“Just what the hell are we?” This is the million-dollar question within BROOD, the follow-up to Chase Novak’s 2012 novel, BREED. (“Chase Novak” is actually author Scott Spencer, who has chosen a pseudonym for his foray into the horror genre.) BROOD starts at top-speed, continuing where its predecessor left off, with twins Adam and Alice Twisden growing into young adults and trying to fend off physical maturity by starving themselves. They’re victims of a radical fertility program that allowed them to be born, but now are enduring the same physical changes that turned their parents monstrous. To prevent a similar fate, they attempt to stunt their growth by not eating (or else they’ll slowly turn animalistic, attacking violently, and becoming wild and instinctual).
The premise of BROOD is rooted in this central idea of evolution gone mad, taken into one’s own hands and then let loose. Many are left to wonder why such a change is occuring --- not just Adam and Alice, but also a gang of other children affected by the same program, and their aunt Cynthia, a benevolent and well-meaning woman who has taken them in and finds motherhood a radical ordeal. Always in the back of these characters’ minds is the simple but elusive question, Who or what are we? It’s a tough question for any human being, but for the victims of the fertility program and those surrounding it, it’s not just a profundity --- it becomes an isolating and maddening experience.
"Chase Novak masterfully juggles many dimensions in BROOD. There are plenty of scenes to keep one up at night and characters who are relatable in their struggles, always brimming with the chance of a nightmare just around the corner."
There is no quick or easy answer. Rather, it is meant to evoke critical thought within the reader even as we get many theories and clues --- some misguided, some self-serving, some downright bizarre --- as to that exact nature of the beast. More offspring are bred from the fertility children --- some with wings, some never being fully born, some dying undeveloped as a sick offshoot of nature. In addition, the blood of these fertility children becomes a hot commodity and is distributed throughout the city as a new and highly addictive drug called Zoom. Impotent millionaires eat it up, and when they take too much, the results help BROOD excel. Novak shines here, giving us imagery that’s apt, blunt and grotesque. We are left with moments of horror prolific to the senses and descriptions we can taste.
Meanwhile, Alice and Adam begin to live with their aunt Cynthia. Her struggle is real, as she tries desperately to build a normal home for children who have become isolated and withdrawn. She is attempting to be a mother to twins who, despite her greatest attempt, she cannot possibly understand. She can still love, so the question then becomes whether or not the children accept her love. And can she unconditionally love kids who are struggling with something alienating, unique and horrific? These are perhaps the most relatable and interesting aspects of the book. What develops in BROOD is nightmarish at times and always chilling. Cynthia and the twins move into their old house where BREED took place. The twins sleep in their old bedrooms, and the family attempts to live as normally as they can. But as the saying goes, “…one can’t build little white picket fences to keep the nightmares out.” BROOD is a book full of loose monsters always on the cusp and in contrast to the ideal family life Cynthia is trying to build.
Novak shines as a consummate storyteller being irreverent in his set-ups and then blindsiding us with strong payoffs and turnabouts --- the way characters move, sometimes appearing and returning within the same chapter, disappearing only to come back seemingly out of nowhere. The shifting of scenes to the next works to keep the writer on edge, but we also never feel cheated. In this, BROOD runs and never looks back as a true page-turner, and the horror itself never ceases, along with the tough questions it asks about evolution, hedonism, knowing oneself and one’s home, and the concept of blood for money. It all adds up to a pleasurable read. Not even the mundane scenes feel ordinary or comfortable for that matter. As the title suggests, something is always being born and then let loose beneath the surface.
Chase Novak masterfully juggles many dimensions in BROOD. There are plenty of scenes to keep one up at night and characters who are relatable in their struggles, always brimming with the chance of a nightmare just around the corner.
Reviewed by Stephen Febick on October 31, 2014