BOOK REVIEW: Breed by Chase Novak

The horror of families is something many can relate to. What Breed attempts to do is take that horror to another level. Indeed, the book comes with a tagline: ‘All families have secrets. This is worse.’ It also has a blurb from Stephen King, so high expectations are being set. There is an entire sub-genre of horror, in movies especially, about evil or demonic children such as The Omen, The Exorcist, Orphan, Children of the Corn, The Brood and more. I suspected this was going to be more of the same. I was wrong.

Alex is a successful lawyer, and his beautiful wife Leslie has a great career in publishing. They live an apparently perfect life in his ancestral home. However, despite trying for years, and nothing being medically out-of-place, they haven’t managed to have kids. It’s putting a serious strain on their relationship so, out of desperation, they try one last fertility treatment; an experimental yet highly successful treatment. Unfortunately, and an essential plot MacGuffin, the doctor operates from Ljubljana in Slovenia. Leslie falls pregnant, and during the pregnancy it is revealed that she is having twins. However, she is also developing an extreme case of hirsuteness, which causes her all sorts of stress. Moving on, the birth is a success and although there are 3 children, not twins, the third is deformed and still-born. So ends part 1.

Part 2 is set 10 years later. Adam and Alice, the twins, are locked in their rooms each night as strange noises come from their parents’ room. They’ve grown up with disappearing pets and disappearing care-givers. They’ve witnessed their parents selling off family heirlooms as work becomes too much of a distraction. But they’re starting to be old enough to realise that they themselves are in danger, and they need to escape before it’s too late.

This is where the twist is: in the case of Breed, it’s not evil kids, but evil parents. Not strictly evil, however – more altered by science. Bad science. The allegory is the horror of growing up, of hearing things from your parents’ room you don’t understand, of finding you are your own person and not only defined as a child of Mum and Dad. Part 2 spends a short time explaining the past 10 years before the twins inevitable escape. The majority of the rest of the book takes place over the course of a few days when Adam and Alice learn exactly who they are and where they came from while attempting to evade capture by Alex and Leslie. Other characters are drawn into the plot before horror and tragedy strike.

Breed is billed as the debut from Chase Novak, when in fact it is the 11th novel from Endless Love author Scott Spencer. Given his literary credentials, you’d expect this to be well written. It is. The prose is excellent and the characters all have decent arcs. It is told in third person present tense, which is not too common in genre fiction. I found it a little jarring, especially when the story moves to explain the past in part 2. Fortunately, this doesn’t detract too much from the tale.

What does detract, however, is what a prolonged foot-chase scene, which lasts for a good few pages. It doesn’t feel like it’s progressing the plot at all, or providing any additional horror or tension – it feels like it is there to flesh out the word count, which is odd. Without giving away spoilers, when Adam and Alice find others like themselves, I think there’s room for some deeper character and plot development. It’s a fairly short novel, so there is more than ample space for more story. These are only minor points, however. There is plenty of depth and toll in the narrative. The descent of Alex and Leslie is logical, the horror is fairly horrific without feeling exploitative and the conclusion is satisfyingly bleak.

Take a good, if clichéd idea (genetic mutation) and add a recognisable trope. The twist is against expectations. Add a decent amount of thrills and horror, along with a huge dollop of familial growing pains, and you have Breed. It won’t give you nightmares, but it might make your skin crawl. Especially at your next family gathering.

 

Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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