Okay, bear with me for a few moments here, because this may sound like a criticism, but it's really a grateful nod to the author. Emergence reminds me of late 80s horror flicks like Critters, Ghoulies, or The Gate - works of horror with a coming-of-age element, ostensibly marketed at a young adult audience, but which were certainly more graphic and far more mature than any parent would have ever expected. It's deceptive, particularly in the early chapters, but patience pays off.
It doesn't quite achieve the classic coming-of-age horror of a Stephen King or Robert McCammon, but William Vitka tells a great tale and does it well.
With elements of zombies, body snatchers, and tentacled monsters à la Lovecraft, Vitka lays the foundations for a rather deep tale early on. He puts his young charges in harm's way, challenges them, and forces them to confront their fears. Not only that, but in forcing them to grow up so quickly, he bestows upon them some interesting powers or abilities that, without spoiling too much, are intrinsically tied to the creatures besieging their city. The titular Emergence operates on a number of different levels, referring to the emotional and psychological emergence of the teens, the physical emergence of the monsters from beneath the city, and the intellectual emergence of the truth regarding just who (or what) the true players and motives are.
Like I mentioned in my opening, this is a deceptive tale in terms of violence and gore. All young adult pretensions aside, this is an absolutely brutal book, with enough blood, guts, and tentacle slime to satisfy the most jaded reader. The juxtaposition of such young heroes against such mature violence is, no doubt, a deliberate one, but it's not played for mere shock value. It's simply maximized for the needs of the story, allowing adolescent fantasies and nightmares to play out naturally against such unnatural horror.
I think what I appreciated most about the tale is the way Vitka layered the different elements, revealing one threat after another, before even touching upon the concept of superhuman (or, perhaps, inhuman) abilities. It's not a matter of dumping everything on the reader and watching them run with it. Rather, it's a smart game of cat-and-mouse, engaging the reader, toying with both their emotions and their expectations, and leaving them to wonder if there's yet another layer to come.
All-in-all, a well-done, pleasant surprise, full of unpleasant horrors. Emergence is worth the read.
Published April 8th 2013 by VitkasGrimm
Kindle Edition, 380 pages