Book Review : Jonathan Janz - Children of the Dark (2016)
I used to rent movies from a store called Chiasson TV Services. It was a blessed place that always kept at least one copy of each videocassette it acquired, so it built up a crazy, fun database of movies that lingered in Hollywood oblivion. I loved browsing through its never-ending backlist of wacky titles and questionable ideas and it is something I never could quite find anywhere else before I started reading indie novels. Everything about Jonathan Janz's novel Children of the Dark, from the Matthew Revert-signed cover to its ambitious synopsis reminded me of that blessed time in my life, and I'm happy to announce the novel kind of lived up to its wild promises.
Will Burgess just won the most important baseball game of his live. He and his friend Chris Watkins triumphed in front of the entire town of Shadeland and their respective sweetheart Mia Samuels and Rebecca Ralston. It should be the greatest night of their lives. Only, circumstances don't lend themselves to their triumph. Legendary serial killer Carl Padgett has just escaped from prison, making everyone in town nervous and a supernatural threat has been looming and observing Will from a distance. There's a catastrophic storm coming to Shadeland and Will Burgess is standing in the middle of it.
Children of the Dark was a LOT of fun. It's a horror novel and a coming-of-age in the tradition of Stephen King with a wholesome, Rockwellian veneer that slowly melts away as you turn the pages. Author Jonathan Janz openly challenges small town America clichés by establishing Will and Chris are winners and talented athletes from the get-go and has them struggle with the consequence of their own success. Children of the Dark creates its own paradigm of a dormant nightmare America hidden under small, quiet towns from the ground up. It's immersive and engaging. Not that many novelist put the time and effort into creating a unique setting.
I wouldn't say that Children of the Dark is psychologically bold, but it's original. If the first half of the novel builds an unbearable tension for Will Burgess to withstand, the other half features a lengthy succession of crazy, gory action scenes that leads to an over-the-top finale that WILL remind you of your favorite eighties horror movies. The second half of Children of the Dark comes a little undone to be honest. It's wild and brutal, but it comes from the left field and tears down whatever tension the brilliant first half had built. It's fun in a what-the-fuck-is-going-on kind of way, but it leaves more questions than it answers.
Children of the Dark made me feel like I was roaming the aisles of Chiasson TV Services again and that was an achievement in itself. It felt like a mix of Stephen King's fiction and wacky eighties movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It was a wicked literary throwback like few others I've experienced. Children of the Dark is fun, quirky and hyperviolent. I wouldn't quite call it a life-affirming experience per se, but it's smart, fast paced, oddly original and makes for a quite entertaining read. Too many genre novels are self-important. Jonathan Janz writes fun and energetic horror that doesn't claim to be anything but a whole lot of fun and I always have time for these.