The Raven (Book Review)
By Jonathan Janz
4 / 5 - Horror Adventure
I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review!
While I read a lot of post-apocalyptic novels (and have written one), I usually don’t consider them horror, but this post-apoc tale is certainly of that genre.
Two years ago rogue scientists released a biological weapon that unlocked tamped-down supernatural abilities in human DNA, turning people into vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural horror creatures. Dez is travelling the now post-apocalyptic landscape to try and find his kidnapped girlfriend. As someone with no powers, he has to rely on his survival skills and luck to survive.
The novel begins strong, with a riveting first few chapters that kept me on the edge of my seat (also didn't help I was reading it at night). The rest of the novel follows at a slightly slower pace but with plenty of action scenes. The introduction of new types of monsters throughout was fun and oftentimes surprising. I loved the reveal of Keaton’s power.
I appreciated that the novel provides a simple, pseudo-scientific explanation for the supernatural aspects of the story but didn’t belabour it, as the reason for why everyone is a monster now isn’t really the purpose of the story.
The action/horror scenes are unapologetically violent but don’t stray into torture porn, which is sometimes a hard balance to strike. I appreciated that all sexual violence (as soon as I saw “satyrs” were one of the monsters, I got worried I'd have to stop reading) was offscreen. Once I determined the novel wasn’t going to trigger me in that regard, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable action-adventure in a dark, no-holds-barred setting. It has a bit of a Western feel too. I had trouble putting it down, as Janz really excels at twists and turns.
Unfortunately, I didn’t care much about Dez as a character. While there was an attempt to give him some depth, it was mainly by showing what he had lost in his life due to the horrors. Some of his choices didn’t make sense to me. In general, he felt like a genetic horror-story protagonist and his motivation, to rescue his girlfriend, wasn’t very compelling as we don’t know or care about his girlfriend. Perhaps if the journal excerpts had been in Susan's perspective we would have some basis to care about her fate and Dez’s purpose in finding her would have subsequently been more compelling.
There are no women in this novel until 36%. YET, not only do we get a bit of an explanation as to why (a reason that didn't feel like an excuse to me, and, if you know my reviews, I'm never lenient on lack of ladies) the women that do arrive are competent and have agency as both antagonists and allies. As such, I forgive the first part for being a sausage fest.
Overall, it’s a thoroughly engrossing, gore-splattered romp through a horror-monster infested world that doesn’t feel like every other vampire/werewolf story. It breathes a bit of new life into these old threats in a way that does compel me to read the next book.
There are some great twists, some fun action scenes, and it’s clear the novel is pointing out that the worst aspects of human nature aren’t really what we turn into, but who we are to begin with.
Some notes that don’t have anything to do with my rating:
- Can we not get a female protagonist who is normal looking and still sexy? While Iris wasn’t objectified too badly, and her attractiveness is “explained”, it felt a little tired that Iris was so conventionally attractive.
- Can publishers stop this annoying thing where they don’t warn people the novel is part of a series? The novel does stand on its own, I guess, but it’s clear it’s setting up at least another. The gang is all together now.
- I like that Dez has a Ruger, as that’s my dog’s name.