Review: The Cult Called Freedom House
By: Stephanie Evelyn
Publisher: Hook of a Book Media
Publication Date: Nov. 13, 2019
Fourteen year old Samantha Watson is an abused young woman, longing to escape her drug addicted mother and her mother’s string of drug addicted and abusive boyfriends. Starving and alone, she takes to the streets to fill her days wandering the boardwalk area of Santa Cruz until she is found by a man on a grocery run from a group called Freedom House. He offers her a food, a safe place to live, and more importantly a chance for ultimate freedom.
Detective Sophia Rey is haunted by the failure of a past missing persons case involving a cult and the childhood disappearance of her little sister. Sophia’s guilt is funneled into her work but that doesn’t stop the nightmares or her anxiety.
A string of possible abductions lands in Sophia Rey’s case work with Samantha as the newest victim. Sophia has a gut feeling that the disappearances are centered around a commune in a house called, “Freedom House”. Against the advice of some of her fellow officers, Sophia volunteers to go undercover to find Samantha before it goes too late.
The Cult called Freedom House follows multiple points of view, Sophia, Samantha, and Samantha’s mentor. At its core, it’s a story of trauma and abuse. I felt that the opening chapter ruined the surprise of what was to come later but it could also be perceived as Hitchcock’s method of building suspense of letting the audience know that there is a bomb under the table when the characters in the story don’t. Or it could also be argued that there was a lack of subtlety to this first short chapter.
I couldn’t find our 14 year old protagonist, Samantha interesting. I thought her background was sad and she deserves something better but aside from enthusiastically jumping at the chance to belong at Freedom House, there was no apprehension towards living in the commune with all the odd things she had to do. Cyrus, the cult leader, didn’t particularly say anything moving or do anything profound in Samanatha’s indoctrination scenes. You only got to see the superficial aspects of some of the other cult members so it felt shallow.
I felt Sophia was more interesting of a character and I wanted to spend more time with her. Now, this story is gory but much of the traumatic events are hidden behind euphemism and occur off screen, which could be a plus or minus depending on how you feel about the literary portrayals of abuse.
This was a relatively quick read and the chapters are short with a lack of flowery prose to bulk up the pages. It made this an easy read and left it to the reader to fill in the gaps in their imagination. This being said certain terms were repeated to annoying effect. I felt that using the word “darkness” 11 times across 2 ebook pages is a bit excessive but I have felt that pain of needing a synonym myself.
My other issue with this book was the pacing. The first half had the right amount of lingering dread to make it suspenseful as we waited for the proverbial bomb to explode. The second half… we don’t have time to really feel any particular way about how things start to unfold before something else happens. I’m for a fast second half as we rush to our conclusion but with the chapters so short, major events were happening and then skipping forward.
Reading the other reviews, it seems the audience is split between loving it or not. It’s a great first effort but I felt that Evelyn (also known as Sterp) could have used some more editing guidance to tighten up the second half of her book. I enjoy true crime stories, cult stories and other books in this genre of horror but I did not like this book. I didn’t have to force myself to finish it nor did I find it impossible to finish. There was enough going on to hold my interest until the end even if I didn’t like it.
This was an interesting debut novel for Sterp and I wish her the best as she continues in her writing journey. I look forward to her next book about Sophia Rey and seeing how much she has grown since this novel. Gory, and disturbing The Cult Called Freedom House is a chilling addition to the genre.
3 of 5