REVIEW: Octopus by Matt Shaw

With mounting debt, and her career not going in the direction she’d hoped for, Jessica Ann took a modelling job at the Larsen’s lavish party. What should have been an easy evening soon takes a nightmarish turn when she finds herself embroiled in an insane plot to awaken The Old Great One…

Warnings: Noncon/Rape, graphic violence, suicide, slut shaming

Category: M/F

Octopus is an “extreme” erotic horror novel that plays into Lovecraftian mythos, featuring a suspenseful mystery, and a cult ritual to awaken the elder god Cthulhu. It’s very graphic, both sexually and violently, and is pretty slim on actual plot in favour of pornographic content, so with that in mind you’ll probably have a good guess on if you will enjoy this book or not. If you look at it’s Goodreads or Amazon ratings, you’ll find a great many people with negative reviews, so it’s safe to say that this is a fairly niche title that will be appealing only if “octopus ritual porn” is on your specific fetish list. (And it certainly is on mine.)

The writing is a tad simplistic, and the plot is pretty threadbare. Jessica and Grace are invited to be the models for a Nyotaimori party, but end up kidnapped to be used in a ritual to summon Cthulhu. That’s it. Considering how simple the plot actually is I was surprised how long it took (especially for a short book) to actually get to it. It’s at about the 80% mark that things actually start happening, so the beginning can feel rather drawn out, while the ending is a bit rushed and over exposited. It’s not bad writing at all but it does feel like it could have been a bit polished further, and the dialogue is often a bit stiff or over the top dramatic. What the author does do well however is create a growing sense of unsettlement and curiosity in the reader; you are aware that the girls are being duped by the villains but you don’t know exactly what’s in store for them so it keeps you anxious to find out. It doesn’t have an especially satisfying conclusion, but it’s suspenseful enough that the journey there was engaging.

Unfortunately these characters never felt like they had any real personality. Although the author does attempt to give them some emotional depth, their struggles all have to do with their feelings surrounding sex work, and the text can be pretty damn shamey about sex work which kind of sucks. The exploration of those feelings, for Grace in particular, doesn’t really feel organic as it escalates too quickly and I would have liked the author to slow down with her character arc a bit. Meanwhile Jessica’s only personality trait seems to be wide-eyed naivety. While I did care about Jessica and Grace and the horrors that were about to befall them, I didn’t feel as connected to them or to their stories as I would have liked to. The villains are both very creepy, but just… cartoonishly over the top creepy, like caricatures rather than actual people. They are cultists, of course, and their only traits are rich, snobby, and menacing. How they manage to get on in normal society and pretend to not be evil villains in the rest of their lives is beyond me.

The biggest issue with the worldbuilding is that it is all delivered at the very end in the form of a character explaining it all as the ritual takes place. This kind of info-dumpy exposition isn’t especially engaging to the reader nor is it very immersive. I wanted to be more engaged with the world, to see the sinister underpinings of it gradually reveal themselves, to have more little snippets dropped here and there rather than just have the villain deliver a giant monologue about what he’s doing as he does it. It never felt as scary as I wanted it to, especially if you’re familiar with Lovecraft’s mythos and have certain expectations on a Cthulhu story. There’s a lack of the truly freaky (despite the creativity demonstrated in the ritual itself) in the story, and not enough subtlety. If you’ve watched any amount of hentai you may know that “the villain explains what’s happening and how it relates to his evil plot while the woman is being ravished by the monster” is a common enough trope, but it turns out that it works better in a visual medium than in a written one.

Most of the sex in this book is pretty standard porn fare, involving sex workers and some light BDSM. It’s the end sequence when the ritual is being performed that it gets more unique than that, and it runs in the opposite direction; I loved the concept and set up of the ritual but the actual execution of it was too violent and disturbing for what I was looking for. (A girl having an octopus inserted into her is a neat idea but I’d prefer it if she felt a reluctant pleasure from it, plus this much cum-play is just kinda not my thing) While the earlier smut scenes were too basic and straightforward. What can you do, ya win some and ya lose some when you’re on the hunt for very specific niche erotica. If you’re into guro and forced “breeding” it may be pretty sexy stuff to you but it was unfortunately a mix that narrowly missed my own mark.

Like the other reviewers, I didn’t love this. Unlike the other reviewers, this isn’t because I didn’t like the ideas or the concepts. I really wanted to love it, and I think that it was in the execution that it fell a little flat. With enough polishing, this could have been a much more riveting narrative, but altogether I’d have to say that there’s better horror erotica out there.

Have you read Octopus? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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