Terror Island book review

A first novel from an unknown writer at a small-press publishing house. Rakie Keig's Terror Island is one of the most unexpectedly great horror novels of the year...

Zombies are scary. So are werewolves. And vampires can be pretty terrifying, too. Shoving hundreds of each onto one small, isolated island, along with some evil scientists and a couple of naive, innocent twentysomethings, and you’ve got the recipe for something that should, by all rights, be a complete and utter mess. But somehow, incredibly, Rakie Keig – an author it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever heard of before – pulls it off.

Terror Island is reminiscent of nothing more than Jurassic Park. The initial tour of the island, seen through the eyes of Anna Martin, whose father is one of the scientists living in situ, and her friend and would-be filmmaker Mike, generates that same sense of unease. The scientists proudly display their high-tech enclosures, and talk at length about all the discoveries and progress they’ve made in their virology labs, while Anna and Mike try not to run away screaming. And all the time, just like in the Crichton novel, you know full well that everything is going to go horribly wrong. Gratifyingly, it’s not long before it does.

The range of monsters on the island allows Keig to be inventive with her set-pieces. Zombie stories have become woefully formulaic, but when there are werewolves and vampires to take into account, not to mention all sorts of weird and wonderful in-between creatures, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next. Obviously, the group of survivors on the island is going to get decimated, but Keig’s gore is described in lovingly disgusting terms, and the action moves so fast, that there’s never time to get bored or to think ahead.

While the pacing of the book is great, the chapter breaks are a little too frequent. Some digging around on Google revealed that that’s probably because the chapters were initially posted online, but it’s something that should have been edited before the print version emerged. Particularly since the book is a large non-standard paperback size, which means that most of the chapters are only about 4 pages long. Many of the new chapters pick up exactly where the previous ones left off, which soon starts to feel like you’re watching a movie with far, far too many advert breaks. Mind you, it makes it easy to find a convenient stopping place if you need to put the book down for whatever reason.

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That criticism aside, though, Terror Island is a remarkable first novel. Keig is a strong, competent writer who seemingly has an endless supply of ideas, and whose breathless, unstoppable style is a pleasure to read. It would have been nice if the book itself hadn’t been so unwieldy, but it takes a deceptively short time to read, possibly because it’s so oddly gripping.

We’re not talking anything earth-shattering here, and Terror Island probably won’t change your life in any significant way. But it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Find it here.