This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs
Publisher: Gallery Books/July 3rd, 2012
Kind thanks to Gallery Books for providing a review copy
In a bleak, zombie-ridden future, a small settlement fights for survival and looks to a teenager to lead them…The land is contaminated, electronics are defunct, the ravenous undead remain, and life has fallen into a nasty and brutish state of nature. Welcome to Bridge City, in what was once Arkansas: part medieval fortress, part Western outpost, and the precarious last stand for civilization. A ten-year-old prodigy when the world ended, Gus is now a battle-hardened young man. He designed Bridge City to protect the living few from the shamblers eternally at the gates. Now he’s being groomed by his physician mother, Lucy, and the gentle giant Knock-Out to become the next leader of men. But an army of slavers is on its way, and the war they wage for the city’s resources could mean the end of mankind as we know it. Can Gus be humanity’s savior? And if he is, will it mean becoming a dictator, a martyr, or maybe something far worse than even the zombies?
You may know that I adored John Hornor Jacobs’ first novel, Southern Gods, so when I got an opportunity to read This Dark Earth, I may have squeeed with happiness. It turns out the squeeing was more than warranted. A plague that turns the earth into a nuclear-scorched wasteland? Zombies? Characters you’ll fall in love with and that will break your heart? Yes, please! The author didn’t mess around with This Dark Earth. It starts hard and fast and really doesn’t ever let up.
We meet Dr. Lucy Ingersol right off the bat, as she watches people file into her hospital with strange and scary symptoms. We’re talking eating their own lips, seizures…yeah, scary, nasty stuff, and it’s about to get much worse. In spite of Lucy’s distinct lack of bedside manner, she’s a brilliant doctor, and she thinks on her feet, which is really about to come in handy. There’s a nasty virus on the loose, and our government decides to take a decidedly, um, scorched earth approach to getting rid of it. Unfortunately, the virus also causes the dead to rise, and they’re hungry…
This Dark Earth is not your typical zombie fare. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of zombies, but the highlight of this novel is the characters. The standouts, of course, are Lucy, her whip-smart son Gus, and the absolutely wonderful Knock-Out, the gentle giant that will steal your heart. Seriously, he stole mine. You’ll travel with this threesome as they navigate a land ravaged by radiation and populated by the walking dead, and you’ll stay with them as they build Bridge City, an outpost fortified against the terror and lawlessness that has taken hold of the country. Gus is destined to lead this group of people, and the road to hope isn’t an easy one. Wait, that’s an understatement. It’s downright torturous, and the author really doesn’t pull any punches. By turns brutal and tender, This Dark Earth is dark, and you will flinch, but you’ll keep reading, and you’ll love every second of it. Gus is a young hero to root for, as he constantly tries to hold onto his humanity in a sea of inhumanity and brutality. You think zombies are nasty? There are people in this book that give the zombies more than a run for their money. There are plenty of zombies for the diehard fan, and plenty more for fans of just plain superb writing. Relentlessly paced, This Dark Earth takes you on a trip through hell and back, and you’ll be better for the journey. If you were wondering if John Hornor Jacobs could capture lightning in a bottle twice, no need to wonder anymore. He did.