Brianna Geiger says Brood X is a strikingly disturbing novella that makes cicadas absolutely terrifying.
Brood X is an illustrated novella written by bestselling author Joshua Dysart and features illustrations by internationally-renowned artist M.K. Perker. The novella is a nail-biting murder mystery that leaves seven laborers on the brink of madness. With the Red Scare on the rise and a nuclear war threatening the world, these men gather in the scorching Indiana heat to construct a bomb shelter. The job occurs during a once-in-a-century cicada swarm that leaves multiple mysterious deaths in its wake. Suspicion rises as the men race against the clock to try and figure out who or what is behind the murders.
Dysart does an exceptional job of creating a tense atmosphere through the rapidly growing hostility between the novella's characters. Each of the men has their own distinct personality that is off-putting to others, and some question whether they are qualified enough to be there. Nevertheless, they are all sitting in the back of a truck with one goal: to get the job done as fast and efficiently as possible. That means they have to get along, right? Not necessarily. Upon reaching the job site, a man with implied negative racial opinions denies Victor’s help. “Victor offers to help the old man down,” the novel reads, “but the geezer doesn’t take his hand. He ends up laboring to climb down on his own until the strong kid with the greaser haircut, flashing an easy smile, steps up to help him. The old man takes the white hand.” There isn’t a moment where the men aren’t arguing. Once several murders occur, there is no hesitation to point fingers.
An intriguing component of the novella is its illustrated scenes. There are only a handful of visuals among the ten chapters, and it feels as though their inclusion has a significant meaning. The images bring the most anxiety-inducing parts of the story to life. For instance, when Victor strangles Quent, it’s described how the cicadas enter every orifice they can. A foul and grotesque scene can be difficult to visualize, but Perker's illustrations aid the reader. His intricate details and fine-line work add a noticeable definition that makes the images pop off the page. The addition of these illustrations made the experience of reading the novella all the more terrifying.
A murder mystery usually follows a particular formula. Someone amongst a group of people gets murdered suddenly, and it is up to those present to find out whodunnit. Brood X adds cicadas to the narrative, making the story more exciting and disturbing than your run-of-the-mill murder mystery. If you live in a place inhabited by these insects, then you know the high-pitched vibration sound they make. The initial tone causes the ears to ring, while the intensity of the sound causes the air to buzz. The noise is unbearable for the characters. Victor describes the cicadas song as being, "...so loud out here in the utter wilderness. Victor flogs at himself to keep the cicadas off of his exposed skin. His eyes flare wildly, hoping he'll see better in the darkness if he widens them as much as possible, his whole face flexing with the effort. He has visions, hallucinations, sees phantoms, and hears voices in the insect chorus." This made the supernatural aspects of the story more believable, but there is a follow-up twist to make readers rethink everything.
Brood X is a riveting story with compelling and unexpected twists. The mystery holds us right up to the very end, making for an exciting read. It’s detailed, captivating, breathtaking, and delivers on its promise of cicada-filled horror.