Last year I read my first Jonathan Janz story titled Children of the Dark. I absolutely loved it. Janz expertly fused together a gruesome horror story and a nostalgic coming-of-age tale. The monsters in that book—the lithe, tall, insatiably hungry Wendigos—were a formidable enemy that I enjoyed reading about as they went on a blood-soaked rampage.
New Janz fans (Janz Fanz!) like myself should know that Savage Species is where the Wendigo species, “The Children,” first make an appearance.
There’s great story set-up—here’s a grand opening of a nature preserve that the cast of characters are all attending—and some character development in the beginning, and while I enjoyed this portion of the book, I was slow to fully invest in any of the characters. Usually, because I’m a mother of two teenage boys, I immediately gravitate to the young male characters (this was especially true of Children of the Dark), but this time I was not as engaged with the main protagonist, Jesse.
However, Janz was able to evoke some feelings of hatred as he introduced some secondary characters that I was hoping would die! Charly’s husband Eric is a misogynistic loser. Actually, the previous Janz novel I read, The Sorrows, had some misogynistic undertones and behavior from characters as well. I don’t see it as much in the newer releases, so I’m hoping this was an early trend in the character development that maybe fizzled out as Jonathan honed his skills.
I think it’s fair as a female horror enthusiast to call that out when I see it. It’s just not enjoyable to read horror stories where female characters are two dimensional, stand-in props to be mistreated or objectified. We want strong female protagonists with depth, aptitude and a few cans of whoop-ass in her pockets!
That being said, there are plenty of female characters in this story: Emma, Colleen, Charly and Ruth. While I felt like Janz took special care of them, he could have given them the opportunity to defend themselves. Between Jesse and Red Elk, (can this guy, Frank/Red Elk shut up already? His graphic sex talk was a mile-a-minute page filler!), there was a lot of damsel-in-distress saving going on.
Despite my complaints, this is one of the most action packed creature-feature stories I have ever read. The carnage starts somewhere towards the back-end of Part One and never lets up for the duration of the novel. Blood and guts galore! I loved all the chaos and mayhem our band of survivors go through. Certain parts had a Jurassic Park-style energy which is always fun, with the characters just managing to escape several encounters as they make their way from one danger to the next.
Parts Four and Five were my favorite parts of the book. If readers can get through long chapters of frenetic action sequences and blood slurpage, this last part of the book is your reward.
Our character Jesse is given some real depth of character, The Night Flyers get some page time and the ending was a great segue into Children of the Dark. Being a huge fan of Jonathan’s work, I’m ready and waiting for Children of the Dark 2.