I am so torn how I feel about this book.One one had I really like various elements of the book but on the other hand they were done done as well as they could have been. I really really enjoyed The Troop and enjoyed The Acolyte enough where I wanted to keep reading more books by this author. Like The Acolyte I am mixed overall after reading this. I really liked the concept but the actual execution was sort of weak. To me Nick Cutter is overall good with his endings in that they are vague and mysterious, though will say thought The Acolyte ending could have been better. The main characters don't always come out fine at the end . Most times things are worse off than how they started. Humanity is just overall fucked in his books to say the least and while that might be more than a bit nihilistic but it has a truth in that sometimes for no reason bad things just happen and people are at a loss to stop them.
Other than mostly liking the ending even if it was a tad confusing in this one, I did enjoy the setting of this one but felt it was not used to its full advantage. Thought more of the horror was going to center on the claustrophobic nature of the setting. Some of that came in to play during certain scenes but there could have been a lot more of it. While there is for sure tension that on the edge of your seat level tension never happened for me. That and and the tension or worry was greatly misplaced at times.For example I found myself more when Clayton tore the dog's ear off than when the dog was being dragged by the other dog/monster thing into the hole/rift . Think overall the misplaced tension was one of the major issues that caused me not to enjoy this as much as I did. I am not 100 percent sure if it was how it was written or if it was just me.
I also just overall really enjoy the weirdness and body horror in his books, or least I did in the Troop and maybe I should not have expected the same sort of vibe with this book. There was for sure some body horror and weirdness in this one but over the body horror never reached the well..horror that The Troop did or the out right grossness either. To me there was not a good balance of the horror and just plain weirdness in this one. To the horror, felt it was not all that horrifying. Think it goes back to the tension never reaching the level it should but also to me the things that happened throughout were not all that scary. You have the claustrophobic setting, whispering in the dark, bleak and unyielding darkness, bodies(human and animal) twisted in unnatural ways and merging with surrounding in some way and bees so many damn bees, which I know was meant to be super damn creepy because of what they end up doing and just how freaking big they get but to me was well.. that's a whole lot of damn bees.
Now since horror is subjective , maybe I was just not horrified by these things . I am not sure this is the case though since I found similar things once again pretty damn scary in the Troop. Think it was one part the tension, which have mentioned before, but think too I was not as invested in the characters like I were for the characters of The Troop. Now for me at least this is way different than being likable. I don't have to truly like the characters to be invested in them. In fact I quite like books that have very very unlikable characters and honestly I find myself often loving characters others may hate.Here though just ...I found the characters boring . They were likable enough I would say but just felt this massive distance personally from them to the point that when really horrible things started to happen to them was just not as horrifying as it should have been . If anything I worried more about what was going to happen to the dog than I did to any of the human characters , though again the final outcome for the dog fell flat.
Mentioning the horror, have to of course mention the monster element of this book. Will compare it to horror movies with a monster or monster element. There needs to be a balance of times reader/watcher sees the monster , the build up to that and course a nice outcome if the monster is ever fully shown. For me the build up is mostly ok but not the best . Again think things that were meant to be scary just did not do it for me for one reason or another and then when the "fig men" as they are called are finally seen and are at center stage as it were , which is the last 15 or 20 pages I am just ...this is it ? To me, the tension that did work was just sort of killed in the final pages.The monsters that had been lurking around in the shadows only heard in whispers and strange sounds and only seen in flashes failed to remain scary since now Luke is having a full out conversation with them. All the build came to a head that just to me did not pay off. I would much rather preferred the monsters stay in the dark or stay disembodied voices. In these last pages, it came off as that part of show or movie where the "villain" fully explains their evil plot. All mystery is dead and gone . The same goes here. The fig men explain for the most part their plan , strike a deal to give back Luke's son or least something that looks like his son. I still have my doubts that they had any good will or intention given all that occurs throughout the novel. Think it was more just to get Luke to go along with their plan and to finally just tip him fully over the edge. Whatever the case may be , the last few pages just were really disappointing. Now saying that I did mostly enjoy the ending in that they or whatever it is that finally comes up is now unleashed on the world but think the less the reader knew about the monsters the better the ending would have been.
Also , while I enjoyed the elements of the story at times, the overall story was a bit cluttered. It goes from a mysterious illness story , which in hindsight is more a passing mention than anything else , to a hero trapped in an awful situation and must find a way out , to creepy body horror and very very weird situations, to finally a supernatural/monster that hero must overcome or be taken by story. Overall the book felt like it lost focus and was trying to do and trying to be too many things all at once. The situations had they been on their own could have work . I do wish, too, that and the mysterious illness was more at the forefront than it was . To me the supernatural aspects sort of ruined my enjoyment of this one. That and most of the weirdness was less scary weird and more confusing and weird for the sake of being weird.
My last major issue was it felt like it told instead of showed. Going to mention The Troop again but thought Cutter there did a great job of showing us the boys slow climb to worry , at times madness and the overall just horror of being trapped and at any second could just be consumed by this thing that well consumes you til there is nothing left of your humanity left. Here though the the tension gets killed from too much telling of how Luke is feeling instead of just showing the reader that through his actions . This goes for how Luke describes other characters as well. He goes on and on how Clayton is unfeeling instead of letting the reader realize that through Clayton's actions alone. I mean, hell, he pushes one of the dogs through the hole thing to see what would happen a scene that would have been way more effective had we had a flashback to Clayton doing that instead of just seeing the aftermath of it, which is a different issue but still goes along with my point. Characters come across as evil just because Luke says they are or what they did was evil when the reader could have figured that out through showing their actions all on their on. Take for instance his really horrible mother. Now she does do some beyond horrible things , which based on the fig men's summary of their plans could be them controlling her to do them or it is heavily implied that they least watched and had fun playing games. Still, though, most of what we know about her other than one or two events that we actually see is based on Luke describing how awful she is and fat..how so very fat she becomes as he is growing up. And think it is just supposed to make her out to be more disgusting but overall just seems like a oh just so you remember his mother was fucking huge.
To the one event that we do see that confirms that his mother is monster that Luke just says that she is, has to do with abuse so just a warning. I don't have an issue with abuse being in books as long as said abuse is not there just for shock value since feel that is a cheap shot and underplays the evil that actual abuse( physical or mental ) is to a person. Sadly here it was used just to cement it in our minds how just awful the mother was and to just shock the reader. The scene itself is short and thankfully does not go into any graphic detail. It is heavily implied that the mother is sexually abusing Clayton and when said scene happens is hinted to that this is not the first time that this has occurred . Clayton does get his "revenge" so to speak in that he slowly starves to death due poisoning her , but because Luke is on and on again how uncaring and unfeeling he sees his brother the reader is just supposed to get I guess that Clayton is just a monster without really any nuance to his character. Again just supposed to or or less takes Luke's word for it. How Clayton comes across is heavily colored by how Luke's sees him and not letting the actions Clayton does speak for themselves.
Will also mention that there is also a bit of a forced love interest vibe between Alice and Luke to the point where something that is meant to be scary is happening and Luke is thinking about boning her and just...wtf. Thankfully that never happens but just with any book I greatly hate forced romance/flirting etc to just throw in some sort of romance. Not every book needs a romance. They just don't and they will do just fine if not better without them.
While this review may come across as super negative, I still think overall Cutter had some interesting concepts . I had personal preference issues and just overall issues with tension building, but I still enjoyed the book. The horror and weirdness in this one was just not to my liking and very often fell a bit flat or came across more confusing than actually shocking or horrifying. Will also I am going to take a break before reading Little Heaven since I am really into what it is about and really hoping is not just the middle of the road as this one ended up being