Book Review: The Cipher by Kathe Koja

The Cipher book cover

Title: The Cipher 
Author: Kathe Koja
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: Initial publication 1991, Rerelease: September 15, 2020
Publisher: Meerkat Press LLC


Nicholas is a would-be poet and video-store clerk with a weeping hole in his hand – weeping not blood, but a plasma of tears…

It began with Nakota and her crooked grin. She had to see the dark hole in the storage room down the hall. She had to make love to Nicholas beside it, and stare into its secretive, promising depths. Then Nakota began her experiments: First, she put an insect into the hole. Then a mouse…

Now from down the hall, the black hole calls out to Nicholas every day and every night. And he will go to it. Because it has already seared his flesh, infected his soul, and started him on a journey of obsession – through its soothing, blank darkness into the blinding core of terror…


My Thoughts

Koja writes with a style that’s not quite like any other.  The tone is gritty and dark and ripe with twisted metaphor.  She employs sentence fragments and run on sentences like no other author can.  She uses almost a stream of consciousness style that grows more and more erratic and confusing as the novel progresses. This in itself instills a level of disorientation in the reader, which mimics the feelings and internal conflict that Nicholas himself is going through.  There were times when I had to reread passages multiple times, because the style and what was happening were so peculiar that I couldn’t follow. I can see this as both a good and a bad thing. It’s clear that Nicholas isn’t in quite the right frame of mind, but as a reader, I wanted a little more clarity as to what was happening.  Not full clarity (I love the abstract style), but a little more concrete so that I wouldn’t have to reread and the impact of what was truly happening could sink in.  

At first, the concept of the funhole is fascinating in its simplicity. However, as the novel progresses, the effects of the funhole become stranger and stranger, which, unfortunately, negatively affected my ability to be immersed in the story.  

I found that the ending of the novel fell a little flat for me. It fits well with the underlying theme of the novel, and I won’t give any spoilers, but I needed more. The book starts off disturbing right off the bat, and while the rest of the events of the book are disturbing and they do escalate in severity, but the level of disturbingness doesn’t escalate. No scene in the novel is more disturbing that than scene in the first couple of chapters (no spoilers, but it was messed up!) This disappointed me just a little.  

While the writing style was hard to follow, this novel is quite a page turner. I was compelled to learn more, to see what Nakota would do next in her insatiable desire to learn more about the funhole, and to see how Nicholas would react.

The Cipher small

I recommend this book to horror fans who read for language and want to read a book that has a dark and perverted style that will keep them turning the pages.

*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the arc to review*


Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

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