October 4, 2013

A Nature Walk Through the Valley of Death: a review of Jonathan Janz's "Savage Species: Night Terrors"

Savage Species Part One: Night Terrors
Samhain Horror (2013)
118 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61921-718-8

Come on, people. The place is called Peaceful Valley. You had to know something horrible was going to happen there sooner or later.

In the first installment of Jonathan Janz's serial horror novel, Savage Species, a restored nature preserve plays host to more than drunken college kids and snooping reporters. Nope, there's monsters in them woods. Set in picturesque Indiana, the development of the isolated star park has stirred up an ancient evil, and if you wondered just how gruesome things were going to get with this novel, you needn't worry because Janz wastes no time in setting the stakes and the tone for this story. In a word: grizzly.

Split into two separate narratives, there's a young journalist tagging along with the woman of his dreams--and her cattish best friend--as they interview locals and officials about the opening of the park and what it means for the area. And then there's the put-upon wife of a famous college basketball coach, who when not fretting over the suspected infidelity of her husband, fears something in the neighboring woods is lurking. Well, despite the rising paranoia, she's right. And it takes no time at all for things to go from bad to worse.

I'm tempted to liken "Night Terrors" to one of those classic free-for-all horror movies from the 80s, but with the cliffhanger ending and four more installments to go, this is more akin to those nightmarish TV mini-series from the 70s, like Salem's Lot or something. The characters come close to feeling too well worn, but Janz keeps the archetypes interesting by adding little twists to them to avoid any unnecessary eye-rolls. The tertiary characters--you know, the meat puppets--are set up strictly with the implied intention of tearing them to shreds when the sh*t hits the fan.

It's a little frustrating how the story leaves off, but all of the remaining novellas have been published, even collected in one book now too, so there's no need to wait before diving back into Janz's bloodcurdling bedlam. The monsters he has invented are legion and they are vicious. Have the fun is reading along as Janz reveals them chapter by chapter until the end when they're seen in all their gruesome glory. It's a wonder there are any characters left standing to fight against them by the time "Night Terrors" comes to an end. Bring on part two: "The Children."

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