Book Review: Lovebites & Razorlines by J. Daniel Stone

“Stone writes with an unwavering honesty that may well challenge the reader’s pre-conceived notion of storytelling, but will leave them fulfilled and drained and begging for more, all at the same time.”

 

As is evidenced by the many, many words of adulation—with blurbs from authors like Kathe Koja, Bracken McLeod and Josh Malerman to respected reviewers like Shane Douglas Keene, Adrian Shotbolt and Fangoria magazine—J. Daniel Stone is clearly an author who is making some considerable noise. With two novels from Villipede Publications (The Absence of Light, 2013 and Blood Kiss, 2016) as well as an appearance in the critically-acclaimed I Can Taste the Blood (Grey Matter Press, 2016), he certainly seems to have a lot to shout about. Here he has assembled his greatest hits, along with a few brand-new stories, to prove that his short game is just as noteworthy.

After a very positive introduction from John F.D. Taff, the first story, ‘Metamorphosis’ introduces us to Delilah and Rez, two characters that first appeared in Stone’s debut novel, The Absence of Light. They are riding the train at two a.m., when something causes the train to stop in a tunnel. What follows is a tale of dark fantasy and disturbing imagery. Tiny skeletons in strange jars, creepy old men on midnight trains, evocative and stunning language. Stone combines them all to deliver an exceptionally strong opening story to the collection, manipulating words and sentences to share his vivid visuals with the reader.

‘Be Quiet and Drive’ has an incredible opening couple of paragraphs. The sentences are tight, not a word is wasted. The language employed by Stone is lyrical and poetic, and sets the tone for the tale to unfold. Tony tires of New York and decides to travel to San Francisco, where he meets enigmatic street artist Joey. What follows is a very detailed and emotional exploration of the characters and the roles they play in their relationship and how these roles change throughout the course of the story.

Dorian and Tyria are characters from Stone’s second novel, Blood Kiss, but they appear in a few of his short stories. In ‘What Makes a Shadow’, inspiration strikes for artist Dorian, and he takes to the streets with easel and art supplies, and begins to construct his latest masterpiece. But it soon takes on a life of its own, and not in the way you may be thinking. Along with singer Tyria, Dorian awakens something in the shadows, something that longs to break through into our world. Here Stone introduces elements of cosmic horror to his work, while maintaining his lyrical style. It makes for a very engaging read.

‘Alternative Muses’ blends sex and horror, pain and pleasure, in a style reminiscent of Clive Barker, while remaining inimitably Stone. Told in first-person from Trigger’s point-of-view, we learn that she and boyfriend, Peter, have shown an interest in S&M, the more extreme the better. After visiting a club where patrons derive pleasure from having metal hooks inserted under their skin and, in some cases, being lifted off of the ground, Trigger develops an obsession for the practice, more so than Peter. This obsession drives a wedge between the couple, and it is only further complicated by a revelation from Trigger. Stone explores the themes of obsession and body image in a compelling story with two fleshed-out characters, while also using his unique writing style to make it just a little unnerving.

‘Basement Story 2006’ is something of a ghost story, unsettling and captivating in it’s construction. Stone uses deliciously dark imagery to build up the tension, while exploring the troubling history of Alex with flashbacks and some great dialogue between Alex and Delilah (the same Delilah from ‘Metamorphosis’). As is pointed out in the story “It’s a classic horror tale, The Thing in the Basement …” and he does it so well.

The title story is an especially powerful part of the collection. Drawing inspiration from the author’s anger towards the superficial, Stone’s unnamed protagonist in ‘Lovebites & Razorlines’ wanders the streets of Manhattan, seeking to control that which he loathes. He feels lonely, shunned by all the beautiful and popular people. He can often find one to spend the night with him. But he wants more. So, if he can’t find that which he seeks, he’ll create it, taking only the parts of a person that he finds irresistible. Stone perfectly blends passion with the macabre to deliver a powerful story with equal parts emotion and viscera.

‘Wormhole’ sees two ghost hunters, the unnamed narrator and Jason, embarking on the ultimate quest; to contact Jason’s mother. Or, more accurately, her ghost. They investigate the abandoned asylum where she spent her last days and, while the narrator sees it as another investigation, and maybe an opportunity for Jason to lay some old pain to rest, events soon take a sinister turn. This is more than just another ghost story. We join Jason on his quest to discover the answer to the question that has plagued us since the dawn of time; what lies beyond the veil? To one degree or another we all share Jason’s morbid fascination with death, and Stone plays on that, his words enticing us into the story until, by the end, it is too late to escape. Not that we’d want to escape from such a delightfully dark tale.

