Here I find myself writing again about the work of author Jonathan Janz. I restrain myself from going so far as to say, the great Jonathan Janz, but just barely. Every book I’ve read by Janz to date has been an experience to cherish. His writing is fresh, even when he’s taking on an old trope, and his mastery of language is picture perfect, engaging, and captivating. And each time I finish one of his books I feel like I’m beaming with a satisfied glow, having just encountered something groundbreaking and entirely original. But I also find myself wondering, with a guy like Janz who is not only a great writer but a prolific one, where does it end. Where does the font of ideas and originality run dry? I don’t have the answer to that question, I hope it’s never, but I know it doesn’t end here with his newest horror novel, CHILDREN OF THE DARK.
CHILDREN OF THE DARK is, get ready for it, a serial killer/creature feature/coming of age story. Yes you read that right. And that’s not to say that it just has minor elements of the three themes mixed in with the story. They are all major elements of the novel, interwoven throughout the narrative with grace and style, and done so with resounding success. It’s probably a good thing nobody told me that before going into this because my response likely would have been, “Get the fuck outa here.” I would never have believed that anyone could pull this off, not unless it was a “Scary Movie” style parody or something of that nature. But Janz proves me wrong with CHILDREN OF THE DARK.
The week I saw seventeen people die didn’t begin with blood, monsters, or a sadistic serial killer.
It all began with a baseball game.
Thus begins this incredible read, and though it might not begin with all that stuff, don’t despair, it’s coming soon. That opening passage hooked me right out of the starting gate and the rest of the story didn’t fail to reel me in. Jonathan Janz approaches storytelling with almost palpable alacrity and, though his stories are black as night and often brutally violent, you can tell that he loves the process. No way could he do it as well as he does without a strong measure of love involved. And the things he loves the most are his characters.
Some authors build their stories through setting, plot, and theme, then shape their characters around those elements, and while Janz certainly utilizes those things–couldn’t build a story without them–they aren’t his primary objective. That honor goes to his characters. Jonathan builds characters with the best of the best of them and his story rises up organically from that foundation, not the other way around. It becomes blatantly obvious very early in most Janz novels that he absolutely adores his darlings. They are large as life, flesh and blood creations that you feel for and bleed for. You share their traumas and successes, cheer for them when they’re winning and cry for them when they suffer. But the fact that he loves his characters doesn’t mean he’ll hesitate to murder them, often in delightfully gruesome fashion, if the story requires it. And with Janz, the story requires it quite often.
Which brings me to the next set of elements that I really dig about this story: monsters, murderers, and generous helpings of blood, despair, and outright terror. Anyone who’s read Jonathan’s book, SAVAGE SPECIES, will likely recognize the monsters of the inhuman variety, which is not to say you need to have read that book. In fact, if I were to recommend a reading sequence, I would recommend this one first. Janz’s monsters are not your garden variety monsters, vampires, werewolves, etc., though he’s handled those quite well in other books. These monsters are stinking, hulking, amoral green eyed horrors like nothing you’ve ever seen before and twice as scary. And his human monster, Carl Padgett, is no less frightening, and definitely no less original, for there is a certain trait about this serial killer that you’ve never seen before either. You’ll have to read the book to discover what that trait is. Suffice it to say, it will come as a big surprise when you discover it.
I’ve written about the horror of Jonathan Janz so many times, I fear I might repeat myself, or overwhelm myself with cliches, but it’s difficult not to. His characters are so rock solid and real, his setting, pace and mood are always perfect, and there’s never any filler. Every single word of every single paragraph has a purpose that helps to drive the story. On top of that, he’s a master of dialogue and his character interactions tend to drive the story as much as any other aspect of his writing, possibly even more:
“I didn’t see him,” I said. “Well, I saw a shape, but it was sort of blurry. And it was dark.”
“So it could have been anybody.”
I’m afraid my face went blank. “Excuse me?”
“Well, if you didn’t see who it was, how do you know she was kidnapped?”
“I saw her dragged off the trail.”
“I told you, I don’t—”
“Or maybe you were being a little too forward and…”
Those exchanges feel so natural and flow so well that you find yourself “listening” avidly to every word, soaking in the information without too much conscious effort.
Words like excellent, outstanding, unsurpassed, etc., have been used by reviewers–myself included–so many times as to feel like tired old cliches. They also seem to have been invented for the purpose of describing the work of authors like Stephen King, Charlee Jacob, and Peter Straub. Oh, and Jonathan Janz too. I’m not exaggerating or indulging in hyperbole when I say that. I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it. Janz rates with the best of the best in the horror community and I will continue to read everything he publishes. You should do so too. CHILDREN OF THE DARK is the best coming of age story I’ve read since McCammon’s, BOYS LIFE, and I can’t recommend it enough. Follow the link below to get your copy, and check out Jonathan Janz’s Amazon author page to get your hands on the rest of his work. I know you’re going to want to.
CHILDREN OF THE DARK synopsis:
Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.
Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals—the Moonlight Killer—has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves—his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends—will be threatened.
And very few of them will escape with their lives.
About Jonathan Janz:
Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, and in a
way, that explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”
2013 saw the publication of his novel of vampirism and demonic possession The Darkest Lullaby, as well as his serialized horror novel Savage Species. Of Savage Species, Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror–Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows–will find much to relish.” Jonathan’s Kindle Worlds novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows marked his first foray into the superhero/action genre.
Jack Ketchum called his vampire western Dust Devils a “Rousing-good weird western,” and his sequel to The Sorrows (Castle of Sorrows) was selected one of 2014’s top three novels by Pod of Horror. 2015 saw the release of The Nightmare Girl, which prompted Pod of Horror to call Jonathan “Horror’s Next Big Thing.” 2015 also saw the release of Wolf Land, which Publishers Weekly called “gruesome yet entertaining gorefest” with “an impressive and bloody climax.” He has also written four novellas (Exorcist Road, The Clearing of Travis Coble, Old Order, and Witching Hour Theatre) and several short stories.
His primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true. You can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.com. You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, or on his Goodreads and Amazon
This review is part of the CHILDREN OF THE DARK blog tour. You can follow along with the rest of the tour here: http://bit.ly/1popF6y