I think spiders are gross and scary, so the story Ezekiel Boone tells in The Hatching can pretty much count as one of my top ten nightmares. Prehistoric spiders begin appearing all over the world and all they seem to want to do is feed on humans. Blood drives them wild, and there are scenes where they literally chew their way out of a person.
The novel begins with a tour group in Peru, where the tour guide notices what looks like a black liquid stream engulfs a man nearby and makes him disappear. (Yeah, ew.) There are quite a few more, much gorier, details on what happens when one of the tour group members returns home, but you can probably imagine.
The spiders get US President Stephanie Pilgrim’s attention when China “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb on one of their own remote provinces in order to stop the spread. Her Chief of Staff Manny’s ex-wife, Melanie Guyer, is a scientist who specializes in spiders. Guyer’s students have discovered an ancient egg sac that they bring to her lab for research, and it’s around this point in the story that you just want to tell the characters on a page that this is a really bad idea. FBI Agent Mike Rich rounds off the core team of protagonists when he is pulled in to investigate a mysterious plane crash involving the spiders.
There isn’t much to say about the story other than it’s exactly what you’d expect in a story about killer spiders. It’s scary and gross, and Boone has a penchant for describing the spiders’ eating habits in great detail, which is a fair warning to any readers with weak stomachs. The characters are also straight out of a potential Hollywood adaptation of this story — the brilliant and ambitious scientist, the detective who just wants to be a good dad, the no-nonsense president, and so on. That being said, I’m glad that the scientist and president were both women, and I especially liked that the National Security Advisor, Alexandra Harris, was a 73 year old woman who looked like a grandmother but was often the most badass person in the room.
I also liked that Boone calls out systemic sexism several times in the story. For example, when Mike asks a uniformed policewoman to watch his daughter while he investigated the plane crash, the policewoman doesn’t let him get away with it.
“Sorry, man. I’m on the clock and can’t play babysitter, especially for a suit.”
Mike shrugged. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“Actually, it’s some kind of sexist bullshit.”
…He looked back at the cop. “And you’re right. I probably wouldn’t have asked a man. Not cool.” [p.94]
Good on the cop for calling him out, and good on Mike for acknowledging it, though ironically, the cop then recommends that Mike leave his daughter with the only female EMT on the scene.
Later, in the White House, when Alexandra disagrees with something that Ben, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recommends, Manny notices that Ben “didn’t look pissed. He looked furious.” Manny attributes Ben’s overreaction to his discomfort with a woman in power. Manny observes,
Billy Cannon, the secretary of defense, didn’t react like that when Alex challenged him, but that’s probably because Billy looked at Alexandra Harris and saw the national security advisor, while Ben looked at Alex and saw a woman. [p. 116]
It’s an attitude that likely does exist even in such a high echelon of power, and good on Boone for calling it out.
Overall, if you like spiders or enjoy getting scared about spiders, The Hatching is for you. Fair warning: this appears to be the first book of a trilogy or series, and the story ends with Melanie making the kind of announcement that’s usually timed right before a commercial break or the end of a season. It’s designed to whet our appetites for more, and while I don’t know if I’ll keep reading (because the story really is gross), I am definitely curious to find out how humanity eventually defeats the spiders. (And I’m assuming they do, because that’s the type of story this feels like, and also because I really, really don’t want to imagine a spider version of Planet of the Apes in humanity’s future.)
Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.