The spiders are back – bigger and more badass than ever. In Skitter, Ezekiel Boon’s surprisingly-quick sequel to last year’s The Hatching, Mankind is breathing a sigh of relief as the wave of monstrous, man-munchin’ arachnids which swarmed out from the bowels of the Earth, ravaged across India and caused China to nuke itself, and made its way to the United States, stopped dead in its tracks before retreating and promptly dropping dead – for no apparent reason. Millions of human lives have been lost and Los Angeles is a warzone patrolled by soldiers on the hunt for the swollen, glowing egg sacs which appear to be growing in every available nook and cranny. The spiders are gone – but it soon becomes apparent that it’s just a temporary respite and that something much worse is lurking just around the cobwebbed corner.
It all kicks off in Skitter – but you’ll have to be patient and wade through a good 250 pages before the hairs on the back of your neck begin to prickle and you start to feel creeped out by the creepy-crawlies. This is a moody slow-burn book, building on the bedrock of its predecessor and working hard to create a growing sense of dread as the authorities – especially America’s still unlikely-named President Stephanie – realise that the emergency is far from over and that worse is yet to come. This is a book which is likely to be shelved in the ‘horror’ section of your local bookstore but in truth there’s nothing very horrific going on here, none of the gruesome, icky spider-slaughter of The Hatching (apart from the odd stripped-to-the-bone goat) but there are a couple of eerie sequences depicting the new red-striped breed of spiders’ habit of cocooning their victims in thick, choking webbing. In many ways then Skitter is playing a waiting game and is content to take its time moving its characters into position ready for the final breathless thirty or so pages when an untenable situation – the President evokes the ‘Spanish Protocol’, effectively sacrificing the infested half of her country to save the other half – spirals horribly out of control, leading to a “You can’t stop there!” cliffhanger which will probably leave you begging for the next instalment.
Boone follows the template of The Hatching fairly closely – blood and guts notwithstanding – in that there’s still a surfeit of characters which means that we’re not spending enough time with the major players and are constantly finding ourselves diverted into the lives of characters who aren’t going to be around for long or who still don’t seem to be adding much to the ongoing narrative (the slightly irritating trio stuck on an island in the Outer Hebrides). There are hosts of new characters too, but at least the pointless survivalists of The Hatching step into the spotlight this time and could even prove fundamental to the ultimate resolution of the spider invasion in the inevitable third (and final?) book in the series. Skitter is a terrific, confidently-written page-turner, not quite as adrenalised as its predecessor (which isn’t necessarily a criticism) but hampered by the same pacing issues as The Hatching in its determination to keep us away from the characters we’re really invested in as much as possible. Mercifully, the eight-legs are largely at arm’s length too; we suspect that state of affairs won’t be lasting too much longer…
SKITTER / AUTHOR: EZEKIEL BOONE / PUBLISHER: ORION / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW