(2022) Jonathan Janz, Flame Tree Press, £12.95 / Can$21.95 / US$ 16.95, 288pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58661-1
Three years ago the world ended when a group of rogue scientists unleashed a virus that awakened long-dormant strands of human DNA, they also awakened the bestial side of humankind: werewolves, satyrs, and all manner of bloodthirsty creatures. Within months, nearly every man, woman, or child was transformed into a monsterÖor was slaughtered by one.
A rare survivor without special powers, Dez McClane has been fighting for his life since mankind fell, including a tense bar fight that ended in a cataclysmic inferno. Dez would never have survived the battle without Iris, a woman heís falling for but can never be with because of the monster inside her. Now Dezís ex-girlfriend and Irisís young daughter have been taken hostage by an even greater evil, the dominant species in this hellish new world: vampires!
The bloodthirsty creatures have transformed a four-story school building into their fortress, and theyíre holding Dezís ex-girlfriend and Irisís young daughter captive. To save them, Dez and his friends must risk everything. They must infiltrate the vampiresí stronghold and face unspeakable terrors.
Because death awaits them in the fortress. Or something far worse.
True confession time, I wasnít familiar with the work of Jonathan Janz before I read Blood Country, but that is a mistake I intend to rectify. Lucky for me the folks at Flame Tree Press have heard of Janz because this is the tenth novel of his they have published, and looking at his back catalogue Iíll certainly be dipping into titles like The Sorrows and House of Skin, and Janz has even more titles such as Children of the Dark and Exorcist Falls waiting in the wings to be given the Flame Tree Treatment.
As for Blood Country, it is a rip-roaring, page-turner told over four parts divided into nineteen chapters. I havenít read Raven: Book One, or The Raven as it is better known, but that didnít stop my enjoyment of this novel possibly because Janz is such a good writer, and to be honest the premise of a virus turning people into monsters isnít that original an idea, after all, Richard Mathieson, Seanan McGuire, Justin Cronin, Charlie Higson, Joe Hill and many others have had a go at it.
The monsters that feature in this bad, new world are fairly familiar, taking the form of vampires, and werewolves, but we also get cannibals, people with mental abilities, and less familiar characters from folklore all thrown into the mix. Janz manages to bring together a well-fleshed out band of survivors and put them through the wringer in a way that makes the reader care for them, by showcasing their emotions, hopes and dreams, and fears. One of the strengths (but a weakness too) of the novel are the many action sequences whether they involve being on the run, or scavenging to survive, or having to fight to survive, and Janzís little band have to fight a lot, in scenes that are bloody and very violent. One quibble might be that these scenes do go on a bit, and while the stakes are high, our heroes do come through them reasonably unscathed again and again, despite the odds against them and being mere humans.
Having said that Blood Country lives up to its title so if you want a book that is fast, fun and bloody and not to be taken too seriously, then this is the title for you, even if you havenít read the first book in the series. For me, I look forward to dipping into Janzís back catalogue and reading titles that were included in best of the year lists, or drew comparisons with the late, great Peter Straubís masterpiece Ghost Story.
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