This has to be the weirdest book I’ve read of late, and I say that as a regular reviewer of weird fiction. The Starry Wisdom Library, subtitled “The Catalog of the Greatest Occult Book Auction of All Time,” is an elaborate literary forgery that purports to be a lost catalog for an auction in 1877, held by the fictional house of “occult auctioneers” Messrs. Pent & Serenade, and originally titled “Catalogue of the Occult Library of the Recently Disbanded Church of Starry Wisdom of Providence, Rhode Island,” concerning the sale of 44 ”lots” from every period from prehistory to the period of the auction itself. It’s recreated in elaborate detail, down to an actual facsimile bid sheet, and includes practically every grimoire or forbidden text mentioned in the Cthulhu Mythos, with an elaborate provenance and bibliophilic details of the binding and condition of the actual copy, and gathers essays from such “Learned Personages” as Ramsey Campbell, PhD, “Keeper of Rare Books at Brichester University,” and “Prof.” Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. “Poetry Chair, English Department, Miskatonic University.”
The quality of the design and production is matched by the attention to detail in the catalog entries, which frame each bizarre imagined history of the volume in question with a persuasively accurate physical description. There are many old favorites here, from the Necronomicon itself to The Pnakotic Manuscripts. There are also some works from other sources than Lovecraft himself, including Campbell’s The Revelations of Glaaki and Massa Di Requiem Per Shuggay, and Robert E. Howard’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Occasionally the faux erudition gets in the way for the wrong reasons. For instance, my willing disbelief gets unsuspended pretty damn fast when I read that the Marquis de Sade was still alive in 1865 – and without occult aid. Not very good when you’re trying to evoke an atmosphere of learned decadence, and a simple fact check would have picked that and a number of other actual errors and inconsistencies up very quickly.
That is one of the few flaws in a surprisingly entertaining fabrication, though. It’s hard to know at times whether this book is intended as straight horror, a tribute to Lovecraft and his peers, an elaborate joke, a sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, or all of the above. But it’s surprisingly engaging. I was hooked on it over the Christmas season. And the variations that the creators ring on the overall theme are sometimes very imaginative and involving. For instance, you really do not want to know what the rites in Las Reglas De Ruina consisted of, or how the book itself was actually to be used, and there are plenty of gory details of the fates that befell the authors, owners, or even readers of these cursed tomes. Or perhaps perusers of their catalog descriptions. Read at your peril, lest ye be found chained to a book stand, gibbering “O the foxed and spotted binding of gilded calf…”