their bodies and souls to the wretched gods voluntarily. Meanwhile, the poor, elderly, and infirm are rounded up by the Department of Public Order and turned into ambrosia for the common good.
Dave can only dimly remember better times: ‘Different to now. Calmer, perhaps. More hopeful. And definitely more aware of others. And that had to be down to our gods not being in our world. But then they came and things changed. We didn’t ask why or what or when. We kept quiet and our gods ruled over us. Same as always.’
He gets dragged out of this state of submission and inurement when a young man, Tom McMahon, tracks him down to tell him that his capricious daughter Ashleigh, a student with Tom at Norwich University, is in mortal danger. Ashleigh believes that she has found, in the writings of an obscure writer called Bertram Fitzgerald Makepeace, the location of a portal to worlds in which the gods do not exist, and a way for humanity to escape their clutches once and for all. Her blasphemous ideas make her a ‘prime candidate for sacrifice,’ and so it is Dave and Tom’s mission to find her before the gods, or their crazed disciples, hunt her down.
And that’s about it, as far as the story goes. It’s as far as Walker’s characterisation goes, too: Dave’s paternal instinct is his sole motivation throughout the novel, and it’s sufficient to make his journey compelling (I got the sense that his love for Ashleigh is the only thing that has kept him from giving himself up to the gods before now). Walker compensates for the superficial aspects of the book with a locomotive plot that veers from cliffhanger to cliffhanger with delirious elan, as Dave and Tom scramble their way through a landscape – simultaneously familiar and alien, with streets and pubs renamed after the gods – riddled with more obstacles and dangers than a whole season of 24.
And monsters. The gods are undoubtedly the stars of The Mirror of the Nameless: they’re entities of indescribable size, leisurely rampaging across the globe spreading terror and death. News reports pepper the narrative, showing the dreadful deities to be constantly on the move, effortlessly pounding from continent to continent. Walker is economical with their origins, on the ‘why or what or when’, and concentrates instead on showing us the carnage they inflict and the daily terrors of living under their shadow.
The individuation of the gods is the strongest aspect of the novel. They each have distinctive characteristics. Naz Yaah, also known as ‘the worm’, excretes an acidic slime powerful enough to melt through roads, and harbours a swarm of mutant creatures that she dispatches ‘to bring food to her giant mouth’.
Gatur, or ‘the mist’, emanates a green fog that, a la Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour Out of Space,’ instils homicidal rage in all who come in contact with it:
‘The damage she did went way beyond the killings. Parents returned to themselves to find their children dead at their hands. Spouses tore each of them apart; strangers attacked strangers. And all of them came back to life with blood soaking their hands. The suicide rate after one of Gatur’s appearances always rose exponentially. Always.’
But Segoth, ‘the giant’, is my favourite. Like a cross between Godzilla and The Blob, he’s in a constant state of rotting and regeneration. As he saunters through his kingdom, globs of his dead flesh fall onto the ground, horrifically mutilating and assimilating anyone they touch:
‘Segoth’s children lived in the fields. Or existed there. Nothing so damaged could possibly be considered alive. We saw half a dozen of them on one side: shapes that had once been human, men and women, and were now lumps of decayed meat without features or gender. Some shuffled alone, moving on stumps of legs while their upper halves of heads and necks melted into stomachs and pooled outwards in brown streams of rotted muscle.’
Delectable body horror like this is never far away, and I loved it far too much. There’s plenty here to analyse, too, if you’ve got a dissertation to write and feminist psychoanalysis is your thing: Walker’s gendering of the gods chimes with Barbara Creed’s theory of the monstrous feminine, and the mirror of the novel’s title has got Lacan written all over it.
I wonder what I would have thought of The Mirror of the Nameless pre-pandemic. The world Walker presents is, in many ways, an eminently recognisable one. Notwithstanding the threat of forced sacrifice and the carnage periodically wrought by the gods, life goes on as normal: Dave ghost-writes celebrity autobiographies on the side; people still go to university. The gods, like COVID-19 perhaps, are an inexplicable terror imposed upon the world, in the face of which even the world’s governments and police are scared and helpless. At times, death is at a distance, confined to the news; the next moment it’s on Dave’s doorstep, compelling him to act. With poignant resonance, the boundary between the news and personal experience – as between mundane existence and unfathomable horror – has been irreparably breached. Walker’s gods are as unimaginably colossal as the COVID-19 virus is microscopically small; both wreak death and existential terror on a global scale.
The novel ends with a breath-taking climax, a moment of true Lovecraftian sublimity, before teasing the opening chapters of the sequel (due out in April). I can’t wait for it, to be honest. Walker is a fantastic writer of action and gore, with a gleeful fidelity to the creature features of yore.
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