Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan
Word Horde (August 18, 2020)
388 pages; $19.99 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann
First things first, the introduction to this book, written by Stephen Graham Jones, is so choice. Bonus points right away for mentioning one of my favorite childhood stories ever: The Monster at the End of This Book (narrated by your lovable ol’ pal, Grover).
Dr. Jones goes on to say, “John Langan, both delivering us some compelling horror but at the same time interrogating the basic form of horror.”
That’s how this collection feels to me too: On its face, twenty-one stories of horror. Underneath it all, horror deconstructed and inhaled by the reader. It’s a part of you now. It informs you.
A perfect example of this is the second story, “Hyphae.” I can’t stop thinking about this story. It has penetrated beyond my mind’s natural order of things and has taken root in my fears. I have a new fear. I can’t tell you what this is because I want people to read this story with all the points of discovery intact—just the way I read it. I stumbled around in a dank, smelly, old house while James looked for his father; the father is found and…
…a new fear is born. Enjoy! (I say that menacingly because I want other readers to see what I can’t unsee.)
Sandwiched in between longer stories are some amusing tales that leave you hungry. One of these is “Zombies in Marysville.” Langan entices his readers with the perfect setup, then hides the rest of the story in the archives of his imagination. I enjoyed this because I was still thinking about it when I started the next story, and it’s that kind of crossover that feels intentional on Langan’s behalf.
“Into the Darkness, Fearlessly” is one of my favorite stories. In classic Langan fashion, our tale opens with a story within a story. A professional editor finds a manuscript the morning after (the morning after what? You’ll see) from his client, Linus Price. It’s title is A Grammar of Dread, A Catechism of Terror. Just even reading this title sends the editor into a physical state. This leads to the editor meditating on his relationship with Linus and Linus’s wife, Dominika. The storytelling here is so absorbing! I swear as I type this, the world utterly disappeared as the drama swallowed me whole. Also noteworthy: I love books about writing and writers, don’t you? The fourth wall is slightly transparent as Langan peels back the curtain, revealing to his readers the world of writers from a fictional POV.
One more note: I don’t know how to say what needs to be said without sounding like a creep, so have grace for me? Some writers don’t write sensuality or sex scenes that read real. The sex in this particular story proves that it can enhance the authenticity instead of harm.
Lastly, before I carry on too long, the title story, Children of the Fang, is everything I have grown to admire about Langan’s writing—atmospheric descriptions, mysterious found-footage, rich mythical lore about ancient creatures or beings—it’s almost as if Langan challenges his audience to engage with his stories on a cultural level; an understanding that readers will bring with them their historical context or religious worldview. This kind of interaction means that everyone will have their own, unique experience based on the personal lens one wears while they read. Personally, Langan is my standard by which all other short stories are measured. There is something in this collection that will stand out as your favorite, relish your time in these Genealogies to find it.