Book Review: Stations of Shadow by J. Daniel Stone

“Based on the experience of reading his latest art, there are surely few people more qualified to deliver jet black poetic tales from the shadowy streets of the Big Apple than J. Daniel Stone.”

 

Stations of Shadow by J. Daniel StoneBorn and raised in New York City, it stands to reason that author J. Daniel Stone would choose to set much of his fiction in the city. An intimate knowledge of the geography and the diverse cultures has served him well in previous novels The Absence of Light (2013) and Blood Kiss (2016), both from Villipede Publications, as well as his short story collection, Lovebites & Razorlines (Villipede Publications, 2017). Not so much a character in itself, the city is perfectly drawn in the reader’s mind, almost as though Stone has discovered the secret to projecting the images directly into our brains.

As we can derive from the synopsis for the book, Sebastian and Adrian are drag performers, known by their stage names of Hydra Lerna and Hera Wynn, respectively. Through flashbacks, we are given insight into Sebastian’s extremely troubled childhood, and his subsequent time spent in a psychiatric facility. These flashbacks are interspersed throughout the story, intertwined with the present-day narrative to help us understand the disturbing nature of Sebastian’s darkest thoughts. This method is much more effective than an “info-dump” of exposition, and Stone should be commended for the way he handled it. As he should for the sensitive way he conveyed Sebastian’s psychological problems. He instils compassion for Sebastian in the mind of the reader, which is especially effective when the true nature of the Hydra comes to the fore.

Stone introduces us to the world of drag performance in New York City, the camaraderie and competition, the cliques and confrontations. Through his desperation to be the best, Sebastian has made enemies along the way; some jealous of the Hydra, others angered by his relentless pursuit of the crown. While Adrian is considered a friend (although he wishes it were more), and Hera Wynn is seen as an understudy to the Hydra, there are those in the community who wish to fuel an explosive feud between the two. Alone, it makes for an intriguing concept for a story, especially for those unfamiliar with the scene. But things take a cosmically horrific turn when Sebastian loses control of the Hydra onstage, and the aftermath is felt by all in the community. Many dismiss it as superior practical effects employed by Sebastian to cement his place at the top. But the reader discovers, through internal monologue and Sebastian’s interactions with Adrian, that there really is something otherworldly going on. And Stone’s portrayal of this is wonderful.

His previous work has been complimented by authors such as Kathe Koja and Josh Malerman, who have described it as “fierce” and “refreshing as hell” respectively. Indeed, his writing style continues to be just as lavish and dark and evocative as ever. Descriptions of the clubs are as shadowy as the alleys and abandoned buildings the performers call home, and the blood flows freely when Stone ramps up the horror. Aside from the drama of the complex relationships, there are more than a few horrific set pieces throughout, not least of all the scene towards the end when some of the main cast are surrounded by zombie-like denizens of the dark, fans of the drag scene who, urged on by the Hydra’s bloody performances, want to see the final battle between the Hydra and Hera Wynn.

The book feels like it could be the culmination of much of Stone’s previous work, bringing together characters and storylines from previous novels and short stories to one, magnificent and bloody battle. However, given the grand setting of NYC and the diverse nature of its inhabitants, there are undoubtedly many more stories to be told. And, based on the experience of reading his latest art, there are surely few people more qualified to deliver jet black poetic tales from the shadowy streets of the Big Apple than J. Daniel Stone. As he says in the book: “It takes an open mind to really understand a city’s underbelly; you can’t just shut it out and act like the world is turning without them.” As long as there are writers like Stone to tell the stories, we certainly won’t be shutting them out.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Lethe Press
Paperback: 327pp
Release Date: 21 July 2020

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