Audiobook Review: Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

16 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Read by Eric G. Dove

Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 8 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Southern Gods is a horror novel that actually deserves the title, full of disturbing images and intensely violent action. Jacobs creates a vivid setting and populates it with authentic characters creating a tale of Lovercraftian horror that would please even the dourest of old gods.

Grade: B+

One of the great things about Zombies is they really have no ego. They are mindless killing machines existing solely to wreak havoc, devour flesh and cause fear and terror among the still breathing. They have no need to be the stars of the show as long as they get their pound of flesh. Knowing that I would be listening to lots and lots of zombie novels during May is Zombie Awareness Month, I knew it would be quite important to find a nice variety of tales so it’s not all, run run, the zombies are coming let’s hole up in this Wal-Mart. So I wanted to find a few books that were less Zombie novels and more novels with Zombies. One of my favorite Zombie novels of 2012 was This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs. It was one of the few Zombie Apocalypse novels that felt fresh, not because it gave some new spin on Zombies, but because the writing just made it feel different plus the use to the term headknockers. The book has all the pop of a zombie head being run over by an Armored Personnel Carrier, and in case you’re keeping score, that’s a lot of pop. I have always been disappointed that this novel wasn’t available in audio, and that Jacobs didn’t have another Zombie novel that I could include for my annual celebration of walking copses. Then one day I was reading Scott Kenemore’s Blog and he was talking about John Hornor’s Southern Gods. Now, I understood Southern Gods to be a historical Lovercraftian horror novel, yet, Scott Kenemore mentions that it has zombies in it. Hell, that was enough for me. Last year, I was able to fit in Leviathan Wakes into Zombie Awareness Month due to its space bound vomit zombies, Lovercraftian godly directed zombies should have no problem fitting my own undead requirements.

Bull Ingram, a World War II veteran still suffering the lingering effects of his time at war, is working as muscle for a local bookie when he’s offered a job hunting down a missing Radio Station promoter. He is also tasked with discovering the whereabouts of Ramblin’ John, a mysterious bluesman whose music causes primal reactions from its listeners. Sent into the heart of Arkansas, Ingram discovers an ancient evil at the heart of the strange music, and meets an alluring woman whose family is full of dark secrets. Southern Gods is a terrifying manipulation of the good versus evil theme with a distinctive Southern flavor. Jacob’s creates a world where simple men are used as pawns for dark games by ancient gods in horrific ways. He blends the mythologies of the eldritch gods with a distinct setting that manages to pull a visceral response from his readers. While Bull Ingram’s quiet strength was truly a driving force of the novel, it was the scenes surrounding Sarah that sere the heart of the tale. From her families sordid past, to her contentious relationship with her mother, Sarah’s emotionally insecurity yet inner strength was a touchstone in the sea of madness. Jacobs explores the concepts of fate and agency with it characters as they not only try to battle against the plans of evil gods, but struggle for independence from the helping hands of their supposedly benevolent brothers. Jacobs’s post war South feels alive with mythological possibility. Initially I was concerned that the mystical bluesman tale and hints of voodoo was going to become another example of the magical Negro thrusting themselves into the limelight, but Jacobs managed to break away from that type of storytelling, even possibly using it as a red herring. And, yes, there were zombies of a sort, particularly one intense action sequence that was beautifully choreographed and undeniably terrifying yet it was just one piece in the author‘s strange menagerie. My only true negative was the mystical love connection, and awkwardly intense sex scene, which lead to the classic, “Oh, my god, I just fucked, and then something horrible happened because of it” moment. The romantic element seemed forced into the narrative as a way to confirm other aspects, and while it did add something to the story, it felt a bit out of place. Southern Gods is a horror novel that actually deserves the title, full of disturbing images and intensely violent action. Jacobs creates a vivid setting and populates it with authentic characters creating a tale of Lovercraftian horror that would please even the dourest of old gods.

Eric G. Dove managed to capture the southern feel of this novel perfectly. He delivered Bull Ingram’s slow, methodical speech in a careful manner that perfectly suited the character. I liked that he used a variety of distinctive voices, not solely relying of the hillbilly stereotype, but allowing each character’s personalities to come through. His pacing was also slow and steady, sometimes too slow. At times, the deliberate nature of his delivery seemed less about creating mood, than just a comfortable reading pace for the narrator. During the action scenes, though, his pacing picked up, delivering the mayhem of each moment in a rapid fire stream, yet never losing the listener on the way. I also felt his dialogue came off organically, seamlessly switching between characters. Overall, Dove’s narration delivers on the promise of the tale, creating a truly terrifying and pulse pounding audiobook experience.