John Hornor Jacobs’s Fierce as the Grave (Book Review)

12372484I first read John Hornor Jacobs after seeing him at ConQuest last year in Kansas City. After listening to him talk about writing in a panel, I had a feeling that I would enjoy his work. The way he spoke about writing, and about the horror genre, made me think he would be a force to be reckoned with for some time to come. It didn’t hurt that he was a cool guy and said very supportive things about my own writing. As far as first novels go, Southern Gods is hard to beat. It’s a great blend of classical literary writing and horror.

Jacobs’s Fierce as the Grave: A Quartet of Horror Stories continues the sort of writing that made me love Southern Gods. The regional flavor permeates everything. This is a guy that knows his setting. The South and the rural world, in general, flows through the work.

The plots are all simple. If you were to name them off, they wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. There is a story about vampires, another about zombies, a couple about ghosts. They are the same basic tropes that we have been writing about since the late 19th century. However, Jacobs tackles them with a style and flavor that make them his own.

The magic of John Hornor Jacobs is that he is able to see past the trappings of our genre to find the universal themes that transcend horror. The stories of the characters themselves become more interesting than the fact that there are monsters of any kind. In fact, life might just be the worst of the monstrosities described in these stories. Concepts like sanity, guilt, and identity are themes addressed throughout literature. Unfortunately, we can sometimes get so hung up on writing what is scary that we forget to write about the larger things. It is possible to do both.

I saw a Reddit interview with Peter Straub recently in which he said that while putting together his spectacular collection American Fantastic Tales, he was struck by how little the modern genre stories differed from modern literary writing. He saw this as a very good thing, as do I. It’s the thing that allows writing to transcend genre expectations, and allows our genre to infect every other aisle of the bookstore.

John Hornor Jacobs’s horror writing falls into the genre of modern literary horror, and provides good evidence of our genre’s potential for solid writing, great characters, and universal themes. His writing has a nostalgic feel and takes its time establishing the norms of the story world. Only when those norms have been established can we transgress against them. Only then can we truly have horror.

Overall, the collection was a very fast read and confirmed to me that Jacobs is the type of writer that the horror genre should be proud to have. For .99 cents as an e-book, it is a definite bargain. I am glad to have read it.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at

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