Fiction Reviews


The Raven

(2020) Jonathan Janz, Flame Tree Press, £9.99 / US$14.99, pbk, 256pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58529-4

 

Despite a very promising premise this proves to be something of a let-down, oddly for having so much action going on that it actually becomes tedious at times. I see Janz is quite a prolific author, though new to me.

A group of crazed scientists hit on a novel solution to the nuclear arms race. Discovering that vampires, werewolves and just about every other mythical monster we know of actually exist in human DNA, they set off a series of bombs of their own to bring out the monsters inside people. The result is an apocalypse that makes a nuclear war seem tame by comparison.

Sadly, this origin story of the chaos (which ought to be a novel in its own right) is relegated to background material. The story centres on Dez, a rare Ďlatentí one of the few people still entirely human in a monster dominated World, ensuring that his day to day survival becomes a challenge that makes dodging The Walking Dead seem easy.

As the book starts, Dez has already lost much of his family, and his lover has been abducted by a powerful gangster who sells people as slaves to the various demonic entities around. With little more than blind hope and faith, Dez hopes to find her alive and rescue her.

The first problem with the book is that Dez seems highly unlikely to survive in such a blood-thirsty World. We first meet him casually joining some other apparent survivors in the woods and discovering them to be cannibals (given super-strength and healing powers by consumption of human flesh).

Barely escaping them, Dez meets an old man who promises him popcorn, a treat Dez hasnít tasted since before the DNA bombs detonated. Dez goes with the man without even thinking of the obvious trap this proves to be. Dez now faces another desperate escape, this time from a werewolf.

A few chapters on, Dez puts his plans for tracking his lost lover down. Armed with a crossbow, guns and a few other weapons, Dez walks into a bar owned by her abductor, Keaton, and simply demands answers to where she might be. This is a bar surrounded by trophy severed heads and genitalia. Hardly a place to enter with no exit strategy. Dez is not surprisingly attacked, by henchmen, cannibals, a witch, a telekinetic woman, and others, initially holding out well but eventually getting taken prisoner in preparation for a fight to the death with a werewolf Keaton keeps chained up in the cellars.

What follows is simply a very long battle sequence beginning on page 83 and continuing through to page 203 with virtually no character or plot development in a prolonged bar room brawl with monsters. Many are shot, bitten, burnt to death, etc, with Dez spending much of the absurd melee in chains, dressed only in his underpants. A few of the barís occupants side with Dez without really revealing why they chose this time to turn on Keaton. I feel like Iím describing a wild sitcom but Jenz is totally serious.

The book continues in this vein, incident and conflict rather than narrative development. Janz clearly enjoys graphically describing blood spurts, severed limbs, and human to monster transformation processes. It actually feels juvenile, like watching a toddler fighting his toys against one another.

Though listed as being a threat, Wendigo and Satyrs make no appearance, while vampires make only a fleeting cameo. We are promised that Dezís next stage in his quest to find the woman he loves will necessitate travelling through vampire territory though. (Janz clearly hopes he is launching a major series here).

Another annoyance is Dez frequently remembering lines from films and saying which famous actors and characters everyone reminds him of, a thought process he even engages in during his most desperate struggles to survive, though the book left me convinced throughout that Dez wouldnít last five minutes in such a spectacularly hostile world.

Arthur Chappell

 


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