I read a lot of books, and for the most part, I enjoy what I read a great deal. I’m not a professional reviewer, I don’t get paid for this, it does nothing to help my own standing as an author. I read because I love to read, and I review the books I read because I understand what a monumental thing it is to write a novel. I understand WHY people write stories. And because of that great effort, I think a book deserves to get reviewed when it has been read.
But the truly great joy of reading isn’t when you find a book that you enjoy, or even that you enjoy a great deal. The truly great joy is when you stumble across one of those rare gems that rises so high that all the other books you’ve read for the past several years literally pale in comparison, even including those you gave 5/5 stars to because you enjoyed them so much. Books that set themselves apart as not only “very good”, but genuine literary masterpieces.
CHILDREN OF THE DARK by Jonathan Janz is one such book. If I were to try and make a list of my top ten favorite books of all time, the task would likely prove undoable. However, there are a handful that I always refer to as being in my “Top 5” or “Top 10” favorites of all time. Books like THE SHINING and IT by Stephen King, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER by Tom Clancy, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS by H.P. Lovecraft, THE BOOKS OF BLOOD and THE HELLBOUND HEART by Clive Barker, GHOUL by Brian Keene, LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding, PSYCHO by Robert Bloch. And there are many others. MORE than 10, in fact, but we all know top ten lists are always comprised of many more than their stated number. So, for me, an actual list of my favorite 5 or 10 or you-pick-the-number would be impossible to compile.
What I CAN do, however, is name some books that would be in my top ten, should I ever try and make a list. The ones mentioned above would be among them, but as of finishing this book earlier today, I have another to add to that list. I’m a Janz fanboy, I’ll own it, I’m not ashamed of it. The man writes consistently with a level of quality that is missing from most authors out there, including some of my heroes such as King and Barker and Garton and McCammon, and I’ve become convinced Janz couldn’t write a bad book–or even a MEDIOCRE book–if the lives of all humanity depended on him penning a stinker.
CHILDREN OF THE DARK joins classics such as IT and BOY’S LIFE as fantastic coming-of-age stories, specifically about young men, and in my mind is every bit as good as those. In some ways, better (I always appreciate when an author decides to not include a train-style gang bang of six 11-year-old boys boffing an 11-year-old little girl as a symbol of passing from childhood innocence into young adulthood). The storytelling is quite literally magical in its delivery, not unlike McCammon’s masterful effort in BOY’S LIFE, yet the level of dread and suspense surpass that one and even that of IT, with its sinister cosmic shapeshifter Pennywise in hot pursuit. I felt like the people and the town were people and places I knew, had spent my life in and around, and I was utterly and completely sucked into the story. The teen angst, lust, passion, fears, ALL OF IT rang so true it might have been myself I was reading about on the pages.
And Janz never takes us to the expected places. There were several times in this book–particularly in its latter half–where I was sure, just SURE, that all the characters involved would make it out. Close calls, sure, but they’d make it. Kids can’t die, right? Loving, doting parents don’t get offed, right? People we’ve watched struggle and claw their way to getting their lives in order for the betterment of those around them and who depend on them don’t croak, right? There has to be a joyful, happy ending in all of this horror…
Nope. Not here. There’s literally no point in the story that you can trust one of your favorite characters will pull through. The threat is there, as in any good suspense story, but here, no one is safe. There’s no one you can look at and say, “Yeah, he/she is going to make it and they’ll have a magical forever-after”. The monsters are merciless, the human villains all-too-tangibly real. The menace is a living thing, palpable and touchable, and it keeps coming and coming and coming and you can’t breathe or even think because these characters, these PEOPLE you’ve fallen in love with and care about as much as anyone in your real life, may well die in horrific, life-altering ways right before you as the scenes materialize in your mind and play out like the greatest stage play ever put on in the history of the world.
No, I’m not being over the top. I’m trying to convey to you the stirring and shifting emotions that were conjured within me as I read this wonderful book, one that I now proudly proclaim to be amongst the ten (who’s really counting here?) best novels I’ve ever read in my lifetime. It seems I’m not alone in my praise for this book, as it seems to be widely well received by most who’ve read it. And every bit of that praise has been earned with interest due to the author for creating such a magnificent work of art, that I scratch my head, jaw hanging loosely, wondering how on Earth I–or anyone else, for that matter–could ever create something so profoundly moving and intense all at once, never falling too much to one direction or the other, always maintaining the perfect balance of horror and magic. It was THAT good.
This is the eighth of Janz’s novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Before this one, I was always saying THE NIGHTMARE GIRL was his personal best and the one to beat if it could be done. Yet, Janz HAS topped it (I have no idea which he wrote first, I’m merely going on the order in which I read them). And from what I’ve been hearing online, a sequel to this is coming. I have no clue how he could possibly top this one, but I have confidence in the man and his writing. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next, what the Children are doing, and how Will Burgess will confront them this time.
Buy this book. Buy it for yourself, your friends, your neighbors, your local cops, EVERYONE. This is the kind of book that ought to be required reading (if we’re going to make that a thing) for everyone in their early teen years.
I’ll stop here, simply because I’ll embarrass myself with fan-boy gushing if I continue. He’s a favorite author of mine, right along with the titans of the literary world, and I’m fond of all his work. But I’m telling you, this one…THIS one is something extra special. Don’t miss it.
Infinity/5 stars. And yes, I mean that. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.