Book Review: “Lair” (The Rats Trilogy Book 2) by James Herbert

Lair is the sequel to The Rats, British horror writer James Herbert’s debut novel. Lair was published in 1979, five years after its predecessor and Herbert’s sixth book overall. The old cover art of Lair is too adorable not to show you!

It takes place four years after “the Outbreak,” the coined term for the infestation that led to hundreds dead in London and eventual evacuation to exterminate the filth.

Carrying on from the epilogue, several rats survived the onslaught, and though they are much fewer in number, they escape from their hiding place to wait, hide, and breed until their thirst for human flesh brings them to the surface again.

*Note: this review contains some spoilers.

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“The mutant white rat had grown and mated, creating offspring in its own image. They dominated the others, the dark-furred ones, who foraged for food and brought it back to the lair.

Now the dark rats were restless, tormented by a craving they could not satisfy. But the white slug-like thing that ruled them knew. Its two heads weaved to and fro and a stickiness drooled from its mouth as it remembered the taste of human flesh . . .”

Unlike in The Rats, Lair takes place in Epping Forest, a large wood on the outskirts of London. It takes longer for the vermin to attack this time; there are many “close calls” and sightings, building up the tension for the first third of the novel. Always, I wondered whether a new scene would lead to an unfortunate death or a lucky escape.

One aspect I really liked about the first installment is Herbert’s quick introduction to the backstories and lives of the characters, whether or not they fall victim to the rats. Whether suggested by his editor or on his own, it’s unclear, but it seemed like many of the victims were not very nice people and therefore it was less upsetting and more fun reading about their deaths or encounters with ruined corpses. A couple cheating on their spouses. A pervert who likes to flash young women. A grumpy farmer who doesn’t trust the law.

Harris, the main character from book one, is briefly mentioned, but we’re introduced to a new MC: Ratkill employee called Lucas Pender, our hero of Lair. Their struggle to track down and eliminate the rats in Epping Forest is real. The rats are stronger, smarter, and more deadly than ever before, often outsmarting their mortal enemies even though the humans know not to underestimate them.

Some scenes had me on the edge of my seat. Would they escape? Would the protective suits, which worked so well in the past, hold against the onslaught of vicious teeth? Would they finally destroy the creatures or had the rats hidden too well?

Herbert introduced political aspects to the novel, suggesting the economic consequences of an infestation in Epping Forest, an area that is home to hundreds of people and a green belt area that London politicians would dearly love to seize. The hesitation of the forest’s protectors exacerbates the situation despite Pender’s early warnings, giving the story a very real edge. How many times in the real world has common sense been abandoned for the sake of money and control?

The story was all about action and not much character development. I wasn’t aware Whittaker had a beard until almost the end of the book. If there was any description of Pender, I missed it; I imagined him as a normal-looking white bloke with darkish hair. I wasn’t keen on the love scene, but that’s personal preference; I tend to skip over over-the-top descriptions of sex and it didn’t feel it really had a place in a sci-fi horror. I appreciate that it might have been a respite from the gore, however, and it didn’t ruin the story for me.

All in all, Lair was pretty good. The shock value had worn off after recently reading The Rats, of course – there are only so many ways you can describe someone getting torn apart and eaten to death – but Herbert handled it well, offering fresh environments and more tension with creative new ways for the rats to attack and take their victims by surprise.

The ending was great. We finally find out the location of the rats’ lair and there was plenty of excitement. I can’t say much else without giving it all away!

If you haven’t read The Rats yet, it’s a great classic horror. I’ll probably wait a while to read the final in the trilogy, Domain, so perhaps the gory scenes can be shocking and scary again. That being said, Lair had plenty of tension to make up for it, and it’ll be interesting to see where Domain takes the story of these mutant rats that just won’t die! Lair was a fun read, and I give it four stars out of five.

4stars

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Book Review: “The Rats” (The Rats Trilogy Book 1) by James Herbert

I am all about horror at the moment!

After finishing Nobody True, my mum recommended I read The Rats, James Herbert’s debut novel. I had a faint memory of my dad saying he’d read it and it had “scared the crap” out of him. And my dad’s a big man who doesn’t scare easily.

