4 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
He is utterly alone. His father is dead, branded a traitor. His mother too is taken, slain by a creature no one has seen in years. He himself is but a boy. Homeless, protectorless, and on the run.
Now Joshua Vernon must use every ounce of wits and skills accumulated over his eleven years of life. For he must survive not only the deadly natural environment of his planet but a criminal underworld every bit as dangerous…
I would describe The Deepest Cut as a futuristic action/survival thriller with the structure of a “Bildungsroman” story following the growth of a single protagonist. The main character’s young age evokes some comparison’s with a Dickens novel, but the closer parallel (in thematic terms) might actually be Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. This is all filtered through a “neo-noir” Story world with some broad similarities to the Blade Runner universe.
The key theme that stood out to me was an exploration of “ends justifying the means.”
The key theme that stood out to me was an exploration of “ends justifying the means.”. Joshua is forced to grapple with this concept head-on after having debated it in merely abstract terms. He’s thrust into his dangerous circumstances following a heated disagreement on this topic with his mother. Just engaging with this question on an intellectual level will not teach him the lesson he needs to learn—he has to see and experience its consequences firsthand.
I was also impressed by the story’s subtle use of motifs to reinforce its basic tone and theme. This is especially apparent in the physical worldbuilding: the colony planet experiences near-constant rainfall, creating a cold, dark environment that directly reflects the moral condition of its own capital city. We are also shown both a literal jungle (the planet’s “Swamp” region) and an urban “concrete jungle” existing side by side, each equally dangerous in its own way. A recurrent image is that of the “spider-viper”, a highly dangerous predator that has become something of an archetype within the city’s collective consciousness.
The book has good characterization and dialogue throughout.
The book has good characterization and dialogue throughout, and the narrative does well even though the prose can get rather wordy and technical at times. Some of the worldbuilding also relies somewhat heavily on exposition, but this occurs at mostly appropriate times within the plot. The story also maintains consistent character point-of-view with clearly demarcated shifts. I would recommend it to anyone who likes young adult sci-fi with prominent elements of action and suspense.
This book is the first in a series, and there is clear setup for a sequel. There are many tantalizing questions, such as mysterious abilities that the protagonist himself merely takes for granted. The reader is given the sense that his trials are all preparing him for a larger destiny…
Heat: There is no sexual content, but we are shown the reality of things like human trafficking. One of the villains is a pimp who briefly captures the protagonist.
Profanity: Some recurring instances.
Violence: Some action-oriented violence and frightening moments.
Genre: Science Fiction
Age recommendation: 15 and up.
Reviewed by A.K. Preston
A.K. Preston is the author of The Gevaudan Project, and has published short stories in The Unseen Anthology and The Untold Podcast (to be released sometime this year). You can find him at his website, AKPreston.com. In his spare time, he likes to read classic literature, history, and speculative fiction of all types.