Been awhile, denizens of the dark! Amazing news: I moved into my very first house! Unfortunately, that meant that my blogging and writing was neglected while I, instead, got splattered in paint and spackle.
Well, I hope you didn’t miss me too much.
But, I do hope you missed me at least a little.
Today, I bring you my review of John Hornor Jacobs’ short fiction collection: Murder Ballads. I have also previously reviewed his novella collection, A Lush and Seething Hell.
Full disclosure: I was given a copy of this collection by JHJ himself to review. However, I – stalwart in my conviction to only recommend the best horror fiction to you, my readers – will always write a fair and honest review, regardless the circumstance.
John Hornor Jacobs is an award-winning author of adult and YA fiction, he also works as a partner and senior art director at Cranford Co., an Arkansas advertising agency. His first novel, Southern Gods, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Excellence in a First Novel and won the Darrel Award. Other works of his include: The Dark Earth, The Twelve-Fingered Boy, The Conformity, Infernal Machines, and Foreign Devils.
This collection came out in May of this year. I’ll be avoiding spoilers so don’t worry. Here is a list of each story and its basic premise:
- “The Children of Yig” – originally published in Swords V. Cthulhu: This story combines Vikings and the myth of Yig. You can’t really go wrong with that.
- “Single, Singularity” – originally published in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling: what could go wrong when humans actively try and create an AI that can understand and replicate human emotions?
- “Ithaca” – first time appearance: a hard-boiled tale of man looking to claim what was taken from him. Note the subtle references to hunger (not just physical hunger but the hunger for something lost and wanting) within this tale.
- “Verrata” – originally published in Polluto Magazine, Vol. II: this actually really reminded me of my micro-fiction, “Lens Obscura”
- “Old Dogs, New Tricks” – originally published in Surreal South ’11: what is a man capable of when he’s humiliated and a treasured possession is taken from him?
- “El Dorado” – originally published in Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled: all the guy had to do was keep the drugs safe and out of sight. Sigh.
- “Luminaria” – originally published in Apex Magazine: an old woman about to celebrate an important milestone, secrets in the deep south, and a servant too loyal for her own good.
- “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” – originally published in The Book of Cthulhu: a woman picks up a man, hoping to drown… her sorrows…
- “Patchwork Things” – originally published in Cemetery Dance Magazine #76: a story about the things that haunt the shadows of the wilds and what happens when their path cross ours.
- “Murder Ballads´- previously unpublished: the namesake of the collection and sequel to Jacobs’ novel, Southern Gods. A man is haunted by his past and is drawn back to his childhood home and a reckoning beyond all imagination.
I truly enjoyed this collection, which is not likely a surprise to my regular readers considering I loved Jacobs’ A Lush and Seething Hell novella duo and am just a fan of cosmic horror in general.
The collection was solid in its quality but also varied in its genres, making it a pleasure to read. Jacobs had sci-fi horror, thriller, cosmic horror, all wrapped into this carefully compiled collection. Let’s break it down:
- “The Children of Yig” – I don’t think I have ever read a story combining Vikings and lore from the Lovecraftian universe so I was curious as to how this tale would go. I loved the pacing, the dialogue, and especially the badass, give-no-shits, character of Grislae.
- “Single, Singularity” – sci-fi horror comes on the heels of cosmic horror as my all time favourite sub-genre. This story was so cleverly written and seemed so eerily realistic that it tied “The Children of Yig” as top favourite. And again, another bad-ass, no-nonsense protagonist!
- “Ithaca” – as this was more a hard-boiled thriller, I can’t say it pleased me as much as the other stories in here that were true horror. However, it was well-written and still a fun read.
- “Verrata” – another sci-fi horror and so chilling! I feel like I can’t say too much without giving anything away, but easily in my top three favourites in this collection.
- “Old Dogs, New Tricks” – a zombie tale, of which I very much enjoyed the refreshing take on the trope.
- “El Dorado” – another hard-boiled thriller. I can’t say I loved it, but it was still a fun read.
- “Luminaria” – such a fun take with a Southern perspective on another well-known trope. I won’t spoil anything, but will call out that the climate and landscape of the South seemed almost like its own character in this story. Definitely one of the best stories in this collection!
- “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” – loved the ending of this one. It reads as such a simple story but has so much depth to it.
- “Patchwork Things” – an eerie story with an ending that left me wanting more.
- “Murder Ballads“- I was worried at first, that I might feel like I was missing something since this was listed as a sequel to Southern Gods, which I hadn’t read. However, Jacobs wrote it in such a way that you don’t need to have read the novel, though there is some obvious back story, this tale holds on its own strength. Creepy, heartbreaking, and all around an powerful and haunting story to end the collection with.
My overall thoughts? I think this is a collection that horror fans need to read, especially cosmic horror lovers like myself. Jacobs takes the standard cosmic horror tropes and twists them anew, rending new and terrifying (and fun!) tales from the old ideas and material.
On top of a talent at weaving powerful plots, Jacobs also has a knack for creating well-rounded, unique, and very real characters that really hook you into becoming invested into the story.
This collection was an absolute pleasure to read and with such a wide range of ideas, themes, and genres, any reader is bound to find their new favourite tale.
x P.L. McMillan
p.s. looking for something to listen to in your spare time? Check out Nocturnal Transmissions production of my cosmic horror tale; “That Which The Ocean Gives and Takes Away”!