Southern Gods, and I cherish his friendship.
I don’t remember exactly how long it’s been since I read his recently published novel This Dark Earth. I know it was before Southern Gods was sold, and I remember telling John he probably didn’t want me to read it, since I’m several years past enjoyment of zombie novels. (I realize this makes me an outlier amongst horror readers, many of whom don’t read anything much except zombie novels, but I felt for a while they have exhausted their appeal.) He wanted me to read it anyhow, and I’m glad it will. It may be the last zombie novel I will ever like, but like it I did.
Lucy Ingersoll is an ER doctor in Arkansas when a mysterious disease begins transforming people into maniacal creatures. The military tries to contain the problem by killing the infected and uninfected in the hospital, and Lucy narrowly escapes. She is helped in her escape by a trucker nick-named “Knock-Out”, and manages to reunite with her son Gus, just before the powers-that-be make things worse by nuking the area. Lucy, Knock-Out, and Gus survive, although at a cost. They join forces with a small military force led by Lieutenant Wallace, who can use Lucy’s medical skills.
The story fast forwards by about four years. Gus has proved to be quite a prodigy, and has helped the survivors establish a settlement (imaginatively placed on a bridge, ideal for defensive purposes). The zombie threat is still there, although the greater danger in this post-apocalyptic world is other human survivors.
So, why should you read this novel instead of other zombie stories? Because Jacobs does a masterful job creating believable characters. Lucy, Knock-Out, Gus and the rest come to life. Whether you like them or not, you understand them, and you care what happens to them. If you are a zombie fan, you definitely don’t want to miss this, and if you aren’t, you will probably be surprised how compelling it is.
I’m not really a fan of the cover, although it does look better up close than in a photograph, but if it sells the book, then that’s all it’s meant to do. Also, there is plenty of evidence that taste in book covers doesn’t reflect the zeitgeist.
I also keep calling the book This Dead Earth, but I blame that on David Wilbanks.