Cut Here

Cut Here

This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for Cut Here, hosted by YA Bound Book Tours.

Cut Here was first published in 2015 and is the debut novel of Azzurra Nox. It is a paranormal horror story with romance elements set in a school which has been rocked by a series of horrifying suicides. The novel forms the first part of The Cut Series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Lena is not pleased that her father has accepted a new job in Los Angeles. She has struggled with depression since her mother’s death and, although she knows that it is a way to put her time in psychiatric care behind her, she just does not feel ready to start a new life in a new country. However, although she instantly runs afoul of the most popular girls, she quickly strikes up a friendship with Jon and Amelia and settles into everyday life.

Yet peace does not last long. A girl who everyone believed to be well-adjusted unexpectedly ends her life, throwing herself from the school bell tower in full view of everyone. What seems like a tragic, isolated incident quickly becomes something more sinister as more and more students also die in seemingly self-inflicted ways. The only connecting thread is that all of them have recently read a popular horror novel titled Cut Here.

Lena begins to believe that something sinister is at the root of the deaths as she finds enormous black feathers around the school and hears huge wings beating in the dark. At the same time, Michael comes into her life, handsome and passionate yet harbouring a terrible secret. Teaming up with Jon and Hope – an outsider interested in the occult – Lena struggles to find out the truth of what is happening to her friends before anyone else loses their life.

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Cut Here is really a novel of two halves and, in light of this, I found it very difficult to assign a genre to the story. From my synopsis above, you may get the impression that it is a fairly typical horror story but I was surprised to find that it had a lot more depth to it than I would have expected from a novel of this type.

The story has a very large cast and is really a character study of a group of teenagers. The cast is assembled from a wide variety of different high school tropes – jocks, cheerleaders, goths – and the novel devotes a lot of time to showing how each views themselves and the others around them. The results are quite surprising as it moves away from the standard “high school scenario” that we’ve all seen in a thousand young adult novels. In giving real personalities to every character, Nox avoids the typical archetypes (the bitchy head cheerleader, the brainless jock, the tortured outsider) from forming as it allows us to understand why the characters act in a certain way.

A good example of this can be seen in the character of Dior – the most popular girl in the school. When Dior first appears, she is seen from Lena’s perspective and seems like a really nasty piece of work. She is obsessed with her looks and is vicious towards girls that don’t treat her like a goddess. Yet, in the first chapter told from her perspective, we see that she behaves this way because she’s in love with a boy in her school who has no interest in her. Her bitchiness stems from inadequacy as she can’t understand why he likes girls that she deems less attractive and interesting than herself, and is compounded by the fact that the boy is always horribly rude to her when she tries to get close to him. This novel is full of characters like this who may at first appear to be shallow, yet become incredibly complex as they are viewed from different angles.

Yet the heavy character studies do bog down the story at times. Nox’s written style is highly descriptive and often leans towards telling the reader what the characters are feeling, rather than showing it. It can also be very repetitive, often showing the same facets of a character – such as how Sydney is ashamed of her birthmark and how much Lena lusts for Michael – over and over again in a multitude of different ways. This was a bit of a shame, as Nox’s prose is very smooth and often almost lyrical, but the repetition was unnecessary as it did not always contribute towards character development (a lot of characters that seemed important either died quickly or just did not have a lot to do within the greater plot and so it felt like page space wasted).

The horror elements of the story were really intriguing and certainly kept my interest. Although I sussed a lot of what was going on quite early within the tale, I was still curious to see how it would all come together in the end. It all had the general feel of a J-Horror story in the vein of Ringu or Chakushin Ari through the plot device of an object (here a novel) that somehow brings about death. While I won’t go much into this aspect of the plot for fear of spoilers, I will say that it was intriguing and built to an exciting climax. My only criticism was that the overall effectiveness of this horror story was weakened by the passages of character building. While I have no issue with a character driven horror, at times the suicides were not mentioned for chapters at a time as the focus was instead drawn to teenage issues.

Also, despite the fact that the primary protagonists were developed enough to feel like real people, I struggled to like them on a personal level. Both Lena and Jon did a lot of stuff in the novel that caused me to utterly loathe them. Lena was the worst offender in this regard – it felt a lot like she was stringing Jon a lot at times as she knew that he loved her yet would run into Michael’s arms whenever he beckoned. The novel took heavy inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera and one point Lena comparing herself to Christine and Jon to Erik, yet this allusion didn’t work for me. It seemed more as though Michael was her Erik – seductive yet possessive, unable to have Lena yet not wanting others to have her either – while Jon seemed more like her Raoul in that he was jealous yet offered her a chance of stability and normality.

However, Jon was not much better. This is a bit of a personal gripe, as it was clear that his childhood problems contributed strongly to the way he acted, particularly towards girls. Jon is considered a womaniser and yet can’t hold down a relationship. As soon as he gets serious with a girl, he’s immediately eyeing up other options (usually Lena) and thus never reciprocates the deep love that his girlfriends feel towards him. While he never claimed to be a good person, I had to agree with him whenever he said that he was a jerk. I couldn’t understand why Lena (and Amelia and Dior and Sydney) would have any interest in him at all when they could see how he treated others.

I feel like I’m starting to ramble now so I guess I’ll just sum things up. Cut Here is a surprisingly complex horror novel that is full of deep character development. Although this does sometimes feel as though it bogs down the overarching plot, the end result is a rather unique story which does not conform to the usual character tropes that readers are familiar with from other high school set young adult novels. If you’re a fan of J-Horror and heavy character development, it’s certainly one to check out.

Cut Here can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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