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Southern Gods

Southern Gods - John Hornor Jacobs If you like the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft or any of the authors influenced by him (which is pretty much anyone who has written a horror novel in the last century) then you should definitely read this. It's a horror story set in the 1950s South, mixing Elder Gods with the blues, full of gibbering, ichor-spewing corpses, mad cultists, twisting, writhing, tentacled abominations, and a final confrontation on a riverboat (of course). John Hornor Jacobs renders a loving, gory tribute to Lovecraft, moving a typical Cthulhu mythos tale from the chilly coast of New England to the backwoods of Arkansas.

The story starts with Bull Ingram, a WWII vet who now works as hired muscle, being sent to Arkansas to find a man named Early Freeman and a pirate radio station that broadcasts songs that drive men insane. Bull, who as his nickname implies, is very, very big (a fact that gets emphasized in just about every single chapter, including the chapter with the sex scene in which yes, we learn that Bull is very, very big ifyouknowwhatImean) soon finds that he has bitten off more than even he can chew when he is attacked by a dead man and nearly driven insane by an encounter with a dark god. Of course he doesn't know it's a god, but with what's left of his sanity, he makes his way to a riverside honky tonk and witnesses a bloodbath of an orgy from which he barely escapes alive. Washing up on the shore of an estate downriver, he meets Sarah Williams, a one-time college girl now raising her daughter alone on her family's ancestral estate. This estate happens to be a place where 75 years ago, one of Sarah's ancestors got up from his deathbed and hacked his mother and his brother to death before walking into the woods and disappearing, never to be seen again.

Throw in a Catholic priest, a copy of the Necronomicon, a spiteful bitch of a mother who you already know is going to turn out to be a minion of the forces of evil even before you meet her, and an innocent little girl with "Sacrificial Victim" practically written on her forehead, and you've got everything you need for a horror thriller. The author ups the stakes by making it not just about saving Sarah's daughter, but also saving the world. (If you involve Elder Gods, of course you have to save the world.)

Southern Gods is John Hornor Jacobs's debut novel, and it's a darn sight better than most debut novels. The writing, the plot, and the characters are all solid, and since it hit every high point in a good adventure-horror novel, I give it 4.5 stars; half a star deducted because some of the characters were not quite as fully fleshed out as I would have liked, and the ending was a bit pat and predictable. Nonetheless, full marks for a fantastic adventure that isn't shy about spilling blood and guts. You'll probably guess who will survive and who won't long before the final scene, but you'll want to keep reading anyway, and the climax is intense and not just a little horrifying.