Review: Southern Gods
Every so often I buy a novel purely based on the cover. I don’t read the synopsis on back of the book. I don’t read any reviews. Nothing. Now granted, you can get a fairly decent idea of the type of novel from the cover art, but buying based purely on cover alone has made for some interesting reads in the past. Usually they end up being novels I would normally avoid, but that please me nonetheless. So, real quick, look at the cover of John Hornor Jacobs’ SOUTHERN GODS (Amazon). Do you see what I see? Do you get the impression I got and say, “Huh, that looks cool”? Can you see why I bought the novel without knowing anything about it?
To me, it looks like the blending of Horror and 50’s music. Everything about the cover–from the pose, to the macabre figure, to the tentacles, to the night club look–literally forced me to buy the novel.
And then I started reading.
SOUTHERN GODS follows WWII vet, Bull Ingram. He provides muscle for persuading people to do various things (or give back certain things…). Sometimes he goes out and finds lost people. After an opening scene that perfectly establishes Ingram’s character and skills, he is hired to find a missing promotional guy, Earl Freeman, that was out delivering records to radio stations in Arkansas. Ingram is also tasked with finding a musician named Ramblin’ John Hastur. Rambin’ John’s music is said to cast a spell over the audience. And not a good spell. This is the kind of spell that makes you want to murder the man next to you. It makes you despair and want to end your own life.
Maybe it can even make the dead walk.
The premise is refreshing. It’s promising. The writing, while rough in a small number of spots, conveys the horror and confusion Ingram feels as he witnesses a sequence of increasing horrible things.
I was absolutely riveted as I read the opening of SOUTHERN GODS. The prologue itself could be considered some of the better works of short fiction Horror I’ve read. Ingram is instantly likeable and recognizably flawed. But then we get introduced to Sarah Williams and her daughter Franny. Sarah is escaping her abusive husband and taking her daughter back to her ancestral home outside of Little Rock. The problem here resides with Sarah not having anything interesting happen to her for half the novel. She is just filler until the final parts of the novel where she becomes important to the plot, but not as a character herself. I could have read any story involving Ingram, because he was such a solid character. Sarah was just a bit too flat and lacking for my tastes.
Fortunately the majority of the novel follows Ingram, and his proximity to Sarah in the latter chunk of the book makes Sarah a much easier character to read.
I want to stress that this novel is Horror. It is violent, and often very disturbing. There is a light Lovecraftian vibe throughout the novel, but the horror is much more visible and physical than being psychological. There is some psychological horror elements in SOUTHERN GODS, and those moments are some of the best, but the novel lands more firmly on the gore and shock-value side of the fence. Usually I prefer the psychological because I think it requires more skill to do right. In SOUTHERN GODS, Jacobs does a terrific job of making the shocking and terrible equally shocking to both the characters and to the readers. It has to do with timing. The reader feels the emotions simultaneously with the characters in the novel, and the effect makes what would otherwise be cheap, shock-value horror feel genuine and actually more horrific.
SOUTHERN GODS is a story about people in a world where gods are constantly in opposition to each other. It is a story about how a family’s past can come back and haunt its innocent descendants. Some parts of the novel I absolutely LOVED–usually anything to do with Ingram. The Sarah sections–no matter how hard I tried to like her–were a disappointment to me and hurt the overall experience. Instead, SOUTHERN GODS is good but not great.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: Lots
- Violence: Tons. Some of it is shocking and sudden (the first walking dead portion should leave you in awe over it's execution). There is quick a bit of violence and gruesome description that has a sexual lean to it. The ending is extremely disturbing. This book is not for the faint of heart.
- Sex: One explicit scene, and then a ton of very disturbing descriptions that come from various texts that Sarah reads