Skitter by Ezekiel Boone

April 27, 2017

Please note Skitter is a direct sequel to The Hatching and if you haven’t read that then there is a distinct possibility that this review may contain something akin to spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Gruyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up. Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack gives a shocking preview of what is to come, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a spider super weapon, but it’s not clear if it’s too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol. America, you are on your own.

Last year I read The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone. I loved it. Horror has always been my favourite genre and I like nothing better than a bit of nasty, flesh munching evil. Fear of spiders gets a checkmark on my list of top phobias (ironic as my wife has a pet tarantula), and Boone’s debut tapped right into that primal fear. Now the sequel is upon us, and the good news is that it does not disappoint. You thought things were bad by the end of book one? Wait until you read book two.

Skitter, like its predecessor, remains an ensemble piece. There are multiple groups of characters that the reader follows as the narrative unfolds. My personal favourites are the chapters that feature the US President, Stephanie Pilgrim, as she tries to co-ordinate a response to a crisis that no-one could ever have foreseen.  Elsewhere Shotgun, Fred, Amy and Gordo, the world’s most refined doomsday preppers, are great fun. I’ll also admit I have a soft spot for the thread of narrative that is unfolding in the far north of Scotland. Any book that uses my home country as a back-drop for the end of humanity is a winner as far as I am concerned.

One of the things I really liked about The Hatching, and it still in evidence in Skitter, is that the plot has a genuinely international flavour. While a lot of the action takes place in America, there are chapters in Peru, Japan, France, Norway and, as I previously mentioned, Scotland. I’m glad the author appreciates that the end of the world would happen everywhere rather than in just one place. I’ve often found that to be a distraction with other apocalyptic novels, but Boone has deftly avoided that trap.

After reading the book blurb at the beginning of this review you may be asking yourself “What is The Spanish Protocol? What exactly is America going to do?” I’m not even going to begin to tell you, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise. All I’ll say is that it sets things up perfectly to send book three off in an unexpected direction. The story has suddenly become significantly more epic in scale. It feels like we are drifting significantly close to the scope of books like The Stand, Swan Song or Defender, and it makes Skitter all the better for it

Skitter ends with the world in chaos. Countries are falling apart and the thin veneer of civility that keeps society trundling along is well and truly cracked. The horror of the spiders is nearly matched by how humanity is beginning to turn inwards on itself. We have reached the stage where people are willing to do anything in order to survive. If that means screwing someone else over then so be it, the time for helping your fellow man appears to be long since gone. The various disparate groups of characters are starting to gravitate towards one another other but there are still multiple cliff-hangers to enjoy. Boone has done a great job of ramping up the tension in this sequel and has done everything to ensure I’ll be waiting impatiently for the next instalment.

Regular readers will know I like to enhance your enjoyment of a novel by recommending some sounds to listen to while reading. I was looking for some suitably creepy music to accompany Skitter and I think I’ve found the perfect match, the soundtrack to Insidious by Joseph Bishara. It has a classical but sinister tone punctuated by some wonderfully nerve jangling strings. Exactly the sort of thing to keep you on edge while reading about flesh eating spiders.

I have only two questions – (1) When is the next book due for release? (2) What has happened to the big screen adaptation that was mentioned when book one came out? This needs to happen.

Skitter is published by Gollancz and is available now. If you’ve read The Hatching I’m sure you’ll love this. If you haven’t, then go and read The Hatching and then read Skitter*. You can thank me later.

*Except if you don’t like spiders. If you don’t like spiders read something else. This is not the book, or series, for you. People get used as spider incubators for goodness sake. Trust me when I tell you it is not pretty.

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