Jonathan Janz is something of an enigma. Not only is he one of the nicest writers you could hope to correspond with, but if his writing is anything to go by, he also has some seriously deranged ideas running around in his head. He has also moved away from quiet, unsettling horror to in-your-face, visceral horror, whereas most authors tend to chart a path in the opposite direction.
And his latest release from Samhain Publishing, Wolf Land, only emphasises his progression down this blood-drenched path.
Telling the story of a set of characters who are about to attend their ten-year high school reunion when they are set upon by a werewolf in extreme-revenge mode, Janz layers on the gore thick and fast in the opening fifth of the book, barely giving the reader time to catch their breath before the first face is crushed between slavering jaws.
Only then does he give his characters a chance to breathe, as four survivors of the initial massacre begin to undergo their transformation into inhuman beasts, and all progress through this process in their own individualistic manner. Janz's character development excels in these scenes, as I came to truly care about one of the four, whilst loathing another (exactly as I was supposed to). At the same time, Janz thrusts a non-typical pair of friends into the limelight as his main characters, with Short Pump in particular, being varied enough from the usual hero to be interesting.
Before I knew it, these characters were engaging in a gore-drenched battle for survival, with not only the original werewolf but other threats coming into play. To say the final third of this novel is anything less than extreme would be to do a disservice to the Acknowledgements Janz included at the start of the book which started off by identifying how dark he went with this one and wanting people to know what they were getting themselves in for. Of course he was not just referring to the gore, but also to some of the disturbing themes found within.
If it's not clear, I really enjoyed Wolf Land. Perhaps not quite as much as The Nightmare Girl(which remains a Top 3 read of 2014 for me), but more than enough for Janz to retain his place as one of my favourite ten currently active writers. This is a wonderful werewolf novel that is savage in its intensity, and unforgiving in whom it dispatches. It is, however, long for a horror novel, so the middle sections of the book do lag a little pace-wise and the climax is exhausting in how long it goes on for; but at the end of the read, this is one that will stand out in the minds of anyone who hates the idea of werewolves being noble warriors, pure of heart and regal in bearing. It is well-written, extremely dark, and incredibly gory.
4 Torn Off Heads Bouncing Away for Wolf Land.
The preceding review was based on an eARC made available through Netgalley by Samhain Publishing.