I bought The Rats. As you might imagine, it’s about rats. The original cover just screams ’70s, don’t you think?

*Note: this review contains minor spoilers.

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“It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realized by a panic-stricken city.

For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted . . .”

Imagine any horror film. Most likely the opening scene is some unlucky sod getting mauled/attacked/sliced apart as a spooky introduction to the antagonist. The Rats starts out in much the same way, except, unlike a movie, we learned a bit about the character before they met their unfortunate fate.

I actually really liked this. We were given tidbits, a run-through of the person’s life, even if that was the last time we would ever “see” them alive. Some might argue this is pointless – why would you care about their lives, hopes, and past mistakes that led them to their untimely death?

I realized that it’s because of their past lives that they ended up getting killed in such a horrible way. Take Henry, the vagrant at the very beginning of the story. Perhaps if it wasn’t for his office affair that led to defamation, resignation, and eventually crippling loneliness that took him from successful businessman to alcoholic vagabond, he wouldn’t have slept in the abandoned house where the first of the killer rats attacked.

Take Dave, the teenager who was on his way home to catch the last train after messing around with his girlfriend. Maybe if he’d gotten an earlier train, stayed over at her house, or not met up with her that night at all (not necessarily a mistake, but an unfortunate coincidence), he wouldn’t have ventured into the station from which came the inevitable attack.

The mother who left her one-year-old alone to nip next door to borrow some tea (yes, it’s a British book) may not have perished along with her baby if only she’d taken her daughter with her. George the zookeeper ended up getting mauled by one of his beloved animals after he foolishly let it out of its cage instead of saving himself.

Harris is the main character of this story, and I liked him a lot. He’s brave, though he doesn’t try to play the hero; he’s a school teacher, a normal bloke with common sense but who wants to help out the area where he grew up, first in his career and then with the infestation. The rats themselves are really scary; they’re well-described, absolutely vicious, and Herbert did a great job of portraying the situations where you knew that as soon as one rat showed up, you knew the victim would be overwhelmed within moments.

Harris and the police struggle to beat back the terrifying rat infestation. These fearless creatures are getting bolder by the day, and it’s only a matter of time before the whole city is taken down. The amount of action and sense of urgency kept the pages turning.

The Rats was published in 1974, whereas Nobody True was released in 2003. The Rats is not badly written by any means, but I could see how Herbert’s writing style developed from his debut to the later novel, which ran much more smoothly. Writers never cease to improve if they constantly work on their craft, and part of me wishes I’d read The Rats first as, compared to Nobody True, some of the prose was quite clunky. There were also several typos in the Kindle edition, which surprised me.

These didn’t ruin my experience, though, and it shouldn’t deter you from reading it, either. The Rats is a classic novel every horror fan should pick up and I give it four stars out of five. I’ll definitely be buying the next one, Lair.

4stars

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Nobody True” by James Herbert

I enjoy reading now, but I read a lot more as a child. My mother has probably gobbled up even more novels than I have; when I was growing up, she’d have stacks and stacks of books, shelves stuffed of volumes, rooms packed with tomes, tables groaning under paperbacks. Before the days of the Kindle, her collection looked even more impressive.

There was a book I’d read part of when I was a kid, around twelve or thirteen years old. I’d always remembered the story, and when she came to visit I described the plot. Like the genius she is, she rattled off the author’s name at once and we found it: Nobody True! I remembered the cover and also remembered I’d read half of it. I don’t know why I stopped reading; looking back, the theme was probably too mature for me at the time.

There were many things about the book I’d forgotten, but the hook is a winner: what if you astral travelled, gained control of out-of-body experiences, even using this skill to explore the world around you without limits? And what if, one night during a business trip, you came back and you had been killed? Not only murdered, but brutally so: hacked, mutilated, your body completely destroyed?

The hook stayed with me, and it’s for that purpose I sought out the novel again.

4e6612c40a39f602e4dba518684016ee“What happens when you lose your body?

