Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: Blood Country (The Raven #2) by Jonathan Janz

Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Page Count: 288 Pages
Publication Date/Year: 2022
Genre: Horror

I’ve been making my way through Jonathan Janz’s backlist over the last couple of years. About a year ago (June 2022), I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Raven, his take on the post-apocalyptic story, but with a very potent horror lacing throughout the story. Blood Country is the second novel in the series and the focus, as the title implies, is vampires.

Briefly, in the world of The Raven, a group of rogue scientists released a virus that transformed humanity into creatures out of our nightmares: werewolves, trolls, cannibals (the strength of the people they eat is added to their own), witches, and vampires. Dez McClane is a rarity, he was unaffected by the virus so he is a man without any added abilities. Since the first novel, he’s been searching for the woman he loves. The conclusion of that novel provided him with a direction to head: Blood Country, the land of the vampires. With the woman he saved (Iris), Dez sets out to find his girlfriend Susan and to hopefully right a wrong.

Reading The Raven is a must before diving into Blood Country as the two novels very much feel like two episodes of a larger story, and the story Janz is telling in these novels is an absolute blast. He puts us in Dez’s head, which allows Dez’s fears and doubts to be felt quite effectively. Before the events of the series, Dez lost his family and has blamed himself so his self-blame is only increased with the loss of Susan.

Dez, Iris and their other allies (Michael, a man who can control fire as a result of the changes to the world, a young boy named Levi, and a couple of other allies I won’t spoil) head to the heart of Blood Country, a high school which serves as the seat of power for the vampires, particularly the Vampire Queen. Once they arrive at the high school, the action gets more intense and the emotional twists and turns become more sharp.

The story is very brisk and works somewhat cinematically. I was able to visualize a lot of the action Janz was relaying the novel and felt myself turning the pages rather quickly as a result. In the relatively short space of the story (under 300 pages), Janz crafts a story that is equal parts breakneck plot and character. After having read a small sampling (4 novels at this point) of Janz’s work, I’ve found my reading sensibilities really sync up with the stories he writes. When I was younger, one of my favorite RPGs was Gamma World. I think what appealed to me about that game is something Janz nails so well, even if Gamma World leans more towards fantasy-based monsters and Janz is firmly planted in horror.  The mix of “our world” and something fantastical and horrific is what both these things capture so well. Ultimately, Blood Country was just pure fun for me because I love an over-the-top apocalyptic tale, especially when there are monsters and/or mutants of some kind.

After two novels in The Raven series, I was very pleased to learn there will be at least one more novel. The conclusion most certainly left a very clear path where these characters need go and I cannot wait to catch up with Dez and his crew. The world and characters seem rather fertile for more stories and the length of the two novels so far lend themselves nicely to an episodic, long-form story that could lead to more than just one additional novel.

© 2023 Rob H. Bedford

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