Pro: Perfect for horror fans
Con: I can't say I'm a horror fan.
The Bottom Line: Dear God, WHY DID I READ THIS BOOK??
First and foremost: Fuck this book.
Normally I might say sorry about the language, but seriously.
Fuck. This. Book.
Now, I don't mean that as an insult to the author, Nick Cutter, at all. The writing is excellent. The characters are solid and well-crafted. The story is interesting and compelling. The atmosphere – the fear – is top notch. But it's all those things put together in just the right way to make this a true blue horror book. Normally I don't do horror. But I like to step outside of my comfort zone from time to time and read something different, especially if it sounds interesting. And the description of this book certainly sounded interesting. A disease that makes everyone forget everything until they simply forget how to live? A sudden miraculous cure found on the bottom of the ocean? Going from one topside, end of the world disease to 8 miles under the ocean only to discover the real horror is down there? Sure. Why not? What could be down there? Sea monster of some sort? The miracle cure turns deadly? People simply going nuts from being down there too long? The possibilities were endless.
Mr. Cutter picked out all the things I didn't see coming. Or maybe just did all the things my "I-want-happy-endings" brain doesn't like to think about. Plucked all those nasty ideas out and slapped them on the page for me so they're out there, clear as daylight, leaving me unable to avoid them. Creepy grasping clawed hands in the dark coming out of trunks with clowns on them. Insanity inching its way into people's brains with insidious fingers, all the while telling them it's okay. Animal experimentation gone wrong. Perversions of natural creatures. I mean, that book is sitting over on my bed right now. I want to move it, but I don't really want to touch it again. It's like I've got the Necronomicon over there and touching it is the last thing I want to do.
Oh, and he totally kills the dog. I'm going to lay that out there for you right now. The dog dies, and it's awful in every way possible.
The main character, Lucas, had me shouting at him by page 40. Yeah, it doesn't take long for you, gentle reader, to realize that things are seriously, horribly wrong already and going down 8 miles under the ocean is a monumentally bad idea. I should think that a weird, blood-scrawled message from a dead man should be enough NOPE for anybody, but according to Lucas he doesn't have anything left to lose and besides, humanity is dying out so might as well. Maybe I'm just selfish. After they climb into the mini-sub to drop down the Mariana Trench, you know it's too late. It takes some time for the other shoe to drop, but when it does, it does so hard and with a spiked heel.
There's a lot of back and forth in this book as Lucas's awful childhood memories surge up, often unbidden. I felt bad for the poor guy. He's had a lot of bad things happen to him, and he really doesn't deserve any of the things he gets in this book. None of the people involved do. And the frustrating thing for me is that I'm a creature of duality – I believe in opposites. Light/dark, good/bad, that sort of thing. But there's nothing but darkness in this book. There is no happy ending, or even an ending that can be considered remotely decent. Frankly, I feel pretty certain that it's just the end of the world happening.
I will give credit that as I read, the things involved invoked a lot of other familiar horrors I've come across. The first description of the miracle cure – dubbed ambrosia – reminded me of the Blob or even the Thing. There is a very Thing-like moment with the dog. Beckoning hands made me think of Pennywise in the drain. The hive made me think of Michael Crichton's Prey (an excellent although also creepy book, but at least the main character can and does fight back). And as the end revealed itself, I got a lot of Lovecraftian vibes and even a bit of Hellraiser. I kept thinking of how, the way horror videogames are these days in which you run scared, hide, and remain weaponless the entire time, this book would make for a solid horror game. Although I'm not sure how people would respond to the end. Or the dog.
If you're into horror, this is top notch. The choicest bits. There is some gore, but not a lot, and it appears when and where it needs to. The fear is in everything else. What's around the bend. What will manifest next. The inability to fight back as you run with Lucas through metal tubes and squeeze through even smaller ones. You wonder if he's even a reliable narrator; and if that's his fault or something else's.
So go, enjoy the terror if you please. But as for me, I'm sorry Mr. Cutter, but I'm never going to read any of your books again.
Consider that a compliment.