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Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs

Southern Gods

by John Hornor Jacobs

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This is more than a 3 star read, but not quite enough to round up to 4 stars. The potential for a fabulous story carried me through until a sudden shift in point of view. The main character, Bull, seemed to take a back seat to Sarah and the action became hers, with Bull fading into the background like a supporting actor. I lost a bit of interest at that point. Bull's character and background were more interesting, and though I was sympathetic to Sarah, she would have been better as a support to Bull. In fact, the dynamic between Bull and Ramblin' John Hastur was excellent. With Sarah, the tension was lost since she never actually met Hastur. The story abruptly changed focus to her family and background.

As for zombies, and gore - the horror elements were all there. For some reason I was less drawn into those scenes than I have been with other horror stories, such as HORNS by Joe Hill. I'm not certain why - just saying. On the positive side, SOUTHERN GODS plot and characters, especially Hastur and Bull, were very well drawn. This was quite a decent book, and one I'll remember for several elements, such as oily mouth'ed zombies.

( )
  ChanceMaree | Mar 29, 2013 |
Horner's promising debut serves up its best parts front and centre, leaving the book marred by a few rookie mistakes and a climax that struggles to deliver on its initial promise. Whether that's enough to get you across the line depends on your yen for Lovecraft.

World War II veteran Bull puts his massive frame to use as an enforcer, but an odd request from a record label puts him on the hunt for elusive blues musician, Johnny Hastur. Coming from a pirate radio in rural Arkansaw, Hastur's music makes you *feel* things. Bad things. Bull will find himself coming face-to-face with threats that are thousands of years old, threats that could make a man lose his mind, or find an altogether different kind of mind...

Firstly the good: Jacobs has taken an atypical setting and really made the fusion with Lovecraft feel natural and interesting. His melange of the 1950s south and nameless horrors from the great beyond works terrifically well, and it's nowhere near as cute or gimmicky as it sounds.

His handling - at least early on - of the Lovecraft mythos is deft and ladles on just enough. I find writers working with hefty IP like this - or Holmesian pastiche - have a tendency to pile it on a bit thick in a misguided effort to prove their credentials; Jacobs avoids that and the mythos propels a story rather than the story being an excuse for it.

The atmosphere of a south so deep you need breathing apparatus is also effective. I mean, he's no Carson McCullers, but there's a febrile, tactile sense that works well.

But there are a few things that don't work so well. Firstly, Bull's story is only one winding through the book, and the other - about a woman named Sarah is nowhere near as well-written, both in terms of pacing and characterisation. The simple, reactive thoughts of Bull are replaced by needless explanation. Not only are you told every single thing that Sarah thinks, but they are mostly cliched, and weirdly also mostly unbelievable. Where Bull's story builds up a sense of mystery and dread so effectively, the sections with Sarah serve to knock it down. Naturally, this affects the ending where both strands combine.

The other thing Jacobs struggles with is his level of violence - he seems torn between a Lovecraftian level of explicitness, and a level more in line with contemporary horror. The first time the book explodes into violence, it's unexpected, shocking and quite effective. As the body count and gory descriptions pile up, however, it loses its horror and becomes somewhat tawdry. This is extended to the climax which features a genuinely distasteful and absolutely gratuitous scene of child violence.

So all in all, there's a great book hiding out in Southern Gods, but it's stymied by Jacob's abilities as a writer, especially in regards to characterisation and narrative. I was left feeling that a stronger editor could have re-set the course and kept a novel that lived up to its terrific mood and solid ideas. As it stands, however, I found myself trying to recapture the fire of the first 100 pages, and only to be denied - despite a few sparks, it's consistently dampened by mistakes. ( )
  patrickgarson | Jul 11, 2012 |
Southern Gothic doesn’t begin to cover it!

I just re-read this fantastic book by John Hornor Jacobs as I never got around to writing this review the first time (extenuating circumstances) and it certainly bears reading again.

Set in the deep south of Arkansas in the early 1950s, this is part road movie, part historic plantation and family story with a generous helping of dark forces and blood.

‘Bull’ Ingram, ex-marine, finds people and collects money his employer is owed for a living. That is, until a Memphis DJ hires him to find a mysterious blues musician being played on a pirate radio station over the border in Arkansas, one Ramblin’ John Hastur, who’s music is reputed to have supernatural powers. When he plays a sample of the music hastily recorded off the radio, Bull finds himself building into a killing rage - entirely brought on by the music.

