"This Dark Earth" Book Review
Written by John Hornor Jacobs
2012, 339 pages, Fiction
Released on July 3rd, 2012
Believe it or not, it's finally here: a zombie novel for the thinking crowd. Well, more than a zombie novel, John Hornor Jacobs' This Dark Earth is an epic tale of survival that studies the evolution of society from the moment all hell breaks loose until just a few survivors are left facing an uncertain future a few years after the apocalypse.
The novel is divided into seven distinctive parts and is told through the voices of various narrators. The story kicks off with Dr. Lucy Ingersol trying to figure out what's wrong with a few patients at the hospital where she works. Lucy has always enjoyed the challenge that cancer represents and her rational, science-oriented mind keeps her cool as patients die in the waiting room and staff members begin to panic. When a lifeless baby comes back to life and bites his mother, Lucy finally understands the truth: something is horribly wrong and running is the only option. A nuclear explosion ensues and the world as we know it comes to an end amidst fires, shambling zombies, panicked survivors and a sky full of radioactive clouds. Lucy finds her son, Gus, with the help of Knock-Out, a man she meets while running away, and the three of them stick together. The remainder of the narrative encompasses a period of about five years. The trio travels in search of places with less population, which means fewer zombies. Eventually the small group becomes a community and constructs Bridge City, a secure town built on a bridge. However, the brain-eaters are just one of the many problems the survivors face and, as the new world throws situations their way, survivors will have to constantly come up with ways to stay alive and defend the bridge from the undead and the living alike.
Coming in at well over 300 pages, This Dark Earth reads like an omnibus edition of what could've been an amazing series. However, Jacobs' decision to put the entire story into a single book worked out better for readers for two reasons: they won't have to wait to read what happens next and the prose is leaner and faster. Also, the author uses a series of techniques like having a plethora of narrators and condensing time by using minutes from important meetings at Bridge City to carry the story in different ways, but always at breakneck speed.
While there's enough action, explosions and head bashing to satisfy fans of the gorier side of zombie fiction, This Dark Earth is a must-read novel for other reasons. For starters, the characters are three-dimensional and the way they change with the passage of time gives the story a ring of truth that is seldom seen in post-apocalyptic fiction. Also, instead of a walking nuisance or mere brain-eating monsters, the zombies in Jacobs' tale are a rich, layered element: they retain some instincts that border on intelligence and travel in “damilies.” A perfect example of the author's unique take of the genre is that when the undead get their skulls kicked in at the murder holes that protect Bridge City, any identification they still retain is used to track their migration patterns.
Every once in a while a novel comes around and breathes some much-needed fresh air into the zombie genre. John Hornor Jacobs can now be considered among the select few that have done that. This Dark Earth is an entertaining read that explores familial ties and shows that brain-eating zombies are never as bad as humans can be. Make sure you pick up a copy as soon as it comes out.