Review of Madness From The Sea: Cthulhu’s Lure by Jonathon T. Cross

One of my favourite things as a reader is discovering books that turn out to be more than they appear. These books often masquerade as something traditionally defined as “low brow” entertainment, but in truth, they are deeper than their shocking titles or covers would indicate. Madness From The Sea: Cthulhu’s Lure is absolutely one such book. Whilst its hentai cover, depicting a woman pulling an orgasm face as Cthulhu’s tentacles envelope her, would indicate a shallow (though thrilling) bit of smut, Cthulhu’s Lure is so much more than mere tentacle-titillation.

The basic of premise of Cthulhu’s Lure will be familiar to fans of Lovecraft. Frances Smith, a young woman living in Boston, keeps receiving erotically charged dreams about a great squidlike entity that exists in a liminal dreamscape, a haunting “labyrinth of stone monoliths”. Unsure what she is experiencing, she does what most of us in the Twenty-First Century would do, and turns to the internet. It doesn’t take long for Frances to develop a cult following. Some of them are weirdos who are turned on by tentacle fetishes. But many are genuinely curious as to the meaning of her dream experiences.

Meanwhile, Donnie, Frances’ husband, is growing increasingly uneasy with his wife’s behaviour and wants to rescue their marriage. As Frances is drawn closer and closer into the labyrinth of her own desires and fantasies, Donnie—with the help of one of Frances’ friends, Hazel—takes drastic measures to prevent her from hurting herself and others.

There is a lot more to say, but to avoid spoilers, I will leave it there.

One thing I really loved about this story is how it genuinely tried to bring a modern twist to Lovecraft’s original tale. Whilst I enjoy modern Lovecraft fiction, in general I find it too often falls into the trap of trying to re-create the original. Cellphone signal is lost. Maps are destroyed. Time travel occurs. Essentially, the writer tries to avoid modern elements to imitate the same style of horror deployed in Lovecraft’s nineteenth-century stories. Whilst this can be fun for a bit of escapism, it ultimately feels contrived, and like an avoidance of the truth.

Jonathon T. Cross, however, takes on the modern world head on. He explores what a return of Cthulhu might look like in the modern age, and how the internet—a space that operates not unlike a shared dreamworld or an astral plane—would pay a huge part in such a resurgence. Whilst there are comedic moments in the story, overall the modern elements don’t take away from the atmosphere of dread but actually augment it, partly because it is all so believable. You may be looking at me like I’m crazy, but the idea of an internet community building exponentially and then bubbling violently over into the real-world, leaving chaos in their wake, is not only possible but probable in the near future.

Jonathon T. Cross also creates a link between his modern setting and the “old world”. He does this in several ways, but principally through the medium of dream, using the dream-world as a liminal space in which possibilities can coexist, including the communication between entities from beyond the stars and human beings. Whilst dream-sequences can be overused in fiction, the dream-world in Cthulhu’s Lure is a specific and well-used concept that not only serves narrative purpose but also reveals character. Symbolism within the dream is reflected in reality in clever and subtle ways. Likewise, desires expressed in the dream are corrupted and made manifest in the waking world. A dialogue exists between the phantasmal realm of myth and the modern world of crumbling materiality desperately clinging to a sense of meaning. Frances Smith is the middle point where all of this converges: old and new, technological and magical, intuitive and rational, mundane and extraordinary. She is the prophetess of a new age, a red woman sprung from Aleister’s Crowley’s lusty imaginings but instead of being wedded to the Ten Headed Beast she is wedded to Cthulhu.

As I said before, Cthulhu’s Lure is very far from tentacle-porn. In fact, its use of sex bears more in common with Greek mythology than with modern erotica. The concept of a beast or monster mating with a woman to produce theriomorphic offspring is pervasive throughout virtually all the ancient mythologies. Perhaps the most famous example of this is The Minotaur, a creature half-human and half-bull, born of the sexual congress between Pasiphaë and the favoured snow-white bull of Poseidon. Poseidon, of course, is the god of the sea, so there’s already a link, albeit tentative, between Cthulhu and the bull-monster of Greek legend.

Because of the Minotaur’s hybrid nature, Pasiphaë could not nourish the child, and so it became increasingly ferocious and bloodthirsty and eventually turned to devouring human beings for sustenance. The Minotaur is therefore imprisoned in a terrible labyrinth constructed by the genius inventor Daedalus. The Minotaur waits at the heart of the labyrinth, a black secret, devouring any who are sent as offering into its runnels.

Cthulhu likewise waits in the labyrinthine and “sunken” city of R’lyeh, accessible only via dream or by a perilous voyage across the Pacific Ocean. R’lyeh, the labyrinth, these dark and inaccessible spaces represent our unconscious, inhabited by the antediluvian urges that can still be awoken with the right ritual and sacrifice. In the modern world we have seemingly conquered these urges and desires, but we still fear their return, and the time is soon coming “when the stars are right” and these desires—symbolically represented by Cthulhu—will once more walk the earth and hold sway.

The other brilliant thing about Cthulhu’s Lure is that it for all its Lovecraftian and mythological trappings it remains the grounded story of a failed marriage. And despite all the messed up things done by both Donnie and Frances, you still care about both of them, and still sort of want things to work out. Jonathon T. Cross channels Lovecraft, but filters the anxiety, the paranoia, the obsession, and the madness through a totally new lens, producing something that feels like one of the most original takes on the mythos in quite some time.

You can read Cthulhu’s Lure in a single day (I know I did), yet it will take you on a deep journey into a woman’s fracturing psyche and a man’s desperation to save what little he has in life. The last line of the book is a real humdinger. And, I may be wrong, but it looks like there might be further books in the series to look forward to.

Jonathon T. Cross is definitely a writer to watch. You can check out more of his work over at as well as cool art and other merch.