The first time I heard about Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground was through the Seton Hill Writers’ Facebook page. Reading the torrent of vituperation and OMGS whenever this book was mentioned, I formed the impression that many people seemed to think this was THE WORST HORROR NOVEL IN THE UNIVERSE. I must confess, the prospect of reading and experiencing such a book with others energized me. However, Breeding Ground is not THE WORST HORROR NOVEL IN THE UNIVERSE. It’s not even the worst book published by Leisure. I have read three novels published by Leisure Books, and this was by far the best.
In fact, I enjoyed Breeding Ground and thought it was a pretty solid horror novel, especially the second half. If you like creature-feature horror, you should definitely read this. I will note that Breeding Ground has decent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, including a five-star rating from horrormeister Brian Keene! Ms. Pinborough managed to break into a tough market back when the horror field was in tatters (it’s still in tatters, but never mind). She wrote six novels for Leisure Books, including a sequel to Breeding Ground, and has gone on to have a career that most of us can only envy, writing horror novels, TV spin-offs and YA fantasy series. Her latest novel, Behind Her Eyes, was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller.
Breeding Ground is a direct descendant of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, a novel about a small village where a group of women give birth to a bunch of creepy blonde-haired children with telepathic powers and a group-mind. The Midwich Cuckoos was made into The Village of the Damned, a fine movie. Ms. Pinborough mentions Mr. Wyndham and his works twice during the course of Breeding Ground. Another possible inspiration is James Herbert’s The Rats, although this book lacks The Rats manic energy.
Please note that I am not saying that Breeding Ground is a perfect novel. To me, it reads like a book written in the early stages of a novelist’s career. At points the writing is rough, and there are a few unintentionally hilarious sentences, such as when a character throws his butt onto the ground. Ms. Pinborough does a good job of building suspense but has trouble with the pay-off, especially action scenes. I had trouble visualizing the spiders, although she does a fine job of conveying the fear and dread they cause in human beings.
Ms. Pinborough does a lot of things very well in Breeding Ground, also. The pacing of this book is very good, and she does a fine job building suspense. We don’t see a lot of the widows, which makes them more threatening. The second half of this book has a creepy claustrophobic energy that I admired. The way the widows’ bite rots people from the inside is great. The build-up to the amputation of Dave’s arm is truly horrific; the actual amputation itself is a let-down, but you can’t have everything.
Breeding Ground‘s biggest flaw is its inability to create realistic characters, encapsulated by the book’s protagonist. The kindest way to describe Matthew Edge is that he’s not a very bright man saddled with an extremely rudimentary understanding of women. I took what I thought to be irrational dislike of Matt in the first chapter, and then discovered I was spot on.
When Matt’s pregnant wife Chloe gets sick, he doesn’t even notice until she starts telling him to go fuck himself and eating raw meat. Matt takes pains to tell us that he doesn’t care about his wife’s appearance, and then goes on to describe the flaws in his wife’s appearance in minute detail. This leads me to believe that he does, in face, care about his wife’s appearance. Chloe responds by paralyzing Matt with her newfound mental powers whilst simultaneously planning a night out with a girlfriend in Birmingham. At that moment I felt good for Chloe, because I’m sure taking care of Matt is a full-time job.
The happy times come to an end when Chloe gives birth to a widow, a bloodthirsty mutant spider. Matt runs away with piss dripping down his leg, one of the book’s many high points for our hero. He soon makes a quick recovery, finding a change of clothes and a quick bite to eat. If the barber shop was open, he’d probably get a haircut also, because you have to look good for those fellow survivors. Note that there is another character in Breeding Ground that shares the same philosophy.
Sure enough, when Matt meets other survivors, he’s immediately attracted to twenty-year old Katie, somehow managing to shove all thoughts of his beloved Chloe aside. The spiderpocalypse might snuff out most people’s sex drives, but Matt is made of sterner stuff. He spends a lot of time wondering if the new object of his affection likes him too, but soon Katie starts acting funny, sort of like Matt’s ex-wife before she gave birth to one of the mutant spiders that have, you know, taken over the earth. Matt doesn’t make that connection, but he does sulk when she stops paying attention to him.
Will Matt and Chloe/Kate/Rebecca/??? live happily ever after? Will Nigel win the Best-Dressed Man of the Spiderpocalypse Award? Will the widows eat everyone on earth? Read Breeding Ground to find out!
Bring on the sequel!