The Troop is Nick Cutter’s homage to Stephen King and Scott Smith –He openly acknowledges and candidly admits to “Carrie” being a big inspiration that propelled him to write in this genre – a horror novel that is said to be the cross between Lord of the Flies and The Ruins.
I got an ARC from the publisher on NetGalley and was sold on the mouthwatering premise on offer. A book that has spooked even Stephen King? I mean, c’mon that guy is the grandfather of horror itself right? So the byte-sized back-of-the-book summary: A troop of boy scouts go camping on a far-away island off the coast of Canada for a stormy weekend. But the cheer soon turns to spine-chilling horror when they encounter a haggard stranger dragging himself up the beach – infected with a horrific affliction that turns him into skin and bones within hours – a biogenetic horror mutation that will spread like crazy. Stranded on the island without any lines of communication and their only boat sabotaged, the troop has to learn about more than just merit badges and campfire stories – visceral fear. Battling a horror straight out of their worst nightmares, the troop has to survive against not just the fear that eats through them but the elements that turn hostile and eventually, one another.
The Troop is not a book for the faint-hearted. Nick Cutter puts in pretty much everything he’s got in his arsenal to spook you out and succeeds to a fair extent. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill horror story. What it does and does well, is push the boundaries of gruesome, disquieting and disturbing. At certain points of the book, I wanted to skip the gore. The horrific details are explained in painstakingly glorious visceral super-adjective-studded prose that is over the top. While some of us may love the detail, I honestly felt it distracted the readers a bit too much – nausea, disgust, creeping horror. Some of the things right up on my mind as I went through the motion. But don’t get me wrong, Nick Cutter’s prose gets under your skin, tingles and scratches you making you feel more than just a little uncomfortable. It’s real. It’s visceral and burns…nay…sears the horrific images straight into your brains. So that way, a horror book very well executed and achieves the purpose truly enough.
But to draw parallels with the master of the genre, would be unfair. Unlike Stephen King, the character evolution arc was perhaps a tad bit too hurried. Nick spends a fair amount of pages trying to invest you with each of the four main characters – the four boys. Max, the do-gooder and the quiet one who is painted up to be easily the better of all four. Kent, the high school bully who believes might is right but at heart, is a coward. Ephraim, the boy with the big heart but has anger management issues. Newton, the overweight nerd who loves books and pen pals. Shelley, the mysteriously quiet one with creepy habits. Sadly as the book proceeds and the horror unfolds, all four of them quickly fall into cookie-cutter stereotype molds so fast, it’s disappointing.
However its still worth sticking through just to find out the devolution of these characters. The End of boyhood. Welcome to the jungle. Or emmm…the island? Needing to reach deep within their resolve, resorting to more primeval instincts than one bred by the Laws of Boy Scout America, how these boys turn on each other as authority flies out of the window and they are left to face not just an external horror but their internal demons that feed on fear and uncertainty. That way, the book is a great inspiration from the Lord of Flies – a true classic that explores of the psyche of boys left to fend for themselves stranded on an island and how baser instincts of survival molds their mental make up to be cruel and heartless. The breakdown and the ensuing chaos is pretty well wrought out by Nick’s beautiful prose.
It’s in no way up their among the classics of this genre but Nick Cutter ( Oh by the way, is the pen name for Craig Davidson) proves his horror mettle competently enough. It does pretty much everything you expect a horror novel to do – make you squirm and look over the back of your shoulders and think twice about entering dark wet tunnels. But I repeat, if you don’t like your novels peppered with viscerally gross descriptions of gore, this one will definitely put you off your food for sometime. Iron wall your stomachs, readers. I bequeath you a spine-chilling novel that burrows under your skins laying bare the degeneration of young minds faced with their worst primal fears. Get ready to squirm. Scream. Or squeal. (Depending on the constitution of your stomach, I say)
It’s a good read. And I would give this a solid three stars. But I don’t say I enjoyed the book much. Maybe hardcore horror novel fans would?