Review: This Dark Earth

Posted: April 2, 2013 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: John Hornor Jacobs, Horror

If there is one thing you Elitist Book Reviews followers are aware of about me, it has got to be the number of things I don’t like in fiction–and how good authors can subvert these preferences and make me eat crow. So in another installment of “Things Nick Hates” I present you (drumroll please) zombies. I’m sorry, but they bore me. I used to like them and I still hold onto the belief that THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE (Amazon) and WORLD WAR Z (Amazon) are some of my favorite books of all time. Still, there is a saturation of zombies (sort of like the over abundance of vampires a couple years ago) and I find it tiring. There are only so many things you can do with zombies and it would take something different to interest me in another piece of undead fiction. THIS DARK EARTH by John Hornor Jacobs (Amazon) is that “something different” and it served to remind me how much I used to love the sub-genre.

The apocalypse has come and gone, ushered in by a zombie outbreak and attempted nuclear containment. The remnants of humanity live in a pre-industrial society, hunkered down in the ad-hoc fortress of Bridge City. The city is near impervious to the zeds, a marvel of ingenuity and medieval siege mastery. Humans though, have a capacity for evil that far exceeds the mindless, flesh eating, undead. An army of slavers has Bridge City in its sights and the survival of civilization falls to Gus, the young man that designed the very fortifications that have kept the wild at bay for so long.

Do you know how THIS DARK EARTH manages to be both a zombie novel and a book that I love? It’s a zombie novel but it’s not about zombies. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of zombies within the pages. Tens of thousands of zombies. There’s plenty of bludgeoning and brain-destroying, with buckets of putrid gore and viscera. But that’s not the focus of the novel. THIS DARK EARTH goes to show that even in the wake of global catastrophe, even with the cannibal dead roaming the earth, the living can still manage to take the whole evil cake. THIS DARK EARTH is a story of family, community, and survival.

The three main characters are Lucy, her son Gus, and Jim (aka Knock-Out). Lucy is cold and clinical. She is a brilliant doctor, with a highly analytical mind that leaves her detached from humanity. She is not delicate in the least. Lucy is almost robotic, but that’s not to say she is stiff or thin as a character. When she exhibits a rare moment of tenderness it is touching. Knock-Out is a gentle giant, he was a trucker before the end of the world and becomes a loyal companion after. He is a genuinely kindhearted man that serves as the adhesive for the others. He’s the sidekick to Lucy’s superhero. And then we have Gus, the brilliant child that designed Bridge City who grows into the hardened man that must lead the free and the living. Gus shares much in common with his mother, his intense personality is only compounded by the trials of growing up in this post-apocalyptic world. He is a strange young man, extremely intellectual and still inexperienced in many ways. He has a lot to learn before he can become humanity’s savior.

THIS DARK EARTH is a dark book. Despite all the death and despair it shows that we can survive and adapt as a species - we can look out for our own.

There are other characters, three of the chapters are told from their perspectives, but they serve primarily to forward the story of Lucy, Gus, and Knock-Out. In this way THIS DARK EARTH felt like a collection of short stories based around a central thread. It’s not, but the shifting narrative (between first person, third person, and one chapter told in journal format) gives an interesting, multifaceted view of proceedings. The first half of the novel is a somewhat standard post-apocalyptic/zombie affair. One of the blurbs on the back of the book likens THIS DARK EARTH to Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD and WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks. The first part of the book definitely relates to THE ROAD, as Lucy and Knock-Out scramble to survive in a world only recently turned upside down. It’s at the halfway mark that I became fully absorbed in the read. It is here that we are introduced to Bridge City and the looming threat of the slaver army. From here Gus and the city council race to find a way to stop the army’s progress and defend all that they have built. This is where the novel takes on a bit of the atmosphere of WORLD WAR Z, but really I couldn’t help but think of the CBS action/drama Jericho. I loved the creation of Bridge City and the society that the survivors had established in the aftermath of the outbreak and nuclear fallout.

THIS DARK EARTH is a dark book (go figure). It displays the worst that mankind has to offer, from rape to slavery and greed. There is heavy violence (mainly zombie slaying but some living on living action too) as well as a grisly torture. Despite all this there is also a silver lining of hope. Despite all the death and despair it shows that we can survive and adapt as a species – we can look out for our own.

  • Recommended Age: 17+
  • Language: You betcha
  • Violence: Shooting, bludgeoning, burning, and a painful torture/crucifixion
  • Sex: Sex and sex talk


  • bloggeratf says:

    Sounds heavy. Would you rate it higher than WWZ?

    • Bryce L. says:

      I liked this more than WWZ. WWZ is great, but it its format will always hold it back from being a great book for me because you can't connect to any one character.

  • micky johnson says:

    “This Dark Earth” is, quite simply, the best zombie novel I’ve read in years. Breathes some much-needed new life into the dead.


  • Nick Sharps says:

    @bloggeraff: I don't think I would rate any zombie novel higher than WWZ, but this is probably in my top 3 favorites of the genre.

    @micky: Cheers to that!

  • SeekingPlumb says:

    I'm definitely looking this one up. Thanks!!

    For another take on zombies, I, ZOMBIE by Hugh Howey. It's written from the perspective of the zombies. I must warn you it is NOT for the faint of heart or even for the somewhat steady of heart. It also could have been better as a short story, but it's definitely an… intriguing read. 😛

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