Meanwhile, Sarah Williams and her daughter Franny return to the Reinhart Estate in the town of Gethsemene. Known as ‘The Big House’, the mansion has a bloody history, where Sarah’s grandmother, a cook and an uncle were all killed by her uncle Wilhelm. How he did it, as he was dying of tuberculosis was a mystery, but the heart of his brother was missing, cut from his chest, a sacrifice of blood with significance with gods.

Obviously, Bull’s quest brings him to the Big House, but not as you’d expect and I’d rather leave it there than give away too much of the plot. Let’s just say Hastur’s music has properties that can animate the dead and leave it at that.

I thought the book was a bold, engrossing tale told well from the two viewpoints - to be honest, I didn’t want to stop reading it, either time! John’s descriptions are so vivid there were times I could almost smell the blood.

I have to say I’m looking forward to reading more of his work, based on this fine debut, as I enjoyed this and would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes a scare in the vein of H P Lovecraft, more than a King or Barker style.

Not for the faint hearted, as a warning. If a good horror story isn’t your thing, I’d give this a miss. ( )
  deanfetzer | Mar 14, 2012 |
You may also read my review here: http://www.mybookishways.com/2011/09/review-southern-gods-by-john-hornor-jacobs....

It’s getting closer and closer to my favorite time of the year. October is just around the corner (which of course means Halloween),and the weather is finally cooling down. For me,this means sprinkling in some horror with my urban fantasy. There’s been a bit of an influx of Southern Noir in both film and books lately,and the atmosphere that books set in the deep south creates is always a draw for me. Southern Gods has been on my radar for a while for a few reasons:a.) It’s a Night Shade Books publication b.) Did you get a load of the awesomeness of that cover?,and c.)It just plain sounded good. The cover establishes the mood and the feel of the novel perfectly,which is always a plus for me. Crack this sucker open,and you’re in for a wild ride. Bull Ingram (he’s a ginormous brute of a man,the name says it all),WWII vet and strong-arm for hire,is hired by a radio station owner to find a salesman that seems to have gone missing while on the road,promoting new artists. The salesman is not the type to jump off the radar,and his family and the station owner is genuinely worried. Keep in mind,this is 1951 Arkansas,so Bull has a lot of legwork ahead of him. He’s also asked to find out anything he can about a bluesman called Ramblin’ John. Little does he know (but will soon find out),Ramblin’ John is anything but human,and bad news all the way around. Just how bad,Bull will soon find out. Meanwhile,Sarah Reinhardt is fleeing her abusive husband with her young daughter,to return to her family home. So,what do this young mother and Bull Ingram have to do with each other? Quite a lot,actually,and their paths will eventually converge in order to fight an ancient evil that threatens to end humanity as we know it.

Southern Gods starts off with a bang,and it rarely lets up. Take the hot,steamy landscape of 1951 Arkansas,throw in the walking dead,blues that have the power to take over your soul (and not in a good way),and the mythos of the Old Gods,and you have a potent cocktail that goes down smooth,then hits you like a freight train. Bull is a man that’s rough around the edges,a bit tortured,and the author certainly puts this poor man through his paces. Sarah is looking for something (or someone) to believe in,and also an escape from her misery. She finds this to a certain extent in her oldest friend,Alice,who still runs her family home,however,the presence of her ailing and controlling mother puts a bit of a damper on things,to say the least. Southern Gods isn’t for the faint of heart,folks. There is some toe-curling violence here (nothing gratuitous,however,yet some of it is disturbing),but there are also a few scenes that are genuinely creepy,like,little-,hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up creepy,and the author knows just how,and when,to temper the out-and-out scary with the moments of creeping terror. There is also another huge component to this story:hope. It shines in Sarah and Bull,especially in Sarah’s love for her daughter,and their humanity and strength elevates this novel far above the usual horror fare. If you love southern goth,intelligent horror,Cthulhu,and just plain outstanding writing (don’t forget having your pants scared off),you’ll love Southern Gods! ( )
  MyBookishWays | Sep 22, 2011 |
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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.… (more)

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