Since I started writing reviews, I’ve encountered many great authors that might well have flown under my radar in other circumstances. As a reviewer, I’ve often been pushed outside my comfort zone when it comes to reading material and, as a result, I’ve had the opportunity to experience some of the best horror fiction I’ve read in my lifetime by some of the most talented young writers in the business. And many of them have become favorites of mine, people I turn to time and again in my quest for a satisfying escapist experience, authors such as Jonathan Janz, Lucy Taylor and, most recently, Jasper Bark, have become go-to choices for me and they’re only getting better with each passing story or novel that they write. Another one that falls into the category of new favourites is the phenom that is J. Daniel Stone. His voice is as dark and piercing as early Clive Barker, as poetic and haunting as the great Kathe Koja, and it’s loud and clear as it’s ever been in his newest novel, Blood Kiss, from Villipede Publications.
In Blood Kiss, we meet Tyria Vane and Dorian Wilde, her a spoken word poet and him a painter of the macabre. Both are unfulfilled and frustrated with their lives and their art and it’s only when they are brought together by their lovers, Adelaide and Leland, that they can find a satisfying outlet for their creative passions, among other things. Together they are a force to be reckoned with, and they quickly become an underground sensation with a dedicated following. But there’s a dark and sinister danger in the art they create together, a danger that, in the long run, may prove hazardous to everyone’s health. In past works, J. Daniel Stone has shown himself to be a master of character development, and he’s in top form here. His characters are so well formed and so beautifully broken it’s almost uncanny. Stone has a blatant passion for people and their stories and he builds his cast with the alacrity that all master artisans bring to their work, his characters bleeding off the page and into your heart and, if you’re anything like me, you may find yourself lying awake thinking about them and wondering what’s coming at them next. Stone has a brilliant grasp of backstory and description, and he uses the combination in perfect measures to give his people living, breathing, walking flesh:
“She seemed to shimmer and rot at the same time, her clothes hanging like strips of midnight. Yellow hair rippled across magnificent wrap around shades and within them two eyes as green as jade stone. I sensed no pretence from this specimen, but I could not say the same of her companion. She was someone I had met before; a girl that resembled what could only be a giant fang wearing a bunch of crow’s feathers.”
I use the term “wordsmith” a lot, maybe more than I should, but in this case, it’s a word that seems specifically designed to describe J. Daniel Stone. Because therein lies the greatest strength of Blood Kiss. Sure, it has exceptional characters and an intriguing, captivating plot, but it’s the language of the thing that will mesmerise you. Words are his brushes, the page his canvas and he uses them to paint the most beautiful, vivid, and cinematic imagery imaginable, his prose nothing short of lyrical, with a natural, liquid flow that makes you want to keep reading, to keep moving forward in spite of the frequently disturbing nature of his ultimately tragic and painful story of the darker sides of art and love. It’s a tale of forbidden lusts, personal demons, and dark passions and it’s carried on the powerful, Technicolor scenery of Stone’s exceptional imagination and his mastery of the English language.
One other thing—an important one—that makes this book so powerful is that when Stone brings the terror, he delivers it in spades, and it’s weird and insidious and utterly bone-chilling. He’s a master of mood and pacing and—this is where his descriptive prowess comes in—lighting. When it’s dark, it’s no stretch to sense the absence of light because he brings it to you, and it all adds to the overwhelming sense of despair and impending danger that permeates the novel. And it carries through to the brutal and horrifying end, ramping up in frequency and intensity until the unexpected and heartbreaking climax. Everything J. Daniel Stone publishes breaks new ground, but Blood Kiss leaves gigantic furrows of earth in its wake. It would sit comfortably on the shelf between Barker and Kiernan, and it should definitely be on your shelf. Stone is an extraordinarily talented and exciting author, and this book will almost certainly be sitting close to the top of my best of the year list in December.