The Apocalypse Strain by Jason Parent

A multi-national research team study an ancient pandoravirus in a remote Siberian research facility. Much calamity and death ensue.

Okay, so the actual blurb for the book reads a lot longer than my synopsis, but that should be enough to give you the gist. I went into this assuming it would be a bad idea to read about a virus during a pandemic, but thankfully this novel is not really about that sort of spread. Well, it sort of is, but it has more in common with The Thing than The Andromeda Strain or Contagion.

This is a virus that assimilates its host and changes it (yep, a bit like The Thing). The virus is also self-aware and clever, adapting and reacting to the humans as the novel progresses.

The book cracks along at a breakneck pace, with barely time to catch your breath between one set piece and the next. We’re quickly introduced to the main players, everything goes wrong and continues to go wrong for the protagonists all the way through to the ending.

I’m a slow reader, but I polished this off in around three days because I wanted to keep turning the pages to see what happened next. Parent throws everything at the ‘good guys’ in this and you are never far from the next death. Many of the creature details throughout are well done. There’s a wonderfully tense scene in a lab where no-one knows quite who is infected or not.

However, there is a massive elephant in the room, and I alluded to it in my opening: this is reminiscent of The Thing, right down to cold, remote location and flame throwers. I enjoyed myself too much to be overly bothered by this similarity, but it might put some people off.

For me, aside from the two main characters of Clara St Pierre and Dante, the rest of the characters didn’t really make an impression. Towards the end, a character reappears, and I had to flick through the book to check who he was. This lessens the impact of the book somewhat, as I would prefer to care a little about the characters before they meet their inglorious ends. Furthermore, given Clara’s prickly nature, it is difficult to warm to her and care about her fate.

There are other issues too, like how easy it is for Dante to infiltrate this place, or the fact I totally missed that the base is enormous until about halfway through (that could just be me, of course). There is an early mention of protestors outside the base, but this is supposed to be remote Siberia, so how did they get there? Where do they go when things start to go wrong?

None of these issues detract from this being a completely fun ride. I feel I’m being harsh on the book with those last few paragraphs, and I need to be clear: this is a very entertaining, fast paced, well written good time. I’m really keen to read more of Parent’s work.

He knows how to keep you turning the pages, which is no mean skill, and I don’t think many horror fans would regret purchasing this book.

So, to sum up, not perfect, but damn good fun.

This review first appeared on Ginger Nuts Of Horror. Check it out here:

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