Jim True knows. He has returned from an out-of-body experience to find he has been brutally murdered and his body mutilated. No one can see him, no one can hear him, no one, except his killer, knows he still exists. Freed from his body, True embarks on a quest to find his killer and discover why and how he has managed to survive.

As he closes in on his murderer, True discovers that even the very people he loved and trusted have betrayed him. He meets his killer, a strange and sinister figure who can also leave his body at will.

In James Herbert’s Nobody True, an epic and deadly battle ensues between True and a seemingly unstoppable and hideous serial killer – a man now intent on even more murders, including True’s wife and child.”

Contrary to many of the books I review, this novel is relatively old; Nobody True was published in 2003 by Pan Macmillan. Herbert himself died in 2013, but I enjoyed this book so much I felt compelled to write this review.

Herbert’s writing style is witty, snappy, and engaging, which drew me in from the very first line, although the main character (the book is written in first person) tends to go off on tangents a bit (something the MC, Jim True, acknowledges). There is a lot of speculation on actual astral travelling, and the book is written as though the event actually happened, a trait I love in any genre of book and something that also appears in The Saga of Darren Shan, which is also, interestingly, a horror.

The plot was full of twists and turns, some of which I expected, other ones I didn’t. I found one of the twists at the end was mildly interesting but unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but that didn’t mar my enjoyment; in fact, it made me want to read the book again to look out for clues for said twist.

There were parts of this book that terrified me; at many points I was holding the phone (I was using the Kindle app; it’s costly to send paperbacks to Japan) an inch or so from my face, with what I imagine is a wide-eyed expression when I was reading on the train and whatnot. The only book that has scared me more is Gerald’s Game by Stephen King, though it was close. I think I actually enjoyed Nobody True more as a whole.

There are several people in the story you might consider to be antagonists, though undoubtedly the main one is the serial killer, a monster both inside and out. Suffering a facial deformity from birth, bitterness, jealousy, and insanity have twisted this killer into a merciless, horrifying mess. This serial killer was truly terrifying, described with flair.

As well as an exciting horror story, there was even a nice sentiment or lesson to be learned from the book as a whole. Though it had been a brutal story, it left a pleasant feeling at the end, a message that is relevant to everyone. I’ll let you find that one out for yourself, though.

My only issue with the book is that we don’t find out what happens to one of the characters, and though this can easily be explained away by the book’s message, I was still waiting for an explanation as to what happened to them. Nevertheless, Nobody True was fantastic and I’m really glad I remembered it and sought it out. My mum has introduced me to some great works and I doubt this one will be the last. I give this book five stars!

5stars

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Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Above the Storm” by J.M.D. Reid

It arrived!

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I’d already read the ebook, but I decided to get a paperback of J.M.D. Reid’s debut novel, Above the Storm. It’s the first in a five-piece series called The Storm Below telling the intricate story of a floating world above an endless, churning storm – a unique world you’ll have a hard time forgetting.

I’ve been a fan of J.M.D. Reid ever since I came across his short story, The Assassin’s Remorse. Captivated by Reid’s world-building, I was an instant fan. He’s been talking about his The Storm Below series for years; no doubt such an enormous, detailed universe with its own rules, characters and, of course, the story itself, has taken years of this talented author’s time and energy. Above the Storm dropped in October 2018.

50414323_1199432536879361_3773116747922538496_n“To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul. 

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!”

I wasn’t new to Reid’s Above the Storm world when I first delved into this novel, having already read same-world shorts such as Plight of the Arshion and The Captain’s Mad Plan. The ever-swirling Storm separates the good, Riasruo-worshipping races from the Wrackthar, those left below after the war two centuries earlier. Those below, nicknamed the Stormriders, send vicious Cyclones to attack those they envy above, and the military protects its citizens from destruction.

When they come of age, every citizen of the Autonomy and the Empire receive Blessings from the sun goddess, Riasruo, in one of three levels: Lightning, Pressure, Wind, and Mist, on the Summer Solstice of their seventeenth year. Ary and his two best friends, Chaylene and Vel, all receive their Blessings and Ary hopes to marry Chaylene and work as a farmer in their hometown, Vesche.

