Review: Castle of Sorrows by Jonathan Janz

Castle of Sorrows by Jonathan Janz
Flame Tree Press (July 25, 2019)

288 pages; $24.95 hardcover; $14.95 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

The Sorrows  is a wonderful example of a place exercising its influence over its occupants. Gothic horror at its finest.”Frank Errington for Cemetery Dance

This review is dedicated to Frank who would have loved to read and review the sequel to The Sorrows. I miss my friend.

Sequels can be a hard sell. Readers are a fickle bunch. On the one hand, fans love the idea of returning to a story to see what happens next, but on the other hand, we come with a lot of expectations we want met. So many sequels die the same death: “It wasn’t as good as the first book.”

In the case of The Sorrows and Castle of Sorrows, I actually enjoyed the sequel more than its predecessor. I believe there was a span of about three years in between books and I’d like to imagine the story and the characters marinating in Janz’s author-brain, growing stronger day by day.

Ben Shadeland returns, trying to live life as your average family man after returning from the hellish nightmare he experienced at the haunted island, The Sorrows. Ben, his wife Claire and his son barely survived their ordeal, the memories still haunt them. These days they are happily distracted by their infant daughter, Julia.

But it seems Castle Blackwood isn’t finished with the Shadelands;  the evil which resides there has been festering and ruminating on revenge. It wants to lure Ben back to The Sorrows by any means necessary.

It’s important to point out that this is one of those rare opportunities where I can say with confidence that it is not required to read The Sorrows before reading the sequel. Castle of Sorrows can be a standalone novel because Janz does a fantastic job revisiting all the important events and circumstances that occurred at Castle Blackwood right in chapter one. There aren’t any huge info dumps or confusing references, just a nice recap through some casual dialog between characters. I appreciated the refresh because I read The Sorrows some time ago.

Secondly, and the thing I love the most about this book, is that it is seriously character-driven. Where The Sorrows lacked, Castle of Sorrows picks up the slack. Janz infuses his characters with complex personality and gives them a chance to come alive in some engaging, set-up chapters of backstory. I feel like that’s what I tend to gravitate towards in my horror fiction—characters I can invest in and fall in love with. We need time with them before they encounter whatever evil awaits them. A unique attribute of the book is that we get to spend almost half of the story with the characters held in tension, the threat of evil building and building until Janz decides it’s time to unleash the wickedness. There’s almost this longing in you, bordering on impatience, to get to the “good stuff.” Well, the bad stuff, really.

I think it’s worth mentioning that Janz writes characters you will love, yes, but he writes some seriously despicable people too and it’s a treat to read about those guys getting their just desserts. 

Joining our characters from book one, Castle of Sorrows gets a new cast of supporting characters—I thought Janz did a good job bringing *cough* fresh blood to the story. In classic Janz form this book has short chapters and multiple parts which makes the reading experience a constant thrust forward. There are zero lulls, and this is my favorite aspect of reading a Janz novel—I know I’m in capable hands. His narrating voice feels familiar and confident. The Sorrows books are entertaining and fully deliver on the promise of being dark and violent. Fans will be well pleased.

But I want to selfishly use this opportunity to fangirl about the Children of the Dark sequel! If you haven’t read Children of the Dark, it’s one of my favorite coming-of-age horror books. Get it, read it and join the rest of us “Janz Fanz” as we eagerly wait for it. 

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