It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realised by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted . . .
For some reason I’m oddly drawn to animal stories when it comes to the horror genre, I reviewed Guy N. Smith’s Crabs (as big as sheep) series elsewhere on the site and now its vicious rats (as big as dogs).
Whereas Smith’s books have a tongue in cheek feel about them, the same cannot be said for this gruesome which takes itself far too seriously and as such fails as, paradoxically for that reason it can’t be taken seriously at all,
The idea of big rats is horrible, malevolent predators fighting back is an instinctual evolutionary fear, bringers of the appallingly devastating Black Death in a different age and now themselves doing the killing. It does play on that fear fairly effectively up to a certain point but the book is not strong enough to sustain any real horror as the genre has moved on and become more sophisticated.
Being Herbert’s debut novel, it can perhaps be forgiven for lacking in quality and depth somewhat, my overall feeling is that it is a fair effort and one that fans of the genre may appreciate but for the casual reader there isn’t much else here to grab you If you are looking for a quick gore fest and little depth then this one may be right up your rat infested alley though.
Liberally scattered through the book are plenty of examples of outdated sexism and casual racism, which can be overlooked because of the time it was written in but it does jar these days with its outdated views and poorly phrased language. It doesn’t help that the characters are cardboard so one can’t even find out their world views as most are frequently created simply in order to be killed off. It does make the set pieces very predictable but if you have picked this book up, then it will probably be for the rodent based carnage so this really can’t be seen as a minus.
It has all you would expect from a cheap, trashy pulp horror; sex, gratuitous violence and plenty of unintentional comedy, it’s B-lit and if you are in the mood you may enjoy it but it really didn’t grab me like those crabs did. Partly it’s down to the tone of the book which lacks any bite in the modern era and feels very overly dramatised but mostly it’s just the lack of any interesting subtext to distract from the overall unwitting cheesiness of the whole thing.
I did enjoy the grim 70’s East End (of London) setting, the atmosphere of decay and deprivation goes in its favour, as does the body count which is high and the deaths are mostly well signposted so although it lacks for the most part in dramatic tension, the amount of action and slaughter make up for it. It rushes along at a fine pace but ultimately it just isn’t that good, unless you have a spare few hours and fancy a non taxing book then it really isn’t worth the look.