Author: Iain Rob Wright
Ryan wants to evoke the past, to go back to the glory days one last time. He’s rented a remote cabin in the Scottish Highlands for his bachelor party. There will be no strippers, no strangers. Just him, the close buddies from his teenage years, and his younger brother. It’s not the party his friends expected – or wanted – but it’s Ryan’s last chance to say goodbye to a part of his life. A part he is not so secretly terrified to lose.
The bachelor party blues soon get worse as arguing are interrupted by an earthquake that cuts off all cell signals and leaves cars and modern electronics dead. The friends are compelled to explore in the middle of the night. Was the earthquake caused by an impact? If so, did a plane go down? What hit the earth hard enough to make that tremor, to leave such devastating aftereffects? What they find is a giant metal corkscrew at the top of the hill, and their most impulsive, drunken, coked-up buddy, Shawn, of course, touches it. This is the beginning of the end. This is the beginning of The Spread.
The Hill, which is the first book in an enormous series, is the best. The group of buddies, led by a fearful, conflicted Ryan, makes up the story. Their conflicts, the fear of growing up, growing apart, and moving along is expertly captured. It’s easy to empathize with Ryan, a man who has been adrift and searching his entire life. It’s easy to feel his pain. His mates have grown. They’ve moved on. It’s the sadness we all carry, the people we’ve all fallen away from. His desire to have that one last perfect moment, to keep together a group of friends, is deeply captivating and works well as the group dynamics break down.
And of course, people are at their best and their worst during a crisis, and The Hill delivers just that. Shawn’s body begins to be covered in a strange fungus, one that is obviously taking him over, slowly, but surely. It’s all tied, somehow, to the corkscrew and the strange green bugs that came out of it. The friends are torn between practicality and a lingering culpability. They didn’t stop Shawn’s destructive behavior. His alcoholism, his increasing drug use, and now, how can they abandon him to an unknown fate? What if there is hope for restoring Shawn, for restoring their own humanity?
As the story goes on, the characters are emotionally torn as the action escalates and Shawn transforms. It’s an imaginative plague, one that evokes some Shaun of the Dead moments alongside a growing fear of contagion. The friends know that whatever this is, it is spreading. Yet how can they avoid it? How can they protect themselves and do right by each other? This continues to be a compelling dilemma throughout the series, at times verging into the dumb and impractical, but staying mostly in the “just right” area throughout the first book, The Hill.
Narrator Aubrey Parsons adds verve and realism to the tale, capturing the British slang and different vocalizations of the friends. It puts us right in the moment. Right into the fractured friendship. Right into the fear of contagion and spread. Right into the pulse-pounding danger, the confrontations, the bad horror-book decisions, and the last minute near-misses.
While The Hill is not perfect, it is darn good. The characters are engaging. You care about them (well, all except for Shawn), and about their emotional growth and sustainment. The spread itself is unique – a cross between zombies and an alien creature feature, and author Iain Rob Wright plays it to full advantage. Highly recommended.
– Frances Carden
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