May 7, 2014

Down and Dirty and Down Some More: a review of Jonathan Janz's "Savage Species Part 4: The Arena"

Savage Species Part 4: The Arena
by Jonathan Janz
Samhain Publishing (2013)
70 pages

It's hard to top a cliffhanger ending that sees man-sized, leathery-winged monsters swooping through a labyrinthian cave and carrying humans away like pterodactyls stealing Fred Flintstone's bronto-burgers. That was the end of Savage Species Part 3: The Dark Zone. With this fourth installment, The Arena, Jonathan Janz had to work hard to keep the momentum going and top everything in the first three parts.

The Children aren't the only monsters running rampant now, and the survivors of the camp site massacre have shrunk in numbers yet again with this new threat. Jesse and Red Elk escape the clutches of the monsters, but find themselves between a rock and a bigger rock basically, with but a single stick of dynamite and a choice of which rock face to blow up: the one that will lead them up towards an escape or the one that will lead them down towards their friends and the pit of monsters set to devour them. Choices, choices.

Meanwhile, Charly and Sam are still hunting for Charly's infant son, but there's the added problem of Eric's wounds gradually causing him to get sicker and sicker. Although, Eric is concealing the fact that the wounds have infected him to the point that he is now changing into one of the Children, too. And the wicked thoughts rolling around in his head make Charles Manson look like Mr. Rogers.

Somehow, albeit inevitably I should say, the two groups of people meet up inside the caves and band together to save the baby and the others trapped in what is lovingly called the Arena.

Aside from Eric's insidious inner monologues, there's not a lot of room for character development here. It's go, go, go from here on out and Janz keeps the story's pedal to the metal. It's very intense, but doesn't offer much by way of surprises. Things feel telegraphed in a sense, because the destination can only be devastating for all involved. The hook in the story at this point is the rallying for these characters to somehow, in some way, save the baby and get out of that hellhole alive. But for that answer, readers need to wait for Savage Species Part 5: The Old One.

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