Southern Gods is possibly the best piece of cosmic horror I've read in a long time. Largely, this is because the hero and heroine do things, unlike Lovecraft's protagonists and William Hope Hodgson's heroine. Just because the universe doesn't care about us, or is outright inimical to us, doesn't mean we shouldn't do things. Besides faint, LOVECRAFT.

(A lot of Lovecraft's cosmic horror never really got to me as scary - I love the strangeness of it. I guess this is because the existence of the Mythos deities doesn't strike me as negation of the existence of my own deity. Also, either way, the idea of the universe not caring about us doesn't bother me.)

Way back in the 1870s, a young boy dying of tuberculosis gets offered a bargain with a dark power that came out of the woods around his plantation home. If he takes up his father's sword, kills the people in the house, and eats his brother's heart, he will be made well.

Fast-forward to the 1950s. Bull Ingram, a WWII vet from the Pacific theater, gets hired by a Memphis DJ to find two people: an agent of his who has gone missing and a mysterious bluesman called Ramblin' John Hastur. His music drives the living to madness - just hearing a recorded sample of it almost drives Ingram into a killing rage - and raises the dead. There's power in it, dark and terrible.

Meanwhile, Sarah leaves her abusive husband and takes her daughter with her back to her family home on an old plantation. She decides to care for her mother, who is dying of lupus, and her daughter Franny is just delighted to meet Sarah's friend Alice's two children. They run around as happy little hellions.

Sarah takes up translating a book from her parents' library as a way to pass the time: Oposculus Noctis, or The Little Book of Night. For you Mythos types, there are some familiar titles in that library. Very familiar.

Things gradually go to hell as Ingram tracks down John Hastur and Sarah translates that book. When Ingram winds up injured at Sarah's home, things really kick into overdrive - we have Father Andre show up to explain the cosmology, and Franny gets kidnapped to be used and violated to open the way for the Old Ones.

Jacobs does a really good job with this book. The descriptions of the pictures in the Necronomicon are the first time I've understood how a Mythos book can damage someone's sanity. It certainly damages Sarah's, and he does a good job of describing the mental shift they induce in her.

The setting is suberb - everything really feels like the Deep South to me. The unfolding, creeping horror is excellent done, though I think having Father Andre explain the cosmology of this universe detracted from it. To me, not everything needs to be explained. Having so much explained felt like it detracted from the strangeness of it all.

There was something going on with Sarah and Alice's friendship, though I never quite got what it was.

The ending of the book sent chills through me.

If you have abuse or rape triggers, do not read this book. Both of them are treated as very bad things, and very little of it is on-stage, but it's present enough.
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Rebecca Hb.

December 2011

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