Wolf Land by Jonathan Janz
Publisher: Flame Tree Press | Release Date: March 14, 2019 | Pages: 304 pages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Let me put it up front here that Wolf Land is not one of my favorite Jonathan Janz books. Mind you, it’s still a good read, even it didn’t quite land for me the way his other releases have and I didn’t find it quite as compelling as Children of the Dark (my first Janz book, and the title that made me an instant fan and follower of this author) or, his latest, The Siren and the Specter.
At a bonfire party held days before their 10-year-reunion, a group of friends meet up only to have their lives turned entirely upside down by the appearance of a mysterious stranger, who proceeds to crash the party and launch a deadly attack upon these Lakeview grads. Oh, and did I mention the attacker is a friggin’ werewolf!?
As usual, Janz display an uncanny knack for staging and delivering a brutal horror show. The opening assault on these party-goers is absolutely vicious, as are several of the follow-up scenes as those newly gifted with werewolf powers become consumed by their inner beast and torment innocents to slake their fresh bloodlust. It’s interesting to see how these figures adapt and respond to their changing situations, as some become emboldened by it, while others are more afraid and cautious of, or even curious, about their own situations.
Weezer, in particular, is one of the more interesting examples. He’s the type of bad guy Janz is so damn proficient at creating, somehow making him immediately deplorable. Weezer is a big-mouth, an entitled, sexist, misogynistic, no good little prick right from the outset. You know every douchebag you wanted to punch in high school? That’s Weezer. Becoming a werewolf doesn’t make him any better from a humanitarian perspective, but I’ll admit that once he lost his overly crass ways in favor of adopting a more cunning, animalistic personality he became much more palatable. Which is a really weird thing in and of itself, to appreciate a quieter, more sociopathic evil than the annoying, loud-mouthed schmuck of a bad guy, but whatever… I guess these are just the times we live in now! His character has an interesting evolution, even as I must question what, exactly, it says about me. When Weezer was first introduced, I almost immediately wanted him dead, but as he grew into a more powerful force, I found myself curious what awful things he would do next and grudgingly accepted that he was going to be around for a while.
Unfortunately, most of what I didn’t like about Wolf Land comes down to the dynamic between lead characters, Duane and Savannah. I’m not the type of reader who needs to like an author’s cast, but I do appreciate not being annoyed by them. My biggest hurdle in all this was our main protagonists and, in the case of Savannah, our obligatory unrequited love interest. Oddly, I liked both of these characters on their own, but when put together with the potential for romantic entanglements, I found myself increasingly annoyed at the one-note tone to their relationship. Duane has pined for years over Savannah, but, frankly, given the way their relationship was portrayed, I have no idea why he’s so head over heels for her. Savannah is a single mother, and her past relationships with men have left her seriously burned and distrustful. Pretty much every conversation she and Duane have devolve into her complaining about men in general, with Duane fueling the fire with his Not All Men! arguments. I got tired of these two pretty quickly, and I wanted Duane to hurry up, get a clue, and go take a shower to wash off all that stinky desperation. She’s not interested in you, dude! Move on! Unfortunately, Janz drags out the will-they or won’t-they for nearly 300 pages, and it gets pretty damn exhausting.
I was also exhausted by the book’s climax, which goes on and on and on and on. Rather than feeling like an adrenaline-fueled, action-packed rush to the end, I found myself bored with the repetitious man versus werewolf scenarios and the very, very late-game addition of new villains, which only added even more scenes of been-there, done-that werewolf action. I can only read about so many different werewolves, all of whom end up suffering from various eye injuries of some kind, before the shine wears off. While I typically love the chompy bits of a creature feature horror novel such as this, as well as Janz’s novel settings in which to stage the action, the scenes themselves ultimately felt too similar and carried on for way too long.
On the whole, though, Wolf Land kept me engaged even as it’s most central protagonists frustrated the heck out of me. On the other hand, the supporting cast is strong and well rounded, and I found myself rooting hard for Melody, a young, traumatized woman who is abused in the sickest ways possible by her own family. Melody is like a character from a Jack Ketchum novel, plagued by sadists who you badly want to see torn apart in the worst and meanest ways. I also found Glenn and Joyce to be pretty compelling figures in their own regard. In terms of werewolf mayhem alone, Wolf Land certainly delivered with plenty of grandly violent and sadistic scenes throughout, even if the grand finale got a little too long in the tooth for my tastes.