At work the other day, I watched a black ant crawl across my desk. While this normally would have been a non-event, having just read A.J. Colucci’s debut novel, the sight of it gave me pause. THE COLONY is the short and brutal story of a colony of super ants, a secret weapon designed by the US government, let loose in New York City. Swiftly the ants destroy the physical infrastructure of the city and leave thousands dead in their wake.
Created as a biological weapon, this genetically engineered species of ants is like no other in the world. They are larger, faster, smarter and deadly to boot. Released by a suicidal scientist on the banks of the Hudson River, Cleopatra, a queen ant, begins to colonize New York City. The ants grow in number, eating rats and quietly destroying buildings and subway tunnels until they finally emerge to hunt their human prey.
"Colucci’s thriller is fast-paced, creepy and has a bit of everything: romance, conspiracy, horror and scientific intrigue. The thrills and violence are sufficiently scary and gross, but character development takes a back seat to plot and action."
Tough and politically ambitious mayor John Russo sees the ant attack as a vehicle for recognition, but as the body count rises, he begins to realize the full horrific implications of the situation. Soon Homeland Security, a military delegation and the White House are involved, and the exterminator Russo hired is looking quite ineffective. Enter scientists Paul O’Keefe and Kendra Hart. O’Keefe and Hart are experts on ants, and both have done cutting-edge work in understanding ant behavior and anatomy. But they were once married before work got in the way. The relationship between O’Keefe and Hart adds another interesting layer of tension but it is rather quickly resolved and the focus remains on the rush to stop the ant invasion that continues to sweep the city.
From a secret underground bunker, the scientists, politicians, military leaders and others race for a solution while New York City continues to crumble and panic and as many of its citizens die by painful ant swarm. Hart believes she has a way to stop the devastation, but she and O’Keefe will have to venture into the heart of the colony to find a queen and quickly return to the bunker to create a complicated chemical formula. Finally working together as a team, O’Keefe and Hart are on the verge of success, but will they find the queen and learn enough about the colony to stop it before the government drops a nuclear bomb on the city?
Colucci’s thriller is fast-paced, creepy and has a bit of everything: romance, conspiracy, horror and scientific intrigue. The thrills and violence are sufficiently scary and gross, but character development takes a back seat to plot and action. The resolution seems to come a bit too easily, though overall it is a satisfying first outing. Hopefully Colucci will continue to pen stories in this vein; her ideas are strong, and her execution can only get better.
I recommend this book as a stormy winter night thriller. In winter, you are less likely to have an ant cross your path, though after reading THE COLONY, it will be hard to forget that at 7,000 for every one human, ants are the most populous insect in the world. We can only hope that they are not, like the ants in Colucci’s imagination, plotting our demise.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 30, 2012