Book Review: I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Nick Mamatas has shown himself again and again to be one of the best, most conceptually diverse authors in genre fiction today.”

When we think of weird Lovecraftian fiction, many things come to mind, things we’ve heard and read of so many times they’ve practically become embedded in our subconscious minds. Places and monsters like Innsmouth and Arkham, R’lyeh, Shuggoth, and Cthulhu all have been written about in repeatedly over the years, mostly in pretty creative ways. But by now, if one is being honest, the trope has gotten pretty tired. Until Nick Mamatas comes along. When Nick thinks of Lovecraft, very different sorts of things happen, such as in his novel, Move Under Ground, in which Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and a pistol packing William S. Burroughs set out on a zany quest to save the world. Or again in The Damned Highway, his collaboration with horror legend Brian Keene in which Richard M. Nixon is the leader of the Cult of Cthulhu and Hunter S. Thompson finds himself on a drug-fueled bus ride to the presidential primary in Arkham. Everything Mamatas takes on, whether Lovecraftian or otherwise, becomes something brand new, a thing like nothing that has gone before or is likely to be seen again anytime soon. I Am Providence, the brilliant new novel from Night Shade Books, is no exception.

In I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas takes on Lovecraftian fandom, pitting new Lovecraftian horror writer Colleen Danzig against a quirky cast of characters at the convention known as the Summer Tentacular. Danzig’s roommate, an obnoxious and largely disliked author named Panossian, has been murdered in gruesome fashion and his face has been stolen. The bumbling police are clueless and the con attendees mostly don’t seem to care, so it’s up to Colleen alone to discover the truth. But it seems like nobody wants the truth to be known, not even the police, and Colleen is thwarted at every turn, placed under suspicion and even arrested several times, during the process of which, we discover that the dead Panossian is still conscious inside his decaying body.

Told partly from Colleen’s point of view and partly from Panossian’s, I Am Providence is a celebration of storytelling and characterization. Mamatas gives us a collection of absurd and hilarious characters, made all the more delightful by their similarities to recognizable personalities within real life Lovecraftian fandom and, while no names will be mentioned here, they will be evident to anyone familiar with the community at large, as will some of the internal conflicts and cults of personality that are present throughout the book. Mamatas has a brilliant knack for painting these people on the page and bringing them to life with all their foibles and eccentricities on full, technicolor display, making us laugh at their antics and cringe at their often blush-worthy behavior.

Driven largely by dialogue, intrigue, and a healthy dose of backstory, I Am Providence is more of a murder mystery and a satirical look at the absurdities inherent in any Lovecraft convention, but it has moments of pretty extreme horror intertwined with bouts of hilarity. When it comes to talking about the major strengths of the novel, it can’t be helped but to focus on the amazing character development and the sheer storytelling ability and mastery of pacing in evidence here. But it would be remiss not to mention another huge strength that makes the book work so exceptionally well, and that’s the incredible method which Mamatas uses to develop backstory. The only supernatural element to the novel is the concept of Panossian stuck in his own mind, his senses beginning to deteriorate as his corpse slowly decomposes in a drawer at the morgue. It’s through this little trick of storytelling acrobatics that the foundations for the entire story are developed. With nothing to do but think, Panossian spends a great deal of time thinking back, introducing the histories of the other characters in the book and trying to puzzle out who killed him and what reason they might have for stealing his face.

Packed with bizarre personalities, skin wrapped books, and all the murder and mayhem a horror fan could desire, I Am Providence is solid entertainment on multiple levels, with the scenes told from Colleen’s point of view often providing periods of great satire and wanton hilarity, while those told from Panossian’s are rife with slow creeping fear and seriously dark undertones, giving us a balance of comedy, mystery, and horror that make for one of the most enjoyable reads of the summer so far. Nick Mamatas has shown himself again and again to be one of the best, most conceptually diverse authors in genre fiction today, and there’s little doubt that he will continue to produce these gems of individuality and wonder for a long time to come. Pick up a copy of this outstanding novel and you’ll see why it deserves nothing less than the highest accolades from fans and critics alike. Whether you’re familiar with the Lovecraftian sub-culture, or just curious to see what the fuss is all about, you’ll definitely find something to love in the works of Nick Mamatas.


Publisher: Night Shade Books
eBook: (256pp)
Release Date: 2 August, 2016

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