Saturday, May 21, 2016

Book Review: The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

The Acolyte by Nick Cutter

Paperback, 304 pages

Published May 2015 by ChiZine Publications

"Jonah Murtag is an Acolyte on the New Bethlehem police force. His job: eradicate all heretical religious faiths, their practitioners, and artefacts. Murtag's got problems - one of his partners is a zealot, and he's in love with the other one. Trouble at work, trouble at home. Murtag realizes that you can rob a citizenry of almost anything, but you can't take away its faith. When a string of bombings paralyzes the city, religious fanatics are initially suspected, but startling clues point to a far more ominous perpetrator. If Murtag doesn't get things sorted out, the Divine Council will dispatch The Quints, aka: Heaven's Own Bagmen. The clock is ticking towards doomsday for the Chosen of New Bethlehem. And Jonah Murtag's got another problem. The biggest and most worrisome... Jonah isn't a believer anymore."

Nick Cutter is a not so secret pen name for author Craig Davidson whose first two books The Troop, and The Deep were very popular in horror fiction circles. It seems Cutter is determined to carry the torch for Bentley Little on novels titled The ___. For whatever reason Craig Davidson is considered high literature, but Cutter is genre. As if he is Clark Kent going into a phone booth and coming out Nick Cutter. Look it is impossible to avoid a little hype when your books come with blurbs from names like Scott Smith (the Ruins) and light weights like Clive Barker and some guy named Stephen King. The acclaim is deserved.

In 2014 I reviewed the Cutter Debut The Troop. "I thought it was an effective and disturbing horror novel that made the best of a lean prose style. The King influence is one the author wore on his sleeve, and was found as much in the strong children characters as it was in the horror elements. Horror readers will be very happy with this one."

in 2015 The Deep "I found myself turning pages and feeling invested in the story. If there was a short fall for me was my interest in what was happening on the surface with the global disease, but I understand it was irrelevant to the story. The ending was not as strong as the build-up but it is impossible to discuss without spoilers. I think this is a must read for serious horror fans. if nothing else to chart the growth of this Nick Cutter Character."

First things first. This book looks amazing. The cover, the interior design, lay-out formatting. Just a gorgeous paperback. Chi-zine really made a pretty book. The structure, the formatting and of course the engaging prose are of equal quality all make a huge argument for physical books. This will look awesome on your shelf and shames New York publishers with their standard books.

This Cutter book is not traditional horror and delightfully very different from each of the books that followed it. I think that the novels each have such very different stories. It is a science fiction dystopia more in the tradition of 1984 or Brave New World than horror. Perhaps might explain why Cutter published this with Chi-zine an indie weird/ experimental/ bizarro publisher instead of the more traditional publisher his previous novels were released with.

Story wise I didn't like this novel as much the two previous ones, but of the three novel the Acolyte certainly was the most important. The themes explored in this novel are interesting and in the light of the events on the day I started reading it took on greater significance. The morning I started read this book NPR was discussing how a proposed Donald Trump ban on Islam would work.

I think the world in the light of the rise of Neo-conservatism needed a god fearing 1984 and the that is exactly what The Acolyte is. An argument could be made that the book is about a decade late, but it is better late than never. This would be a difficult world to envision, an author writing a fascist christian dystopia rides the line between excellent social commentary and goofy satire at all times. In the last act Cutter goes there with issues like abortion and it provides moments as squirm worthy as anything in The Troop.

Jonah is a Dystopian character we can relate to, and the reader certainly does not want to live in this world. His story arc is one that is fairly predictable, but one we needed to take. So I have given all my reasons why this is a great novel what was it that made it not as good as the first two. Maybe it was me but I couldn't get the Christian Bale movie Equilibrium out of my head. That 2002 film was about a similar world where enough emotions were outlawed and a police was formed to track down and arrest sense offenders.

The first act of this novel felt so similar to me I started seeing Bale's face on Jonah and the design of that film in my mind. I never totally got over that reading this book. That said I like Equilibrium which I consider a fun movie so it was not totally a negative. Maybe that is just a me problem.

Overall The Acolyte is a excellent book, the author should be rewarded for writing a daring and meaningful book. The publisher should be rewarded for making such a cool book with a challenging story. By rewarded I mean you should buy it, or read it.

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