Victoria by Jason Parent
Publisher: Bloodshot Books | Release Date: Dec. 20, 2018 | Pages: 204
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Victoria by Jason Parent introduces an absolutely terrifying concept: a sentient demon spider making a nest in someone’s head. And this isn’t a metaphor. It’s an honest to God spider. You know, eight legs, poisonous fangs, an insatiable urge to kill. If you can get past that, then you’ll do just fine with this thriller-laced horror story about a sixteen-year-old thief facing off against a demon bent on taking over the world.
The story opens up on Victoria telling us how she is happy to get rid of the spider in her head. She then goes into how her parents both died and she moved in with her uncle, who might have been insane. See, the uncle had a spider in his head named Chester, despite the spider being female. When he couldn’t take all the terrible things Chester might have made him do, he put a pair of scissors into his head. Without a host, Chester decided to move into the closest head available, Victoria. She was eight at the time.
We quickly learn that Chester is something more than just a normal spider. She is an evil mastermind, molding Victoria into a thief, manipulator, murderer. I absolutely loved and was horrified by this concept. I mean, can you imagine having a spider scuttling around in your head? But, their dynamic is so natural that it seems like Victoria had no problem adjusting to it. She does eventually question Chester’s motives and nonchalant feelings toward killing people to get what she wants.
Parent establishes their love/hate relationship early on and uses it to add a constant sense of foreboding throughout the book. At first it’s just the normal bickering you’d see between two friends, Victoria thinks of Chester as her only friend, the only stable thing in her life. It doesn’t take long for Chester to exert her full power, crippling Victoria at one point simply through a temper tantrum. Or when Chester decides to take matters into her own hands and climbs out of Victoria to kill a security guard with her poison. Eventually it gets to a point where you’ll cringe anytime Victoria says something that might set Chester off. In one skin crawling scene, Chester bites Victoria in the brain, injecting just enough poison to lay Victoria out. Gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it.
Parent isn’t afraid to spice up the horror with a little bit of humor. For starters we have the female spider named Chester. Then there is Victoria’s quick wit, which is usually directed toward Chester, though she has no problem delivering it to anyone bothering her. When Victoria talks to Chester, she does it out loud, creating humorous moments with those near her. Or probably one of the funniest scenes, in which tiny spider Chester tries to use a computer to search for her brethren online. How does a spider push a key down when it weighs practically nothing? They are the perfect counterpoint to some of the more tense scenes that come with having a spider nesting in your skull.
The plot itself moves along at a quick pace, barely giving you time to breathe before zipping you into the next dangerous set piece. Parent combines elements of heist stories, religious conspiracy stories, and spy dramas to build a somewhat interesting tale. None of these elements stand out, mostly serving as a vehicle for the relationship between Chester and Victoria. It’s a quick enough read that you’ll never find yourself bored with scenes of Victoria sitting down with a crew planning a heist or Victoria working with a US ambassador to foil an assassination plot, but you’ll also not really care about them.
Padding out the main plot of Victoria trying to rid herself of Chester is a subplot involving the Vatican’s secret mission to destroy these demon spiders. It’s an interesting concept revolving around a specialized team that works for a cardinal. We are introduced to one of the team, which becomes Victoria’s love interest. It comes across a bit forced, the only reason it seems they like each other is because of their ability to sneak up on each other and their dislike of the spiders. Maybe it’s his ability to take an enormous amount of pain and keep moving? I mean it’s ridiculous everything that happens to him. They do have some fun awkward interactions, but I just didn’t see enough chemistry between them to root for them to be together.
There is also a heist thrown into the story that follows most of the staples of that genre. A team thrown together, none of them trusting each other yet respecting the special skills each possess. Parent takes these formulaic tropes and breathes fresh life into them. Giving Chester the ability to hop from one mind to another adds a layer of tension to questioning who you can trust. Victoria sees the team as a family, which makes it all the more painful when terrible things happen to them. While we can guess pretty quickly where the heist is going to end up, there is enough action and suspense to keep us on the edge of our seat.
Victoria is a fun creepy book that will entertain as well as have you checking to make sure a spider doesn’t crawl into your ear. It’s a fast read, never giving you a chance to dwell on things like how does a spider live in someone’s head, why are these demons in the bodies of spiders, or how did the Vatican kill the other spiders. Parent’s use of humor is spot on, keeping you from totally freaking out at every itch. There are some flaws with sections of the book, but you’ll be so engrossed with the relationship between Chester and Victoria that you won’t mind.