Deep in the jungles of South America, an expedition searches for a lost city and a new source of potentially limitless power. But something is stirring in the ancient ruins – something ancient, dangerous, and hungry.
Rebecca Riley, an entomologist, joins the expedition at the request of her former partner, facing her deepest fears in search of his deepest desire. What was promised to be a journey of scientific discover quickly becomes a desperate struggle for survival.
It’s a monster story. There are all the typical elements – exotic settings, an ensemble of highly-qualified protagonists, worrying signs and gruesome deaths. It doesn’t deviate from the formula much, but it’s competently done. There aren’t enough solid monster books, and this is one of them.
The author knows the rules of the genre – don’t show the monster too early, expand on the setting, kill characters in the right order. That’s a good thing – it allows for building tension and for a real sense of menace. Despite Jaws giving a clear lesson in how to make a monster scary, authors often mess it up. The danger in Eight is teased out slowly enough that it doesn’t become commonplace.
The major strength of this book is the detail. Mortensen has clearly done a lot of research into the setting and the relevant wildlife. You get a real sense of the jungle as the characters trek through it, and there’s lots of space little details and diversions that bring the setting alive. The science, too, is mostly convincing – not plausible, because that’s not really on the cards in monster books, but it hangs together and there is a coherence to the ideas and to the monster as a realistic species.
It’s a big plot, with lots of different characters and moving parts. I would preferred a tighter focus really, with a couple of minor twists and supporting roles removed. Still, the plot hangs together and makes sense without any gaping holes. One downside of the extensive cast, coupled with the detail in the book generally, is that there has to be a lot of exposition. There’s a lot of information that needs to be absorbed, and that’s never the most gripping part, regardless of how interesting the information is in itself.
I have a couple of other quibbles, but they are relatively minor. I would have liked more detail on the action – at points, key dramatic moments are cut short, dismissed in a single line. If a helicopter explodes or a boat gets impaled, you want to see it, to have enough detail in the text to make the event as effective as it can be. And the author does have a noticeable habit of relying on unnamed objects; a character will pick up something that isn’t named in one chapter, only to use it to solve a problem in the next. As a narrative device, withholding specifics is effective, but you can’t do it too often.
In all, this is a decent monster book. It’s got the adventure and the characters and the tension. The closest comparison to it would be Alien vs. Predator, so if you liked that, you’ll like this. I’m always on the lookout for good monster stories, but they’re quite hard to find – I’ve mentioned before that it’s a genre with more than its share of bad books. Eight is a good monster book, with everything in working order. If you’re looking for a story of exploration, adventure, and mortal peril, this is a good pick.
I should mention, for the sake of fairness, that I received a free copy of this through NetGalley. It’s a really interesting service that I’ve just started using, in which they give you books in exchange for reviews.