Sarah Pinborough’s “Breeding Ground”

I think I have sat here for about an hour now, unsure of how I want to write this post. I have so many emotions going through me right now. Confusion, anger, disappointment. How do I respond to this book that I enjoyed reading but DESPISED finishing… I guess… Well, let’s just start at the beginning.

When I started this book I have to admit I was creeped out. And that is something that doesn’t happen very easily for me, usually. The premise for this book is about these spider creatures, called “widows” that grow within women’s bodies and then are born, eating and terrorizing the world. Right now, in my personal life, my wife is pregnant with our first child, so I think I associated with Matt’s character on a level that the average reader might not have. And the ordeal that he went through really bothered me. So much that I had to put the book down for a few minutes and just chill. I liked the fact that it freaked me out but the fact that it did was a new experience for me. I’ve read a lot of horror and never had a reaction quite like this. Yay for fatherhood.

The book’s pace really picked up and I enjoyed the ride for what it was. You had a group of survivors trying to make it in this world that has been taken over by spiders. They fend off attacks, deal with some crazy people and eventually make it to a “secure” facility, where they continue to live out their lives until more chaos ensues. However, this whole premise seems overdone for me. For instance, you have “The Walking Dead” where the survivors of a zombie apocalypse take refuge in a prison, with thick walls and fences to keep them safe. Very familiar to what Pinborough did here in Breeding Ground. But I can let that trope slide. It is what it is and worked for the story, I suppose.

One of the things that I thought was done really well and echoed Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” was depicting how people have to adapt to this new, apocalyptic world in order to survive. (I hesitate to say post-apocalyptic because the apocalypse is still going on and getting worse up until the very end). This really shines through in the final chapters when Nigel finally goes nuts and tries to kill Jane and Rebecca, succeeding with Jane. However, Nigel is infected by a widow. And rather than resisting the world they have found themselves in and humanely killing him, they decide to let him suffer and die slowly, screaming over the span of three days. Matt describes this, saying “A new order had taken hold and our old laws no longer applied” (p. 315). The people have become, in their own ways, monsters as well like Robert Neville in “I Am Legend”. This is done well and seems like it may be a recurring theme in apocalypse style horror.

Now to the part that really made me mad. We get to the last two chapters, where most novels would be wrapping up and tying things up for us. But, no, not this book. Instead, we find out that not only can women give birth to the spiders, but so can men, giving birth to these smaller, male, black spiders. Several more characters show signs of growth and things start all over again. There is hope that maybe a cure is found but once again, no, that gets shut down in our faces. Now, I’m getting aggravated. How long until Matt is infected too. And then, Matt and his pregnant girlfriend (not infected because her blood is acid to the widows) decide to leave, heading in one direction while George, the other good guy, heads in another. And then it just stops. No conclusion, no resolution. Just the last page. And I’m left wondering but… but… but… WHAT HAPPENED?!? This is a story that I got invested in, as a father-to-be and loving husband. And she just ends it like that? After we just found out that the spiders have evolved again? Why??? Maybe she wanted to aggravate us? Maybe she wanted us upset with the end? To be quite honest, I would have rather had Matt get infected by a widow and kill himself than the ending that it was. It was the Sopranos all over again.

(Deep Breath… Sigh). Okay, so the ending may have been less than adequate. But overall the book was a fun read and kept me thrilled all the way through besides its short coming. It was fun getting to see each new development in the cast of characters, seeing who could handle the pressure, who cracked, and who checked themselves out of life even if they weren’t the most believable responses to the situations at hand. I enjoyed the concept and it really did freak me out. But still a great read.

Also, for any interested, there is a sequel out there called “Feeding Ground”, although it doesn’t seem to have any of the same characters. They are trying to escape London during the height of the widow infestation. I’d be interested to read it and if she is willing to make a sequel there, I hope she will come back to Matt to let us know how his story actually ends.

7 comments on “Sarah Pinborough’s “Breeding Ground”

  1. K.W. Taylor says:

    I’m tempted to read Feeding Ground, too, but I’m worried it’ll make me as frustrated as this book did. I agree with you on the pacing; that was the one part I really liked. This book moved as such a fast, compelling clip that I actually finished it in a single weekend, and I’m usually a very slow, ponderous reader (because I’m examining all the book’s elements from both a readerly and writerly perspective, taking apart sentences in my head and thinking about how I would recraft them).

  2. Sadly, I think the ending is crafted that way on purpose, because there’s a sequel, Feeding Ground. Perhaps some of our questions get answered in that book, but I’m probably not going to read it to find out.

  3. Margaret Ayala says:

    I had the same problem you did with the ending. It felt rushed, and even if it somehow was to set up a sequel, it was a sloppy set-up. It wasn’t a cliff-hanger leaving me wanting more. It was more like Pinborough ran out of momentum.

  4. I agree on the ending. It was much too sudden, particularly with the new knowledge of the male spiders. Basically the world was ending all over again, and the narrator had the audacity to drive off hopefully into the sunset. The story should have had more closure than that.

  5. It’s funny how one part of me thought the middle of the book moved rather slowly, while the other part of me still finished it really quick. I guess wanting to find out what happened drove me through it. But then it was a big letdown. Matt should have found a bump on his chest on the last page, as they were driving away.

  6. Amber Bliss says:

    It’s interesting to see how different people in the reading group found the effectiveness of the novel varied based off of their personal experiences. Kris found it much more effective than many because he has the experience of being a new father and his wife is currently pregnant. Patricia found it less effective because she just had an experience with real, intense terror, and found the fear portrayed in the novel didn’t hold up. I found the novel’s hack science infuriating because I’m fresh out of my undergrad degree and all that organismal biology is still fresh in my head.

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