Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Sarah Pinborough
Published by Leisure Books
With this, her third full-length novel in two years, Pinborough has proven that she’s not only a talent to be reckoned with, but a tireless and prolific one at that.
Her first novel, The Hidden, blew me away; her sophomore effort, The Reckoning, was pretty damn good as well but lacked some of the originality of the first. Breeding Ground is a departure for the author when you look at the overall story, but the telling stays the same. That is to say that while the scope of Breeding Ground is much larger, the book works so well because you care about the individual characters, specifically our narrator Matt.
Told entirely from his perspective, Breeding Ground is a tale about the end of the world. There are no explosions, no wars, no terrorist acts; instead, the world ends when all the women, everywhere, begin getting fat. Don’t worry, the book isn’t a pulpit for Sarah to preach about the evils of overeating; these women are getting fat because there is something growing inside them.
At first this seems perfectly normal to Matt and his long-time girlfriend Chloe, since they find out that Chloe is pregnant as the book opens. However, she’s putting on weight far faster than normal, and before Matt has any real idea of what’s happening, his life’s love is becoming a different person: meaner, crueler, and everyday more and more hideous to look at. Pinborough just has a way with creating this central character that really makes you feel the pain of what he’s going through. She’s able to convey his emotions of confusion and loss in such a way that we’re deep into the story within its first few pages. Pretty impressive considering this is the first time she’s attempted to use a male character as a lead.
Slowly Matt realizes that it’s not just his girlfriend, but women all around the world who are being affected by this malady. Stores are closed due to “illness,” no one is on the streets, and the few people he does run into are men who are just as confused and lost as he is. When the thing growing inside his girlfriend finally emerges, hideous and intelligent spider-like creatures that he comes to call widows, everything gets well and truly fucked up.
These creatures are now everywhere, feeding on any survivors and growing bigger and smarter every day. Matt and a group of other men manage to find refuge in a military facility after meeting up with a few of the only surviving women, and slowly they try and figure out just what the hell is going on in the world around them through communications with other survivors across the country.
This, unfortunately, is where the book lost me a bit. It follows a lot of the same end of the world archetypes as Day of the Dead in that a good-sized chunk of the book takes place away from the threat of the creatures outside and focuses on the human drama inside. Not that it’s at all boring, indeed the character of Nigel is painted as a truly despicable character whom you want to see harmed almost from the beginning, but Pinborough spends a lot of time setting up these creatures as intelligent with telepathic links and then takes them out of the picture for the middle section of the book. Not that they’re ignored, per se, but I could’ve dealt with a few more encounters with the creatures than actually took place.
Even though this is the slowest part of Breeding Ground, it’s also when the tension between the characters is at its worst, and the finale finds some very horrible things happening to those you least expect it to, and you’ve come to care about them enough that it hurts when it does.
I would also like to commend Pinborough on her capacity for portraying violence; there are some very nasty, wince-inducing sequences in Breeding Ground that you won’t likely forget for a while after finishing the book. She pulls no punches when it comes to demonstrating just how violent and horrific these creatures are, and in some cases the humans who should be banning together to fight them, but never trivializes the brutality. It’s not just gore for the sake of gore.
My only other complaint is that the ending feels very rushed, which I’m sure has more to do with Leisure’s built-in standard word limitations than Sarah’s storytelling abilities. Though things are bleaker than ever, she stills manages to close the book with some hope in place, which is really the best way to come out of an apocalyptic novel of these proportions.
With Breeding Ground I think Sarah Pinborough has finally cemented herself among the big boys of horror, gender issues be damned. As it was with all her other books, I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store for us next!
4 out of 5
Discuss Breeding Ground in our forums!