This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs

This Dark Earth by John Hornor JacobsThere are some things beyond comprehension, and saying that the evil upon us is just a virus, or a bad decision from an army general that ended our world, will never excuse or forgive it. – Jim ‘Knock-Out’ Nickerson

Later, no one could really say for sure where the end of the world began. It rolled into White Hall, Arkansas that fateful June day like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. People were beset by violent seizures and spasms, overcome by cannibalistic urges. An electromagnetic pulse instantly turned back the clock on progress two hundred years, bombs fell, and radioactive ash covered the land like snow.

And then the dead began to rise.

Those who were fortunate to escape the initial infection and subsequent military attempts to obliterate it banded together into pockets of existence with varying degrees of resemblance to what society once was. One such group, Bridge City, consists of a fairly organized group of both civilians and former military personnel. Together they work to reestablish some purpose and meaning in their lives, and to fend of the “shamblers” who continually arrive outside their gates.

Fast forward three years.

Gus, the then ten-year-old genius who conceived of Bridge City, is clearly destined to eventually become the group’s leader. Already intellectually far more advanced than most, growing into a young teenager during a time when doing “wet work in the murderhole” – aka killing shamblers – is part of normal daily activity has also hardened him physically as a man. Unfortunately Gus will not have the luxury of growing into the job as leader, as the biggest challenge to face Bridge City looms on the horizon…and it’s not from the shamblers.

This Dark Earth is a book about zombies that arguably has absolutely nothing to do with zombies. That’s a damn nifty trick, and it’s one author John Hornor Jacobs pulls off in his sophomore outing with ridiculously impressive ease and skill. Jacobs sets the stage for his work with a somewhat traditional virus/plague/zombie end of world scenario, and the living dead certainly put in their appearances throughout, but This Dark Earth is ultimately about men, not monsters. Well, not monsters in a horror movie, comic book sense anyway. No, This Dark Earth is at heart an exploration of the heart and what hides deep within it, things which ofttimes are far more monstrous than anything lurking outside the gates of so-called civilized society.

As he noted in his recent guest post, “Flaws and Ambiguity,” Jacobs is well aware that people are complicated, messy, flawed creatures, and it is in Jacobs’s exploration of those flaws that This Dark Earth truly shines. It’s easy to say we’d never behave a certain way, never betray a sacred trust. Not under any circumstances. But how does one really know until they are tested, until their feet are put to the proverbial fire? The characters who populate Jacobs’s post-apocalyptic landscape are heroic, and cowardly. They are noble, and savage. They are selfish, and self-sacrificing. They are, in short, very real. There are no easy paths to walk or choices to be found in This Dark Earth, and at every step of the journey Jacobs challenges the reader to put themselves in the shoes of his characters, to stand alongside them. It’s not always a comfortable place to be, which is a tribute to Jacobs’s skill as an author in crafting events so horrifically believable one can’t help but think, “What would I do?”

For a book which could casually be billed as an end of days zombie romp, This Dark Earth is actually incredibly thought-provoking and life-affirming. As he did in his debut, Southern Gods, John Hornor Jacobs shows again why he is clearly an author to keep an eye on.

This Dark Earth is available from Gallery/Pocket Books (ISBN: 978-1451666663).

John Hornor Jacobs’s first novel, Southern Gods, was published by Night Shade Books in August, 2011. His young adult series The Incarcerado Trilogy, comprised of The Twelve Fingered Boy, Incarcerado, and The End of All Things, will be published by Carolrhoda Labs, an imprint of Lerner Publishing. To learn more about John, visit his website.


  • Anonymous-9

    December 13, 2012 - 11:50 AM

    Wow, sure is a different cover than Southern Gods. Publisher must have decided to go in a new direction. I love the look, personally.

  • sabrina ogden

    July 13, 2012 - 3:50 PM

    Wonderful review, Elizabeth. I’m really looking forward to reading this.

  • Malachi Stone

    July 13, 2012 - 11:36 AM

    THIS DARK EARTH comes across at first as a medical thriller and then morphs into something much more. Like a talented cross-dresser, Jacobs’ cross-genre novel delivers more than meets the eye. If THIS DARK EARTH isn’t optioned to Hollywood I’ll kiss your clay-cold shambling zombie ass!