I picked up “Demonlore – Jikininki” by young British author Brandon Loveless, and I found it intriguing.
Brandon has a clear and empathetic voice that reminds me of Stephen King’s greatest strength. He uses vivid descriptions that combine seamlessly with his narrator’s body-reactions and processing. That is a critical, vital skill that many urban fantasy and horror authors do not fully grasp. Mr. Loveless has it, and I look forward to seeing this voice in a full-length novel or a short story anthology.
Admirable as his voice is, “Jikininki” is much more of a vignette than a short story. For the price of a short novel I turned the digital pages on my (admittedly modestly sized) smart phone 13 times before I reached the end. Brevity is one strike against it, the second is plot. A short story has all of the essential elements of a novel writ small. A protagonist has a goal, sets out to achieve it, and does or does not overcome it. A vignette is something of a literary snapshot, a slice of perception to convey an element or aspect of something larger.
But, as a slice of something much larger, “Jikininki” succeeds. Loveless’ narrator, Stuart, is real and acutely actualized. He feels and thinks like a real man, and that adds depth and weight to the horror scene before him. That would be enough to make the vignette worth a quick read, but Loveless’ monster is worthy of mention. Well-realized, the monster is clearly part of a larger mythology, with motives and mechanisms that we do not see in Stuart’s terrified peek behind the curtains. The humanoid creature had enough of the human in him that I feel my own sort of pity, or at least the potential for pity from the thing that Stuart meets in the dark. That is the mark of a potentially excellent antagonist (but I need to see more before I come down fully one way or the other).
Tasty enough to leave me wanting more, I will keep an eye out for more and hopefully longer works by Mr. Loveless. If he can maintain this intensity and compassion throughout a novel, I may become a devoted fan.