Jikininki: A Ghoulish Empathy

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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.

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