Ben Shadeland and Eddie Blaze are the hottest young music composers in Hollywood. Fresh off an Oscar nomination, they’ve just been chosen to score a big-budget horror movie by Lee Stanley, the most demanding director in film. But Ben, the creative half of the duo, hasn’t written a note since his wife divorced him and got custody of their three-year-old son.
Chris Blackwood is the gambling-addicted heir to the Blackwood fortune, which includes the Sorrows, an island off the coast of northern California. The island and its castle have been uninhabited since a series of gruesome, unexplained murders in 1925, but Chris needs money, and to get it he allows Ben, Eddie, Claire Harden (an aspiring composer), and Eva Rosales (Lee Stanley’s gorgeous assistant) to stay a month in Castle Blackwood.
Eddie is certain an eerie, isolated setting is just what Ben needs to find musical inspiration for a horror film. But what they find is more horrific than any movie.
- Title: The Sorrows
- Series: The Sorrows #1
- Author: Jonathan Janz
- Cover Artist: Flame Tree Studio and Nik Keevil
- Publisher: Flame Tree Press
- ISBN: 178758058X
- Publication Date: November 30, 2018
- Content Warnings: rape, domestic abuse, child abuse, suicide, vehicle crash, addiction, animal abuse
I’d like to thank Flame Tree Press for providing a free copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Jonathan Janz missed his calling — he’d make a great juggler. Just like his excellent The Siren and the Specter from last year, The Sorrows keeps an impressive number of balls in the air at all times. It weaves together multiple storylines, points of view, and timelines to craft a story that keeps you riveted. This title is actually a reissue of his debut novel, originally published in 2012. Though the two books are far from being the same story, there are some striking similarities between The Sorrows and The Siren and the Specter: an island haunted by a malevolent, lustful spirit; the aforementioned juggling of perspectives and timelines; some truly terrifying moments of horror; and a patina of sleaze covering most, if not all, of the male characters.
The story follows film composer Ben Shadeland and his business partner Eddie Blaze as they fly out to The Sorrows, a not-at-all menacing-sounding island estate infamous for the mysterious murders that happened there decades ago. Ben is behind schedule on an important project — a film score for horror director Lee Stanley — and Eddie thinks that a month on a haunted murder island will provide just the right touch of inspiration for him to complete the project. Ben, Eddie, and everyone else who steps foot on the island soon discover that the stories about the Sorrows being haunted may be true, as the island’s evil begins to amplify their basest urges and drag their darkest secrets out into the open. Though there are several circles to this hell on Earth, with varying degrees of divine (or profane) judgment depending on the severity of your sins, Janz clearly wants his readers to know that no one is safe. And I dig it: as far as worldviews go, I think “we’re all doomed” is a pretty good one.
Despite my appreciation of Janz’s bleak outlook, though, I did have misgivings about the treatment of one of the female characters. I won’t name her so as to remain as non-spoilery as possible, but she ends up being punished far worse than any of the despicable men surrounding her, and her “sins” were minuscule compared to theirs. I don’t open any horror novel expecting justice and fairness, but I was still disturbed by the injustice of this character being tortured for the crime of being a woman who uses her body to get what she wants. There was no social commentary or feminist statement that I could discern; it was just torture. I’m well aware that sympathetic characters often meet gruesome or tragic ends in horror, but this character’s fate was a far cry from business as usual. Because so much of the book is devoted to punishing people for their misdeeds and because her suffering was extreme even among such grisly company, her arc felt like a statement of judgment on her moral fiber and fitness as a human being. The more distance I get from the book, the more trouble I have with this character’s storyline.
With that said, I still enjoyed this read a great deal. The ending is an explosion of action, gore, grotesquerie, and suspense. Even if the first three-quarters of the book were terrible, I might tell you to read it just for this wild ending, but luckily the rest of the book is just as compelling as the outrageous finale. The disturbing imagery of one of the big reveals will stay with me for a while, and the final sentence is a terrific gut-punch of dread. The Sorrows shows that the cycle of human evil and suffering never stops and that not even the most innocent among us can escape unscathed. We are, indeed, all doomed.
To quote my own tweet: “Hot damn — THAT is how you end a book.” I give this book 4 out of 5 coffins.