Severed by Joshua Marsella
Severed serves as a prequel to Scratches, Joshua’s debut novel. It focuses on George Hanscott and his transformation into the paranormal being he is in the middle book of the trilogy. Now that’s important because Joshua has done some clever things here, which I will need to address if I am to make sense of the logic behind writing the prequel. So if you want to avoid spoilers, here’s my summary – This is a good 4-star book, which left me with an uneasy feeling with regards to the progression of the trilogy. Now go read it, and let me spoil it for the other people.
Ok, still with me? So the stylistic choice of Marsella to write the prequel to scratches is based around a decision to skew reader perception. If you read these books in the order they came out, you are going to get the “correct” feel for the story because what Joshua set up as the character and personality of George in the original (2nd) book, is not the same as appears here in the prequel (1st )book. And that’s an important distinction. A reader that reads Severed and then Scratches, is going to have a totally different reading experience to a person that reads them in the order they were written.
And that’s the clever part. Joshua knows that most of his readers are going to read scratches first, and come with preconceptions to George and his hateful personality, but it turns out that that personality is not George at all. So that’s good. Think predator, and you aren’t too far away from the feel of the book. There’s an evil out there, this time a paranormal one, and it’s got its own agenda. Marsella builds up his marine squad with varying personalities, one assumes he draws from his own time as a soldier to bolster that background, and to a large extent, it works. I think Joshua stayed firmly in between the lines of modern accountability – there aren’t any real rogue personality traits, racism is shouted down, the marines express their feelings, at one point a group hug and mutual love are declared, it’s PC, a little too much for me, but it does show that A) Joshua is a parent and a husband and a decent human being, and B) He knows his audience. I like horror, I like unexpected violence, I like radical characters, ones I can feel something about, and whilst the character development was there, I think it wasn’t extreme enough for the time frame (Vietnam war) – when people weren’t PC, were sexist, were racist, were scum, brothers in arms to be sure, but not the type of people you would want your folks to meet over Sunday dinner.
Regardless. The switch of George from being a psychopathic undead killer to a soldier with a conscience is surprising and sets up his fall. And that’s the important part here. It also sets up the third book in the series, where we will be dealing with the duality of George and his combating personalities, and hopefully their redemption.
Ok. I liked this. The buddy thing was a little much for me, but the core of the story was good. Joshua tied in all of the hanging elements from the first book (explaining the necklace, the photos, the box, his expulsion from Vietnam), if anything a little too completely. It is all turned around on its head to show that the original picture was skewed. And that's why we have a modicum of sympathy for George as we leave the book, an achievement for a character we hated from the first book for the raping killer psychopath he was presented as being. It leaves the world open for an ongoing series of books detailing Georges's fight against himself, and the horror contained within him, and that’s a great concept. There are things here that don't make sense - the villagers don't know what happened to their kids, but the boy's house is surrounded by bones, the remains of all the children he has killed. In plain sight. I think I could guess what happened to those kids. I get they don't want to go near the house, but the village elder was there, and saw, one assumes. But it's nit-picking. The imagery of crawling under the house is worth it,
There are the name drops, of course, but that’s an easter egg hunt that is not hidden and will probably be refined over time to characters being mentioned and not authors. And that’s a game I’ll be following with interest.
I personally preferred the relationship content of scratches over this, perhaps my bias for strong female characters protecting their children won that, but I did breeze through this, the flow is good. It's a worthy successor, and great for Joshua's fanbase.
Enjoy the book (I did), and thereby support Joshua’s house repairing skills. Having two kids myself that survived until 21 and 17 until now, I know how much he is going to need that support.
Let’s hope for a box set of the three books when the next one comes out, with a cover from the same artist.
4 out of 5 stars