I recently posted reviews of The Stand by Stephen King and World War Z by Max Brooks. The first was serendipitous, the second was not, because I read The Hatching but wasn’t ready to get a review up yet. Ezekiel Boone’s wonderful, terrifying new book about 10,000-year-old flesh-eating spiders reminds me a lot of both wildly successful books. Only better.
Deep in the jungle of Peru, where so much remains unknown, a black, skittering mass devours an American tourist whole. Thousands of miles away, an FBI agent investigates a fatal plane crash in Minneapolis and makes a gruesome discovery. Unusual seismic patterns register in a Kanpur, India, earthquake lab, confounding the scientists there. During the same week, the Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. As these incidents begin to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at a Washington, DC, laboratory. Something wants out.
The Hatching is terrifying and compulsively readable. I picked up The Hatching (figuratively, it was more like a few swipes of my finger got me from The Dark Side to The Hatching) on a flight and barely put it down in the next day, somehow both finishing the book and driving from Texas to Florida during the same short period. So yeah, it’s compulsively readable. And terrifying. I could normally give two shits about spiders, but this is not a book I would recommend reading while you are driving a garage full of stuff from one spider-infested state to another. Because Boone, like King and Brooks before him, is a man who recognizes the journey can be as terrifying as the destination.
The Hatching, again like those two other books, hops around following a host of POV characters, from a billionaire entrepreneur to an entomologist specializing in spiders to her White House Chief of Staff ex-husband to an FBI special agent to a Delhi seismologist to the heir to a mystery series empire. Some become main characters, some exist to move the story along, some apparently exist to play a role in the sequels. More on the latter in a bit, but I will say that even the plot device characters are well drawn and interesting. Boone has King’s knack for making everyday people who are bit players come alive.
The spiders titular hatching is cicada-like, with a petrified egg sac from the above pictured Nazca Spider being dated back 10,000 years (we think the actual Nazca lines are more like 1,500-2,500 years old). But the egg sacs aren’t just in Peru. The spiders start hatching in spots across the world and it becomes a race to react in time. If there is even any reaction that will save humanity.
Because these aren’t your grandmother’s spiders (the oil tank behind my grandmother’s house was a reliable place to find black widows). They’re fast, they’re organized, they eat flesh. One spider is a nuisance readily removed with a boot heel. A river of them? And they’re specialized. One way they travel is by catching the breeze with a silky strand of webbing. The more terrifying way is by burrowing into a person and laying eggs inside their body.
It’s a damned terrifying concept, and Boone nails the execution in every way, from characters (major and minor) to pacing to prose. My only complaint, and I finally decided it wasn’t really a complaint at all, is that this is just the first act in the story. The Hatching Series in parenthesis probably should have been my first clue, but unlike a lot of book 1s The Hatching doesn’t pretend to be able to stand on its own. But who cares if Boone doesn’t lollygag about finishing the series? I almost said the sequels should have been pulled into a single volume, but The Hatching alone is 352 pages. It doesn’t read like it. And I’m not sure how many books Boone has in mind. A couple of the characters have the ability to really ride out the inverse-decimation of humanity, and I get the feeling that is what we’re going to see. I trust Boone so much at this point that I want to see it all, from apocalypse on through to the post-apocalyptic aftermath.
Disclosure: I received a copy of The Hatching from the publisher.