Guest Post: The Hatching – Spidery Horror that’s not quite spooky enough

I am letting Will slowly build his own spooky corner on the blog, as I am told horror books are pretty good but I am a huge pansy. Enjoy as he sets up a few cobwebs:

the-hatching-9781501125041_hrLet’s get this out of the way right at the start. If you couldn’t guess by the cover art consisting of cobwebbed lettering backed by silk, or the name The Hatching, this novel is about spiders. As such, this review will also at least be partly about spiders. If you have arachnophobia, or if they just give you the willies, you should ABSOLUTELY READ THIS BOOK.

Now that we’re done with the disclaimer, friendly reader, I’m sure you’re wondering why I would recommend a book about spiders to those with arachnophobia. I’m recommending it specifically because it’s a horror book, and horror is supposed to freak you out. That said, for spider lovers, spider enthusiasts, and the spider agnostic out there, while this book entertains I think it falls a little short of the mark in terms of spooks. This isn’t to say that The Hatching isn’t fun, it maintains a quick pace and achieves what it’s going for to a respectable degree. To me, though, it was notably lacking in chills running down my spine.

The Hatching is the debut novel in The Hatching Series, by Ezekiel Boone. In it, we follow a wide variety of characters as they find out about, and react to, an invasion by hordes (swarms?) of man-eating spiders. Think Arachnophobia on a global scale. It riffs heavily from previous novels of the “world catastrophe” genre and I was particularly reminded of both World War Z and Robopocalypse with their large casts of characters from around the world. In typical fashion, the world is given warnings that are ignored or dismissed before everything gets completely out of hand. Subsequently, a group of people (this group containing members with varying importance, from world leaders to a marine Lance Corporal) are forced to deal with the fallout. The fallout is spiders falling from the sky. Literally. Oh, and some nuclear fallout. Really, there’s fallout of all kinds to deal with.

Sadly, that fallout doesn’t really get dealt with. While that is likely due to Boone saving the meat of the crisis for later in the series, the satisfaction of the story within The Hatching itself suffers for it. The choice to write this story as a series of short to mid-length books, rather than one larger self-contained book, is a departure from the genre standard, and one I don’t entirely agree with it. Horror is significantly less effective when you’re given a chance to decompress from it, and breaking up what was a lightning fast, headlong rush into global catastrophe right at what felt like the denouement was a letdown to me. We’re left on a somewhat unsatisfying cliffhanger that sets us up for the next installment of the series, which precludes this book standing on its own. All this combined with a long wait for the next book, and some issues I’m about to get into, lead me to find it difficult to maintain the hype that I imagine the author, publishers, and readers were hoping for.

While I enjoyed the plot of the book well enough for what it was (crazy huge spider attacks, OH NO), the characterization left me feeling cold. We begin the book with 9 consecutive chapters from different viewpoints, two of which are never visited again. I still have no idea what the purpose of one of those two was, perhaps that will be fleshed out in the next installment? This could be easily moved past if these characters felt more real. We are introduced to three scientists, the White House Chief of Staff, an agent for a government organization that is never actually identified, a doomsday prepper, and a marine Lance Corporal. While that’s a decently diverse list of characters, I had some problems with exactly how they were made to feel human and their roles in the story. It seemed to me like Boone’s go-to character flaw was a sexual or relationship failing of some kind. The White House Chief of Staff and one of the scientists are divorced from each other, the agent is divorced and struggling with his wife’s new relationship, the President is cheating on her husband with the Chief of Staff, and the phrase “want to spend a week in the bedroom with ____” was used with such frequency it bordered on the inane. In addition, I don’t understand the purpose of the doomsday prepper character. Considering they are shown to live in underground bunkers they choose to seclude (read: trap) themselves in, I went in with the belief that they would be a highlight for swarms of carnivorous spiders. I was left confused and let down, as it almost seemed to be an exercise in simply showing how a specific subgroup in a population would react if things got weird. I don’t think they added much to this story, and while I’m sure they’ll be a more important part of the series going forward, I think they could have been completely excised from this novel without any negative impact. With such a large cast for a novel of its type, some of these issues are understandable, excusable even, but I can’t help but think that had Boone decided to crib a little more heavily from Brooks style in World War Z the errors wouldn’t have been quite as noticeable. Brooks’ use of a journalist as window dressing helped to smooth out any inconsistencies in his characters, and I think a similar device would have been an improvement here.

However, all of the issues are forgivable, as long as the book is scary. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the horror never quite hit the mark for me. A common complaint of horror fans in film is the oversaturation of jump scares and body horror. It is, understandably, much more difficult to sell an atmosphere of horror than it is to gross people out or have some supernatural icky thing appear with a string accompaniment in D minor. The Hatching falls firmly into the body horror category. While it is not without its tense moments, the constant descriptions of what was happening to people physically as they were overwhelmed by swarms of voracious spiders felt more gross than scary. To illustrate, one distinct thing that makes these spiders different is the fact that they “chew” on their food instead of the typical arachnid feeding method of injecting venom and sucking out the liquefied tissue from their prey. The distinct “clacking” noise that their mandibles make as they chew on the flesh of their victims is frequently and relentlessly described. This, in addition to a few other examples of behavior unnatural for most spiders (that I can’t go into because of spoilers) firmly cement this as gross-out horror, rather than the creeping, all-encompassing kind that I personally prefer. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that I would recommend this book to people that have already existing fears of spiders. As someone who isn’t afraid of spiders, this book missed the mark for me in terms of scares, but someone with a preexisting fear of them that enjoys the horror genre would probably find this scary without being so sinister and horrific that it would make them put it down.

The Hatching is ultimately a flawed book, but still enjoyable to readers that both know what they’re getting into and are fans of the genres it straddles. I enjoyed it well enough that I’ll likely be picking up the sequel once it arrives, but I’m not going to rearrange my reading list to do so.

The Hatching is fast and fun, but not without its issues, and is given a hesitant recommendation by the author of this post.

6.5/10

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