Book review: King Blood by Simon Clark



If this was a TV mini-series, it would be pitched as “Stephen-King-meets-George-Romero—in Britain!!!! And we can film the whole thing for under two million! Did I say two million? I meant one point five. We’ll hire locals and feed them fairy bread.”

Cover

Pick a Stephen King title from the mid eighties, ANY Stephen King title from the mid-eighties, and change the black background to a white one. There you go. The kind of thing Iron Maiden would avoid due to a lack of subtlety.

Plot

A massive geological shift causes all Earth’s volcanoes to erupt, subterranean methane jets to explode, seas to swamp cities, death, destruction, etc. Survivors attempt to maintain order and discipline whilst surrounded by the crazy, the cannibals, and lots of shoot-first survivalist types who’ve been stockpiling guns for just such an event. Added to this are regular sightings of big, muscly, grey alien chaps who do much for the survivors’ morale, as you can imagine. The main character and his bro, who runs their group, struggle to keep everyone in their charge alive without spiralling into savagery like everybody else. And get their ends away a surprising amount. I suppose the apocalypse IS a pretty good ice-breaker.

The good

Decently scribed for what it is, like most of Clark’s other titles. The hero and his inner circle are believable, at least given the madness of their situation, and their dialogue is straightforward but effective. Clark uses a few devices that, while uncomplicated, are no less successful, i.e. beginning paragraphs with ‘Picture This’ to set scenes in our mind’s eye via the narrator’s. Scenes of violence and sex are frequent but usually play, not least in the sense of diversion, which is effective as this is what they often serve as for the characters. And there’s a funny Liverpudlian baddie who calls himself Jesus.

Basically, if you like Stephen King, then you’ll probably like this, because Clark’s skill lies in teaming up King’s simple, solid characters and invertedly nuts situations with an impressive sense of scale—although it features in some extremely varied literature, I reckon there’s something ballsy about asking a great big question with your plot and then having the will to steer it into the sunset.

The bad

Like the cover artwork, the story is consistently gory and violent. It’s fine for the genre, I guess, but I prefer my claret-throwing to either scare or create an atmosphere of madness. After an enjoyably visceral introduction, the blood here seems to serve primarily as a means of jolting the plot awake, more like a tired fantasy title than something from the skull shelf.

Some of the characters’ actions are a bit dubious, e.g. the mid-thirties woman who becomes the hero’s lover despite an earlier episode where he did nothing to stop her getting raped by a pack of lust-crazed refugees. Logical, perhaps (it wasn’t his fault, and he probably couldn’t have helped anyway), but far too sterile and forgiving to happen in reality.

Along with the strong, simple delivery, Clark borrows one of King’s least appealing writerly traits—brick-subtle foreshadowing which makes the linear plot even more predictable than necessary. When the few enigmas are explained, they are both a) less interesting than you’d hope, and b) not very plausible either. I.e. the grey alien things are, wait for it, hallucinations caused by electromagnetic geological goings-on. Snort. As almost goes without saying, it isn’t particularly scary, either—as I said, even the gore is not usually well-timed enough to elicit a gut reaction. Chuck Palahniuk could be twice as revolting talking about a trip to the dentists and Ramsey Campbell could make it five times creepier.

What I learnt

Like Jonathan Aycliffe, Simon Clark is a solid horror writer with an interesting sense of atmosphere, but neither are likely to improve if they keep writing the same frigging story all the time.

Geological shifts can cause electrical activity which, it’s theoretically possible, could affect your brain the same way conspiracy theorists maintain microwaves from the CIA do, i.e. as well as a headache they could result in mass hallucinations and/or emotive responses. Foil hats prevent this. Unless that’s just what they WANT you to think.

To put it more simply, if the planet heats up internally, we’re screwed.



In short

Title: King Blood
Author: Simon Clark
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; New Ed edition
ISBN: 0340660627
Year published: 1999
Pages: 544
Genre(s): Horror

This review was written by Tom Vaughan. Tom has his own website, which contains many other reviews and strips and art and other fun stuff here.