And if Widdershins was good? Then Threshold is even better.
Don’t trust any as have been to the woods.
–Local legend (loc. 919).
The story returns us to the adventures of Dr. Percival Endicott Whyborne (Whyborne to his friends, Ival to his lover), awkward academic and would-be sorcerer, his boyfriend, too-smooth private detective Griffin Flaherty, and bestie, gun-toting Egyptologist Dr. Christine Putnam. Threshold sees the trio leave the big city and head into the wilds of the eponymous mining town, off to investigate strange doings at the behest of Whyborne’s asshole industrialist father.
He and I did not much resemble one another; he was shorter and stockier, with the look of an aged lion who had not yet given up his dominance of the pride.
–Whyborn versus his father (loc. 296).
I’m not sure what research Jordan did for this book, but the descriptions of the squalor and industrialised misery of Threshold in particular are fantastic. I’ve spent some time in a modern mining town (albeit iron ore, not coal) and… yeah. Let’s just say I’ve got no burning desire to visit its historic equivalent anywhere outside of fiction.
Without going into too many spoilers (I hope), Threshold‘s Lovecraftian roots are on show in all their horrific glory, and though they’re not named by their Call of Cthulhu name, the monsters-of-the-week are one of the all-time greats in the mythos. What really makes this story stand out, however–y’know, asides from the rich descriptions and mind-shattering horror–is the continuing development it gives to its two star protagonists.
Whyborne is still Whyborne–awkward and insecure, and struggling with his own dark desires–but more and more of the steel edge we saw in Widdershins is peeking through the surface, even if he seems to be the last person who notices. (Also: have I mentioned I love an unreliable narrator? Because I do!) A large portion of the narrative is also spent building up Whyborne’s compassion for people on the fringes of society, and his ability to relate to the marginalised on a human level helps him progress the narrative at several key points. But, to its credit, the story doesn’t let him get away with these arguably anachronistic attitudes unremarked; a particularly gut-wrenching scene has Griffin confront Whyborne over the latter’s “naïvety”, and explicitly makes the point that Whyborne has the privilege to think like he does because he is, well, privileged. It’s a brutal delivery, especially given the concurrent revelations about Griffin’s own past, care of an inconvenient ex-lover.
I cannot conform to society’s expectations, and yet, it seems, I cannot conform to the expectations of ‘men like us’, either.
–I admit I was singing Pulp’s “Common People” during a lot of this (loc. 2458).
Self-doubt and misunderstandings abound, but so do monsters, the whole mess cumulating in a highly satisfying–and explosive–final confrontation.
(Also, I’m throwing my hat into the “this really needs to be a TV series” pile. Because it totally does!)