This Dark Earth
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By John Horner Jacobs
Release date: July 3, 2012
Once in a great long while, a book that you absolutely cannot put down upon pain of death comes along. All the stars and planets align. The Universe is in agreement that you do, in fact, need to read this book from start to finish. It creates things like a sinus infection to keep you curled up in your Lay-Z-Boy, thunderstorms to keep your 60 pound normally active dog stuck to your chest on said Lay-Z-Boy and better things for your Facebook friends to do. This is precisely how I spent two days with John Hornor Jacobs’ This Dark Earth.
While there are countless zombie novels on the market (half of which I may have read) you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s utterly unique in its approach to the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it theme. This Dark Earth is really no different in that respect. The world falls apart; a virus is mysteriously unleashed that turns normal dead people into the shuffling, moaning, hungry undead; survivors are wary of each other but a tentative trust forms desperately out of the sheer mutual will to live. But what makes Jacobs’ book such a worthy read is how sparklingly, refreshingly, goddamned good the writing is.
In This Dark Earth, we meet Dr. Lucy Ingersol working in a hospital where all the ER patients seem to have gone berserk at the same time and Jim “Knock-out” Nickerson, the trucker who somewhat reluctantly picks her up as she tries to outrun the military firing squad determined to take down everyone in and around the hospital. Lucy barely escapes the early zombs and hail storm of bullets and just wants to get home to her husband and young son. Thus begins an adventure for Lucy and Knock-out that will transform them into, well, the people they’ve really always been.
Lucy is practical to a fault and often fails to remember that she’s human; Knock-out is smarter than he realizes and possesses admirable social skills and infinite tact, even when faced with the horrendous task of braining someone close to Lucy. Knock-out, Lucy and Gus, Lucy’s eleven year old son, make their way through the treacherous, nuclear-scorched USA in order to escape radioactive fallout, the blast of which they somehow manage to survive along with an EMP that takes out all the electronics everywhere.
The three meet up with Lieutenant Wallace and what’s left of the G Unit, a military outfit that roams the country siphoning gas, collecting food and other essentials, and taking out zombies. Lucy and company are invited to stay because Lucy’s a doctor and who doesn’t need one of those around? Actually, there is a very specific need for Lucy’s skills but I’m going to leave that right there.
This Dark Earth skips ahead four years later, when Bridge City has been established with Wallace, Lucy, Knock-out and Gus at the helm. Even though he’s now only fifteen years old, Gus is wise beyond his years. He doesn’t get a lot of the old TV references the other guys around the city jibe him about, but he’s a hell of a lot smarter than most of them. Over the years, they’ve built up a well-functioning community, complete with engineers who figure out how to provide clean drinking water, gardeners who grow edible food and Gus, the mastermind behind Bridge City itself. It’s his idea to build murderholes where the undead can easily be taken out and dumped into the river below.
Essential to any post-zombie-apocalypse is an anti-force; in this case, a marauding band of slavers. That’s right, I said slavers. They enslave all the women they kidnap and literally chain them up to cook, clean and, um, service the men. Yeah, excellent bad guys they are. Word is out that Bridge City is all cozy and safe and, of course, they want to take it over. Will they succeed with their massive army of rabidly devoted thugs or will everyone go down in a blaze of glory or a gurgle of undead moans? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I’m not telling ya.
Another thing I liked about this book is how each chapter presents us with a different character’s point of view. Some people may scorn this approach to storytelling as being somehow too convenient, but I disagree. A story tells itself the best way it can and in This Dark Earth, Jacobs lets the characters who need to speak up do so and it works well here. The pacing and flow are so good that you don’t realize you haven’t moved in over an hour and your feet are now asleep.
So, as it says on the cover of This Dark Earth, “grab your head-knocker and get ready for some wetwork in the murderhole,” but read this book first. John Hornor Jacobs is also the author of Southern Gods (Nightshade Books 2011).
Learn more about him here.