The Hatching is in many ways a throwback to 1970s and ‘80s horror novels, spearheaded by James Herbert’s The Rats, in which rodents, slimy gastropods, wriggling insects and all manner of indigenous fauna rose up and decided to give humankind a good kicking. Most of these books were lurid, gory Penny Dreadfuls, throwaway holiday reading, but The Hatching reinvents the genre and attempts to give it a patina of respectability. It all starts with a party of American tourists coming a cropper in the Peruvian jungle, followed by unusual seismic activity in India and, most worryingly, the ‘accidental’ detention of a nuclear bomb on Chinese territory. It quickly becomes clear that something very odd is going on and soon the scientific community and the American Government, led by the unlikely-named President Stephanie, are working together against a terrible, scuttling threat which has emerged from the very bowels of the Earth and which has a very unhealthy appetite for living flesh. Yikes.
The Hatching is a rattlingly-entertaining read but falls some way short of greatness because of stuttering, stop-start pacing issues and a surfeit of underdeveloped or underused characters. The first seven or eight chapters fly by in a rush of new characters – some of whom become major players in the story, some who do little more than make a quick and rather pointless cameo – and the story’s momentum suffers because, whilst it deftly creates a sense of growing threat and deep foreboding, it keeps stopping to sketch in some unnecessary (and often uninteresting) character background of people we’re not destined to spend a lot of time with. There are a handful of genuinely-thrilling set pieces as this new breed of vicious arachnids overwhelm Delhi and a Chinese freighter and its unsuspecting eight-legged cargo crash into the port of Los Angeles – with devastating consequences – but we seem to spend a lot of time with people whose connection to the central narrative is peripheral at best. Who knows what purpose is served by the inclusion of a quartet of over-prepared survivalists in a one-horse Californian town or, worse yet, a bunch of woeful Scottish stereotypes on a remote island off the mainland?
Overabundance of characters aside, though, The Hatching is a great fun read – Boone’s writing is snappy and commendably visual - which doesn’t take the easy option and wrap things up in neatly in its closing chapters – there’s clearly a sequel being set up here. It’s not exactly a literary classic but it’s an enjoyable pot-boiler, a timely reminder of the blood-drenched glory days of creepy-crawlies vs us horror fiction.
THE HATCHING / AUTHOR: EZEKIEL BOONE / PUBLISHER: ORION BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JULY 5TH