Five suburban mall rats and a washed up Goth singer find themselves stranded in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey where they discover two horrifying truths: The Jersey Devil, hellspawn of folklore and legend, is real; and New Jersey (as many already suspected) is the gateway to Hell!
With the help of one lone witch, this small group must face off against their deepest fears and the most unholy monsters in a battle where their very souls, the world they live in, and any chance of returning to Hot Topic in one piece is at stake!
I was given an ARC copy of this book by the publisher.
The idea that the gateway to hell is in a forest in New Jersey is a pretty enticing way to base a novel. As soon as we begin the story we are thrown into the world of a mysterious creature and what it is capable of doing, then as we move on to a different world entirely we know it is just a matter of time before two worlds collide and creates the trouble this causes for those involved.
Call of the Jersey Devil tells the story of five “mall rat” teenagers who travel to the New Jersey Pine Barrens to see Gothic singer Villy Bats, however things are not all they seem, and when all hell starts to break loose (I love that this has become a literal phrase), they are soon faced with an entire underworld itching to get out through the gates of hell. Enlisting the help of a witch the teens and Villy must fight to stop the gates from opening further, and flooding the world with demonic incarnations, one of which is the legendary figure known as the Jersey Devil.
Being a fan of Voltaire’s work and having watched him provide updates on the book’s development for months, I sat here patiently waiting to finally get a chance to read it. After given the chance to read an Advanced Reader Copy I jumped at the opportunity. Having now finished it, almost unable to put down unless I had to, I am so glad it lived up to my expectations and went beyond what I ever thought it would be. It seems wrong to seemingly praise Voltaire for somehow writing such an excellent book as a first time novelist, almost as if it were unexpected, but not only do I know many first time authors who write excellent books, but Voltaire has a long successful creative and storytelling history behind him, this time it has simply descended on the page rather than in a graphic novel, a song, or a film.
But while Voltaire is a good storyteller, there is no doubt he is also a good writer. There are sentences and phrases in this book that are wonderful, all nestled in amongst the joking and the teenagers, and the whole ordeal of this demonic spawn and an opening underworld. The descriptions are excellent as well, whether they are of people, demons, or the environment around them. The way Voltaire writes you can immediately conjure up images and feeling of people and events; especially the scenes in the woods, not to mention the ominous feeling of uncertain darkness and the monsters it hides.
Along with descriptions there are also some very insightful moments in this book, as well as evoking one-liners and entire ideas expressed eloquently, often needing very few words attached to them. Voltaire has a way with words that is very beautiful; perhaps this is the long established creator within, or simply an observant and insightful personality coming through on the page, or perhaps both. Whatever the case it is certainly a talent to create a compelling and engaging story that can make you think, feel, as well as be fearful and grossed out all at the same time.
What I enjoyed about Call of the Jersey Devil is the fact that is has so much in it, but it never seems crowded, nor does it jump and feel fractured as you read. The opening of the book and early chapters are definitely designed to set up our characters and lead us into the oncoming events that connect you to the title. This beginning I feel is needed because it impacts on the remainder of the story, as well as how you perceive and assess the characters themselves.
Whether this was my own over thinking or not, but I felt that we were introduced to these “mall rats” as we were to give us a chance at creating our own preconceptions and assessments on them as people. Certainly other characters and they themselves fed this opinion, but in doing so it gives a lot of power to the rest of the novel which then begins to break down these initial judgements.
Voltaire changes point of view throughout and we are able to see the unfolding events through almost every characters eyes and thoughts. In doing so we are also given the opportunity to gain an insight into their history and back story to show you who they are and how they came to be that way. Aside from providing histories, it is interesting to see how each character treats the circumstances they are in, some relish it, some fear it, while others hate it.
Villy was an interesting character, if not complex. I enjoyed his character more I think because of his complexities and imperfections, that is what makes him real. The same can be said for the others; these characters, especially the mall rats: Stuey, Prudence, Ari, AJ, and Aleister, are portrayed as real people, all with the quirky, obnoxious, selfish, vain and adoring aspects that is within anybody. Voltaire is very good at showing the readers that there is certainly a ‘group persona’ that is separate from who someone really is. This is why having alternating points of view and providing back stories helps you understand these characters a lot more, you see them as who they are, not only as the face they put on for the public.
You do get to see these characters behave separately from their group persona. This helps you not to instantly dismiss them as selfish teenagers who are loud and obnoxious and rude to one another, they all have a reason and Voltaire shows us, giving us a little more understanding, and yet almost not enough to excuse everything that they do, more to show how it has shaped who they became. This doesn’t always change any opinions or add much sympathy, but we are given an explanation.
Towards the middle of the book the story settles in nicely and it is now that everything begins to unravel, and it isn’t long before it is strange, and is possibly grotesque to some, but it is brilliant. There is a strange absurdness about it that is compelling and wonderful. You can certainly see where the influences came from of the genre films, and yet it does not read as cliché and over done either. The additional elements Voltaire added makes it humorous, and yet still terrifying and clever at the same time.
While it is grotesque in some parts, you cannot ignore the humour, this almost balances out the unpleasant details and descriptions Voltaire gives to the demonic faction within the woods. There is snarky sarcasm, and amusing moments that sit either side of the ‘horror’ aspect, but there is also some that cuts through the horror and breaks up the unpleasant scenes.
There were events in this book that took me by surprise in some cases, and not in others, but all were engaging, and in some cases saddening, all contrasting within a single chapter at times. There are also some very heartfelt moments in this book which was certainly a surprise, but certainly well placed and executed. There is the correct balance between the parody, the horror, and the realism to make it work very well. It isn’t even an equal balance, that is not what the story requires, but where these moments happen and by whom are perfectly placed to suit the character and the narrative.
I loved the ending of this book; I thought it was perfect for where the story began and how it played out. I think the way Voltaire established his characters and how we get to know them, not to mention the situations they get themselves in, helped explain and make the ending scenes and epilogue ideal. What was wonderful was the fact that Voltaire keeps you engaged and laughing throughout and until the end, which is very hard when you have demons, teenagers, witches, and the paranormal to contend with. There is also amazing and detailed artworks that accompany this story, certainly not required as the descriptions do them justice, but by having a startling sketch to illustrate a scene create an impressive impact on the mind when you continue reading. And entire idea can be captured in one of those drawings, there are just the right amount to suit just the right needs.
In his interview Voltaire said he was a storyteller, and he is; but there is also novel here. Within this story there are glimpses and hints of beauty and art, hiding amongst this “storytelling”. So while when you hear storyteller you may think casual conversational tone, there will be a lot that will surprise you with this book. For someone who does not read, Voltaire can write. But we already knew that. You only need to look at his songs or his films, or his other works to know he is talented, and know that reading does not always equate to talent or skill in writing.
You still have time for pre-orders before Call of the Jersey Devil is released on May 28th.