Monday, May 9, 2011

The Old Gods in Arkansas: Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station - is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he'll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell... In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood.

I recently had the privilege of meeting John Hornor Jacobs at the World Horror Convention here in Austin, Texas. I’d already connected with him to a small degree online, the result of my varied internet travels that led me to a new genre writer from my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. And his forthcoming first novel, Southern Gods, looked amazing.

Jacobs sought me out after a panel at the con, and we chatted a lot over the course of the event. He’s a great guy, very funny and gregarious, and I gather that he received a

lot of much deserved attention there. I was flattered when he told me he’d seen
my book in the dealer’s room and was planning on picking up a copy. Later, I devised a wily proposition for him: I told him I’d happily give him a copy of my book in return for one of those Southern Gods ARCs I knew damn well he had in his hotel room. To my delight, he accepted. And I tore right into that sucker almost as soon as the con was over.

First things first: Southern Gods is a terrific novel. It is Southern Gothic, noir crime thriller and intense Lovecraftian terror rolled into one marvelous story of bad blood, demons both personal and real, and hard-earned redemption. And Jacobs writes with such a sure hand you’d swear he’d sold his soul to the devil just like the folks in 1951 rural Arkansas whisper about Ramblin’ John Hastur in the novel. Of course, Ramblin’ John’s story is a great deal more complex—and more sinister—than that, but I have no intention of ruining the ride you have ahead of you. I’ll just say this: if William Faulkner, Jim Thompson and H.P. Lovecraft had an orgiastic blood sacrifice ritual to honor the Old Ones in the Delta Swampland at the height of the muggy Deep South summer at midnight, Southern Gods would probably be the result. Yeah, it’s that damn good.

I don’t see writing this tight too often, and the mounting tension is so expertly paced that I found myself breathlessly turning the pages. The denouement smashed me in the face with breakneck madness and terror that included a rare element lacking in a lot of horror fiction—heart. Jacobs’ characters are extremely rich, and their journey to the incredible close of Southern Gods all but left me gasping for air. This is the sort of book you just silently hold in your hands for a while after finishing it, thinking it over and basking in its masterfulness. That’s what I did, anyway.

Now that Jacobs has sold his second novel, This Dark Earth, to Simon & Shuster, I’m going to have to figure out a new scheme to get my hands on that, too. If anyone has any sordid details with which I can blackmail him, please pass them along. I don’t want to have to wait until the next John Hornor Jacobs hits the shelves.

I hereby pronounce myself a fan. And I reckon come August 9, we will be legion.

Southern Gods is available for pre-order now at Amazon and just about everywhere else. It comes out on August 9, 2011 from Night Shade Books. Do not pass it up. Because it’s fucking good.


  1. Terrific review!
    I'm looking forward to this one.

  2. Ed, thanks for the review! I'm totally in your debt.

  3. I just call 'em like I see 'em, brother. I am a voracious reader, and a lot of shitty books come with the territory. A book like Southern Gods, conversely, makes me aspire to be a better writer myself. Kudos to you, and keep it the hell up!