Michael Patrick Hicks
August 10th, 2017
A Review by Chris Fried
It’s a lovely night in rural Falls Breath, Michigan when the meteor showers begin and create a spectacular show in the sky. Lauren is a teenager hanging out with her boyfriend Jacob, who’s knowledgeable about astronomy, as they take it all in. Soon after, a strange thing happens with the animals in the area, they start to attack and kill the humans! In the meantime, Lauren’s father, deputy Matthew Scott, is trying to keep order downtown when a plane crash decimates it. With the crash comes the breakdown of order and it becomes a battle of survival as animals attack and the entire town struggles to find a way to survive even as the drastic body count rises. But will they?
This book lives up to its title in spades as the full impact of this event is felt in all areas of the town. Each death and each animal assault takes whatever reality you felt safe in and punctures it violently. A police officer’s K-9 partner who attacks his handler? A house cat gone feral, clawing a baby to death? A flock of birds bringing down a jet plane? Coyotes on the prowl? Deer on a rampage smashing into your car to kill you? Chipmunks running up your arm and pecking your eyes out? Packs of dogs hunting you down the street? Deer goring people with their antlers? It’s all here in a story that takes all your favorite Disney animals and makes them murderous. It’s Disney gone dark. You will never look at any animal, whether domesticated or otherwise and feel one hundred percent safe ever again, as this novel eviscerates your sense of safety and replaces it all with a strong fearfulness.
Each death is hideously detailed as throats are ripped out, skin is torn to shreds, entrails are feasted upon, organs are disemboweled, blood copiously pumps out of your body in newly created wounds, eyes are plucked from skulls and heads are bashed into a bloody pulp. It’s an assault on all five of your senses like a train wreck you can’t turn away from. Not because the prose or the writing is bad. Quite the opposite. It’s so hideous and graphic, you can’t help but have your imagination ignited in such a detailed way that the image created in your mind’s eye is nothing short of frightening. I felt distinctly uncomfortable as I read this novel, if only because my body felt each of the wounds these characters felt in such a visceral way because the prose is just that good, despite the bad feelings it caused. I read part of this book on the beach and in those beach scenes of birds dropping out of the sky and attacking, I looked up, spooked at the thought this would happen to me as I was reading. Thankfully, it didn’t.
While all this ferociousness is happening, do you care about the people it’s happening to? The answer is a resounding yes. Lauren is a teenager in love who has a tragic family history with her mother. As a result, her father struggled to bring her up the best way possible in spite of that history. Deputy Shay Hendrix is given some startling background that informs her tenaciousness when she encounters the unthinkable in City Hall. Even the mayor, Harbin, is given a disgusting and repugnant history. All of these characters are thrown into the crucible of chaos that this situation becomes and are reduced to their baser survival instincts of the fittest.
The plot itself is something straight out of a horror movie given a science fiction twist. It’s given some strong and scientific plausibility, giving it an explanation that most horror movies don’t spend a lot of time on. There are some of the standard horror movie tropes, like teenagers having sex in an isolated location. Other times, it definitely recognizes it’s inspired by those horror movies. It effortlessly takes a standard horror movie plot and elevates it to the next level while also infusing it with a sense of horrific fun.
But make no mistake, if this was a movie filmed as written, it would be rated “R” and some scenes would be rated “X”. Why? Let’s just say some scenes will make you wince at the macabre lengths it will go to as the plot escalated towards its end. That library scene, in particular, was particularly violent and savage. I did not see where this novel was going to go at all and part of the fun is guessing who was going to survive. I didn’t win that guessing game, as that was just one more surprise woven into this novel. It even concluded with one final “gotcha” moment inserted in there like a great horror movie is supposed to do. But this moment is not one you will expect.
As society erodes in one small town, we witness the next iteration of humanity during this animal apocalypse. Where it goes will thrill and truly shock you with its fast pace, swift scenes, dreadful deaths and heartbreaking events. The epic scope of this catastrophe as society unravels in this town is surprising, intense and unpredictable. So much so that it was extremely difficult to put down.
This is the first full-length horror novel I’ve read by the author. I’ve read a couple of his science fiction short stories and horror novellas and definitely enjoyed those. I don’t read a lot of horror and decided to read this book based on the strength of the author’s previous work that I have read. My trust was definitely not misplaced, as this was an excellent novel that both delighted me with its storyline and tested the limits of my gag reflex with its gore.
As if one horror story wasn’t enough, this novel also includes a bonus novella by the author, “Consumption”. This story was one of the ones I had read previously that made me want to read this book. In this story, six men and women are gathered together in a Swiss manor, invited by celebrity chef Schauer for an exquisite ten-course meal. As Schauer creates each course, we’re delighted with decadence and detail as he prepares each one. But like the food, this is no ordinary meal. As more courses are consumed, something unexpected and strange starts to occur, but what is it? This tale revels in its gustatory sensations that are a feast for readers and their five senses. My stomach did somersaults which each course that was served. It also has a central mystery that suspensefully builds the tension and culminates into a shocking and disturbing conclusion that dropped my jaw in awe at its majesty and power.