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

Get The Rats on Amazon US
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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: “Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King

Unless you’ve been deprived of all movies and books your whole life, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the man, the legend, the award-winning and best-selling American author, Stephen King. Even if you’ve never read any of his novels, it’s likely you’ve seen, or at least heard of, films based off his works such as The Green Mile, The Mist, or The Shawshank Redemption.

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit, but Gerald’s Game is actually the first Stephen King book I’ve read. As a twenty-five-year-old supposed book lover, this isn’t what you might call ideal, but there you go.

Many authors who are supposed to be geniuses are really difficult to read; I bought a Hemingway book not too long ago and really struggled to get through the first few pages. I suppose I felt that any of King’s books would be the same. I was wrong, of course; King’s writing is beautifully smooth and I zoomed through the 468-page paperback in a couple of days.

First, the cover.

I’ve no idea if this is the first edition from 1992, though I’ve a feeling it isn’t. I love this cover. By today’s standards, some may say it’s too garish, too simple, but it perfectly covers the glaring horrors that lie with in along with 1960s nostalgia that becomes relevant once you know the story. I actually adore this cover.

“Once again, Jessie Burlingame has been talked into submitting to her husband Gerald’s kinky sex games – something that she’s frankly had enough of, and they never held much charm for her to begin with. So much for a “romantic getaway” at their secluded summer home. After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts – and Gerald crosses a line with his wife – the day ends with deadly consequences. Now Jessie is utterly trapped in an isolated lakeside house that has become her prison – and comes face-to-face with her deepest, darkest fears and memories. Her only company is that of various voices filling her mind . . . as well as the shadows of nightfall that may conceal either an imagined or very real threat right there with her . . .”

This psychological horror is the nightmare of “what-if” scenarios. The laughably unlikely happens, leaving Jessie in a terrible situation, her own thoughts and suppressed memories only making her experience more dire.

The story has layers upon layers, making it much more than a simple survival horror story: deep and dark memories which she is forced to relive and may ultimately help her in its own twisted way; events that make us question Jessie’s reality itself, and events that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. King delivers an expertly crafted exploration of mental and physical anguish and unlocks Jessie’s sad and horrific past, which despite being a long time ago, still clings to her in the present day.

There is a great movie based on this book, though there are several big differences. It’s a Netflix original, much faster paced than its book equivalent but still great. I won’t go into the differences right now as this review is spoiler-free. I recommend reading the book first for the full effect; you’ll feel your stomach dropping like a stone at the last few pages.

After reading Gerald’s Game, which thrilled and legitimately terrified me, I now consider myself a Stephen King fan! Better late than never, yes? An easy five stars for this fantastic novel.

Recommendations of more great King books are welcome! I’ll definitely get round to reading 1408 and The Mist, since I love both of those movies.

(Links aren’t working right now for some reason, but I’ll provide a link to the book on Amazon when I can.)

Thank you for reading! Please recommend your favourite Stephen King novel on my Twitter or in the comments below.

A Re-Read of “The Saga of Darren Shan” Horror Series

While I was waiting for my copy of Insurgent to arrive, I delved back into a classic series that all ’90s kids should know: The Saga of Darren Shan.

The Saga of Darren Shan is made out of twelve books, each relatively short at about two hours per book. Every three books serves as a “trilogy” and  They carry on from each other and cover a span of about eighteen years. *Please bear in mind that this article contains spoilers.

The First Trilogy: Vampire Blood (Cirque Du Freak, The Vampire’s Assistant, Tunnels of Blood)

Still one of my top books of the series, the first story, Cirque Du Freak, kicks off with Darren as a child, around twelve years old. Enough completely original things happen in this story to suck you in – an enthralling freak show, vampire lore that challenges the stereotypes, odd creatures, and a venomous spider that Darren can’t resist stealing, which is where it all begins.

I remember reading this book when I was around eleven years old and loving it, but didn’t have access to the rest of them. A few years later, a friend let me borrow the rest of the books in the series. We learn a bit about the world in which Darren lives and learn about him as the flawed yet likable character he is.

We follow Darren as he follows Mr. Crepsley through adventures involving monsters and death. The author, the real Darren Shan, said that he wanted to deliver something as chilling to read as a Stephen King novel but as easy to read as Goosebumps. I think he did really well with that. The first three books are just fantastic and we get to know more about Darren, Mr. Crepsley, and other characters who make appearances.

The Second Trilogy: Vampire Rites (Vampire Mountain, Trials of Death, The Vampire Prince)

Darren leaves his humanity behind and his relationship with Mr. Crepsley also improves. We find out a lot more about vampire culture and customs, and are introduced to more brutal twists. I personally think that Trials of Death is one of the best books of the series – Darren faces challenges involving escaping a maze flooding with water, crawling through a cave filled with spiked rocks, and, most memorably, a room filled with fire.

He is traumatised by his near-death in a room of flames which really stuck with me for a long time. We see Darren grow into a warrior, and although his vampire blood makes him still look like a child, he is an adult on the inside who has seen and experienced too much in his young life. New friendships are made and when he brings to light a betrayal, he is made into a Vampire Prince.

The Third Trilogy: Vampire War (Hunters of the Dusk, Allies of the Night, Killers of the Dawn)

Although action-packed and essential to the story, I feel like this is the weakest of the four trilogies. We visit the city in which we spent a lot of time in Tunnels of Blood, reunite with old characters, and chase the Lord of the Vampaneze. However, I found myself quickly reading through them, eager to reach the final trilogy. Killers of the Dawn is also the book in which Mr. Crepsley, now Darren’s dear friend and father figure, dies, which devastated fans!

The Fourth Trilogy: Vampire Destiny (The Lake of Souls, Lord of the Shadows, Sons of Destiny)

The Lake of Souls is arguably the most memorable book in the whole saga. We finally find out the identity of Harkat, Darren’s friend and one of Mr. Tiny’s Little People. To do this, they venture into a dangerous world full of monsters.

The beasts and the world itself are impossible to forget and completely blew the minds of children and adults alike. Even years later, I could still remember the Grotesque! Re-reading it was just as enjoyable as the first time and I could really appreciate Shan’s talent for the original and the shocking.

We also see the fate of the Lord of the Vampaneze (Steve, Darren’s best childhood friend turned insane evil psychopath) and Darren. Upon warnings that Darren would be the one to destroy the world even if he managed to defeat Steve, he rejects his destiny to become the Lord of the Shadows and lets Steve kill him. They die together, severing the destiny that was tied to them since birth.

I really liked how the series ended. Darren becomes a Little Person and travels back through time to stop his childhood self from ever stealing Mr. Crepsley’s spider, thus making it so that he never became a half-vampire. His diaries, which were cleverly mentioned throughout the saga, are then given to Mr. Tall, who then agrees to send them to the child Shan when he grows up. The way the last few pages are written, it is made to sound as though all of the events really did happen with Darren speculating whether his story will be fictionalised and sold around the world. Although some fans said they were disappointed with the “it was all a dream” style ending, I thought it was delivered beautifully and tied everything up really well.

This series is a must for teenagers who love horror. The prose is a little choppy – there are long paragraphs of action-interrupting description, a lot of adverbs, and over-explaining (things that would never be allowed if he had written them now). However, the book was perfect for its time and a great read for my twelve-year-old self. It is still a great read for kids today and a fond throwback for adults who read it in the early 2000s. There is also a movie, but it wasn’t good at all. There is a petition for a Netflix series, which would be great! I give the series five stars for entertainment, originality, and nostalgia.

Get the first book, Cirque Du Freak, on Amazon US
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