First published in July of 2016, US author Ezekiel Boone’s debut novel ‘The Hatching’ (2016) offered up an intense arachnid horror threat taken to near-apocalyptic proportions.

DLS Synopsis:
In the jungles of Peru, billionaire Bill Henderson of Henderson Tech - along with his guide, bodyguard and model girlfriends – are taking a short break from their tourist trek through the jungle when a stream of skittering black shapes pour out around them.  Within seconds the black mass has overwhelmed the entire party - other than Henderson who manages to get away with nothing but one small nick to his flesh.

At the National Information Centre of Earthquake Engineering in Kanpur, India, Dr Basu noticed that they’d been receiving some strange seismic recordings.  It appeared that something was shaking New Delhi with a worrying consistency that was puzzling the lab researchers.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t an earthquake.  And it was getting bigger.

All of a sudden, reports comes in that a nuclear exposition has taken place in a desolate region of China.  The Chinese government instantly declare it to be one of their own nuclear bombs that was accidentally detonated on their soil.  Nevertheless, the US President - forty-two-year-old Stephanie Pilgrim together with the rest of the US government - are put on high alert.

Meanwhile, whilst performing an archaeological dig around the vast image of the spider at the Nazca Line’s in Peru, the archaeologists unearth an ancient wooden box containing what appears to be a spider’s egg sac.  Based on the box and its location – the archaeologists date the egg sac to be around ten thousand years old.

The egg sac is sent to world-class researcher – Professor Melanie Guyer and her student team at the American University in Washington DC for analysis.  When it arrives the sac is placed under recorded observation.  However its temperature is steadily increasing by the hour.  And then all of a sudden it explodes – a mass of ferocious black spiders pouring out in all directions within the secure insectarium.

Professor Guyer has never seen anything like these spiders.  Putting aside the question of how the egg sac was able to hatch after some ten thousand years – Guyer is equally perplexed by the mass of arachnoids before her.  The spiders that emerged are far more aggressive than any other species she has ever seen.  They’re vicious and unrelenting in their hunger.  And they’re able to devour the live lab rats placed in their tank within a matter of seconds.

And then a private plane crashes in Minneapolis.  Upon arriving at the scene, Agent Mike Rich witnesses one of the ferocious black spiders clambering out of the face of the dead billionaire Bill Henderson.

Something very worrying is taking place around the world.  Something that had lain dormant for ten thousand years.  And whatever the hell it is, it spooked the Chinese enough to drop a thirty-megaton nuke on their own soil…

DLS Review:
The publishers are calling this “the most terrifying thriller you’ll read this year”.  Fair do’s – the novel’s one hell of a nail-biting and downright unnerving read.  But let’s call a spade a spade here.  This is a horror novel.  In fact – it’s not a million miles away from all those wonderfully over-the-top pulp horrors from the 70’s and 80’s – only here we have the arachnoid threat on a worldwide / near apocalyptic scale.

Indeed what instantly stands out in the novel is the scale of the evolving epidemic.  Author Ezekiel Boone has interwoven a multitude of different perspectives from across all corners of the globe – gradually bringing them together to form a greater picture of the snowballing events that start unravelling from the very first page.

At first the sheer volume of different characters and different threads to the story seems somewhat daunting.  But gradually, chapter-by-chapter, their stories converge into one truly terrifying picture.  And it’s when these pieces start falling in place that Boone really starts cranking up the treat level.

Indeed, the spider threat that Boone has created is nothing short of chilling.  If you’re arachnophobic then you’re going to struggle like hell with this novel.  Most people will agree that there’s something inherently creepy about spiders.  It’s possibly due to their eight legs, the way they skitter about the place with surprising and unpredictable speed.  They often hide in dark, dank places and seem to creep out with their many eyes always watching.

However what Boone’s done is take these skin-crawling arachnids and made them into something that’s pretty much plucked out of one hellstorm of a nightmare.  The spiders appear to work in a eusocial way – like ants do – working as a single-minded colony.  They’re like a plague – incredibly ferocious and able to overwhelm and devour their prey in seconds.

However there’s so much more to this skin-crawling threat than just spiders chomping at your ankles.  These carnivorous spiders have other, even more terrifying traits.  Indeed, just when you think you’ve got the book sussed – Boone throws in a handful of even more blood-chilling curve balls which even now bring about involuntary shudders in me at the mere thought of them.  I’m not going to ruin any of these delightful little arachnoid’s talents for you here – but trust me – this novel just doesn’t stop dishing out the horror until the very last page is turned.

One aspect of the novel that Boone has kept an impressively tight rein on is with zeroing in on the horrific action as it happens, then backing off in the next chapter to see how the whole epidemic is unfolding on a more global basis.  In this way ‘The Hatching’ feels somewhat akin to Max Brooks’ zombie epidemic novel ‘World War Z’ (2006).  It’s constructed from many different jigsaw pieces - all from different character perspectives - which when brought together make for one unbelievably terrifying and global picture.

Furthermore each perspective is told through the eyes of a key character – whether it’s Agent Mike Rich, US President Stephanie Pilgrim, Professor Melanie Guyer, survivalist prepper Gordon Lightfoot, or on-the-ground military officer Lance Corporal Kim Bock.  And with each and every one of these characters we’re given a personal, well-fleshed-out back story, along with carefully crafted character arcs and believable ‘human’ stories.  Even with the US President the character is fleshed-out to feel like a real human, rather than just a name and position of supreme authority.

There are so many aspects to the novel that make it such a rip-roaring, blood-chilling success.   The characterisation is absolutely spot on.  With so many different perspectives within this magnificently roving storyline it would have been easy to just let some characters simply tell their side of the story and leave it at that.  But Boone’s not taken his eye off the ball for one second – giving them all their own voice and letting the characters play out their roles in a wonderfully convincing way.

Admittedly what was a bit of a shock – and ultimately a bit of a disappointment if I’m 100% honest – is with the book’s open-ended conclusion.  The way the novel finishes in the midst of all the unravelling horror obviously suggests a follow-on novel.  It’s certainly got plenty of potential for this.  But it would have been a far more satisfying to have had the book conclude with some degree of initial wrapping up – even if it was to keep its options open for a sequel.

However with the open-ended conclusion put to the side, the rest of the novel is nothing short of a masterclass in escalating terror that’s designed to mess with your inherent and core fears.  It’s brutal, methodical, mesmerising and the work of true nightmares.  There’s absolutely no way I’m going near a large black spider ever again!

The novel runs for a total of 303 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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