During Ary’s childhood when a Cyclone attacked his town, he foolishly stayed behind to watch, enthralled by the action. Struck by lightning during the battle and therefore touched by Theisseg, Riasruo’s unholy sister, Ary dreams of the trapped Storm Goddess and is tormented by her pain.

Drafted into the military, Ary and Chaylene marry to stay together before they must face four years of naval duty and to join the good fight against the Cyclone-wielding Stormriders. With Vel jealous of their relationship, the pressures of duty, vicious rumors about Chaylene’s fidelity, the ever-churning dangers of those from beneath the Storm, and whispers of an assassin in Ary’s midst, Reid’s debut novel is a fantasy adventure that you’ll find impossible to forget.

I’ve always liked Reid’s writing style; it flows well, activates your imagination, and impresses with originality. Above the Storm is fantasy, certainly, though it is a romance secondly, focusing on the love triangle between Ary, Chaylene, and Vel. My favorite characters are Zori, a fiercely loyal and fun-loving girl who joined the Navy to escape a life of prostitution, and Estan, a Vaarckthian scholar with an inquisitive mind who fell out with his wealthy family when his thirst for knowledge questioned the teachings of the Church.

Not all is as it seems in Above the Storm; in fact, the first novel barely scratches the surface of the real, horrific truths. I was thirsting for more when I finished this book, to follow the several storylines and find the answers to the questions I had.

I give Above the Storm five stars!

5stars

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Visit J.M.D. Reid’s blog

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Eyes of the Hunter” by Rosa Marchisella

Day 32

‘Sup, everyone! Hope you’re staying warm.

I recently read a book called Eyes of the Hunter, a new fantasy novel by Rosa Marchisella.

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“Prince Erin, heir to the throne of Simanthea, spent a lifetime protecting a dangerous secret no one can know. Not even Caley, Erin’s best friend and devoted bodyguard. 

But even the most tightly guarded secret can’t be kept forever. 

When Caley discovers the depth of Erin’s deception, his rage explodes like wildfire and devoted guardian turns to terrifying bounty hunter. To survive, Erin must outrun the past and evade the Eyes of the Hunter.”

As a lover of fantasy, I gobbled this one up.

After birthing six daughters, Queen Marianna is terrified that if she fails to produce a male heir to the throne of Simanthea, her life will be forfeit. The kingdom rejoices when the birth of a baby boy is announced, and the queen insists that only she care for the baby, whom she names Erin.

She hires a boy, Caley, to protect her son with his life. I truly loved this beginning to the book. I sympathised with the queen, a kind soul who had been basically used by the king “as a breeding mare” for his desire to have a son. Caley was also introduced well, being a shy and quiet boy but delivering when it mattered most. He won the right to become Erin’s guardian.

As a child, Caley was blamed for something he didn’t do and we get a taste of the king’s merciless heart and lack of empathy. When the secret comes out and Erin is forced to run, the atmosphere of the story goes from quiet contentment (if tense) to full-blown excitement and fear.

Caley goes from solid protector to hunter. We see Erin survive, a feat which would not be easy for a pampered member of royalty. However, with Caley’s teachings, Erin can find ways to get through some tough times, which is a little ironic for Caley since he’s now chasing the person he taught.

Rumours fly like wildfire through the land about the hunter, some far-fetched and some not far from the truth, keeping us on our toes as to what Erin will do to shake Caley off, because he always seems closer.

I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and Marchisella creates vivid descriptions. I know when I’ve read a good story because my mind wanders to think about the characters at times when I’m not reading, and as this happened a lot, I know the writer did extremely well in creating a world into which I could invest my time and heart.

There were some things that I wasn’t sure about; for example, some skills and knowledge that Erin had were not mentioned before so they could have been foreshadowed. I also felt that another character got the raw end of the deal towards the end of the story but, as we know, life is unfair, and that is possibly what Marchisella was trying to convey.

I recommend Eyes of the Hunter for lovers of fantasy, especially fantasy with rich worlds. I found myself wanting to know more about the kingdoms, what lies beyond the oceans. I’m hoping for a sequel to this engaging tale! Overall, I give it four stars out of five.

4stars

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