World War II veteran Bull Ingram is a huge man. That is, after all, why they call him Bull. He is hired by a Memphis radio station owner to find the musician Ramblin’ John Hastur. The music Hastur makes is claimed to have made perfectly sane men go mad and to have made dead men rise.
Bull follows Hastur’s trail into the backwoods of Arkansas and into the unknown. He hears rumors that the Hastur has sold his soul to the Devil. He sees dead men live and feels the effects Hastur’s music has on people first hand. Ingram learns that there are more powerful forces at work in this world than the music of Ramblin’ John. And there are darker evils than those he saw in the war.
Southern Gods was John Hornor Jacobs debut novel. I have to admit that, when I read the claims of this book being “Lovecraftian,” I was more than a little apprehensive. I love H.P. Lovecraft’s writings and, most of the time, books claiming to be Lovecraftian usually are usually missing the mark for me. I was pleasantly surprised by this one though. David Drake’s blurb on the cover was as true as they come. Scary? Check. Smart? Check. Lovecraftian Fiction? Check. Southern Gothic? You guessed it, check.
Jacobs does an amazing job of developing his characters and building the atmosphere. His characters don’t feel forced. You learn their annoying habits and you take trips down memory lane with them. You feel their heartache and loneliness. They feel like flesh and bone human beings who could have been one of your grandparent’s friends.
His descriptive writing is perfect for this setting. The “Big House” is beautiful. I know because I have seen it in my mind while reading about it. I know about the carpeting and how the floor creaks when it’s walked on. Somehow, these types of descriptions aren’t boring. The setting is a character in this book, and it is as well developed as it’s human counterparts.
Now, let me explain why I can only give this book 4.5 out 5 stars. It feels like this book has multiple personalities. It is like the first half and the second half were two different book ideas that were kind of forced into one binding. Each half of the book is wonderful. But you start to think you know where the book is going in the beginning of the book. You see the musicians and the concerts and the dead rising and then there is this twist that you never saw coming.
The second half forges a new path that you never saw. It wasn’t just the one that was less taken, it was cut out specifically for this ending. You learn about the history of the Catholic church through this delightful little priest that is quirky and loveable. You learn about false gods. You get a sense of this whole giant mythos that is wonderful but feels so separated from the first half of the book. I have heard it said that the first half is a stepping off point for the bigger story, but I just can’t look at it that way.
The second half of the book packs in all the Lovecraft that I was looking for. There is more adventure in the last two chapters than there was in the entire first half of the book. You get to see how far each character is willing to go and what they would sacrifice for the people they love and the things that they believe in.
Jacobs doesn’t skimp on the gore and violence either. And, if you know anything about me, you know that those are things I am always looking for in a good horror novel. You get these beautifully written fight scenes and dream sequences that give as much blood and guts as they do action and drama.
I know I said that the two halves are different, but I never said that either half was bad. In fact, both halves are wonderful. If you like horror that goes a little noir and a lot Lovecraft, this book is for you. If you like horror that is unique and well written, you should read Southern Gods. You won’t regret it.
You can find Kallie on Instagram @PageandParlor