In ‘Unveiled’, Delilah is haunted by memories of a lost love, Clive. While sharing her apartment with her brother, Rez, and her best friend/his lover, Alex, Delilah is lonely and broken-hearted. And people in that state often do desperate things. Delilah summoned a demon, an incubus of sorts. And rather than assuage her pain, it only seems to exacerbate it. It longs to consume her, even attempting to seduce her in the guise of her lost love. But Delilah is powerful, in more ways than one and she has to use that power to free herself from the grasp of the demon. Stone combines his love for music with his writing to bring the characters to life in this supernatural story of obsession.

The New York art scene takes centre stage in ‘Dark, Fire, Kiss’ when young and naïve Edo finds himself drawn to enigmatic photographer, Blake, despite the warnings of his friends. Another of their friends, Johnny, went missing after spending too much time with Blake. But these warnings fall on deaf ears as something calls out to Edo from Blake’s art, something dark. Will he succumb to Blake and whatever it was that consumed Johnny? Stone’s prose in this story takes on a dreamlike quality as we feel ourselves in danger of falling under Blake’s spell. A disturbing morality tale of the dangers of obsession and desire.

In ‘The Long Lost and Forgotten’, we again see Dorian and Tyria in a story that, according to the author’s note, would most likely take place between chapters 7 and 10 of his novel, Blood Kiss. Here, Dorian has a job helping to maintain a warehouse near the East River, a salvage warehouse. It is full of forgotten artefacts from bygone ages in the evolution of the city, so is it any wonder that something disturbing may lie within? Something that can change a person’s perception when they are inside, or even possibly grant an impressionable and artistic young person with otherworldly abilities? But at what cost? There is a creeping sense of dread to this story. The reader may well sense that something is wrong with the warehouse, but Stone does an excellent job of keeping us on the edge of the seat and delivering an ending equally satisfying and unnerving.

‘Devil Made of Crystal’ is Stone’s horrific love letter to India. Inspired by the Indian community in Queens, New York, and conversations on polytheism, he created this dark and disturbing story. Shrike and Lucian are out on the town, and venture into the local Indian neighbourhood in search of a den of iniquity where anything goes. Stone weaves in interesting details of the Indian culture to give his words an air of authenticity. This helps the reader become invested in the fates of the two men as they philosophise about many things, some of which come back to haunt them in the end.

Frequent subjects Delilah and Rez again star in ‘The Tunnel Record’ when they discover a club called CHUDS. It’s a subtle hint at the subject matter of the story as the club is underground … and not what it seems. There is mention of underground dwellers, but the story also touches on the plight of the homeless, giving the reader food for thought as well as bringing the horror. As it turns out, Delilah and Rez may have felt drawn to the club by some dark force and, once they are underground, Stone’s words become oppressive, claustrophobic. There are few fears more powerful than thinking you are alone in the dark … and then knowing beyond a doubt that you are not.

The title of the final story, ‘Ecdysis’, is fitting. It is the act of shedding an old skin or, in insects, casting off the outer cuticle. Both are relevant in the context of this wonderful story as Daryl feels trapped within his body, longs to complete his transition and have his body align with the person inside. Along for the ride is Cris, infatuated with Daryl to the point that he hangs on his every word, and eventually follows him into an abandoned building. Well, abandoned by humans. But there are other living beasts lurking at the foot of the basement stairs. Creatures with which Daryl feels more than kinship as they too long to cast off the old body to reveal the beauty beneath. But the transformation takes a gruesome and horrific turn and, thanks to the descriptive power of Stone’s words, the lasting image will linger long in the mind. An exceptional story on which to finish the collection.

Everything about this collection screams “quality”, from the eye-catching art on the front cover to the interior art provided by Luke Spooner, Matt Edginton and others, and the interior design and layout (the author notes accompanying each story is also an especially nice touch). But all of these elements would be pointless if the words weren’t of the same high standard. So, we are glad to report that Stone has delivered a collection of stories as horrific as they are thought-provoking. His lyrical and poetic style make the words come to life and dance right off of the page and into your head. Stone writes with an unwavering honesty that may well challenge the reader’s pre-conceived notion of storytelling, but will leave them fulfilled and drained and begging for more, all at the same time. Another fine entry in the blossoming career of a young writer who is only headed in one direction.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Villipede Publications
eBook: 272(pps)
Release Date: 5th December 2017

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