Book Review : A Lush And Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs

A Lush And Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs (Preorder Link, Amazon)

Author : John Hornor Jacobs
Published By : Harper Voyager
Year Published : October 8st 2019, Preorder Available At Link Above.
Genre / Tags : Adult Fiction, Dark Fiction, Psychological Horror, Horror, Literary Fiction
Mood : Grimdark, but the smart kind.
Formats : Hardcover, eBook
# of Pages : 384 pages (Hardcover)


The award-winning and critically-acclaimed master of horror returns with a pair of chilling tales—both never-before-published in print—that examine the violence and depravity of the human condition.

Bringing together his acclaimed novella The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky and an all-new short novel My Heart Struck Sorrow, John Hornor Jacobs turns his fertile imagination to the evil that breeds within the human soul.

A brilliant mix of the psychological and supernatural, blending the acute insight of Roberto Bolaño and the eerie imagination of H. P. Lovecraft, The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky examines life in a South American dictatorship. Centered on the journal of a poet-in-exile and his failed attempts at translating a maddening text, it is told by a young woman trying to come to grips with a country that nearly devoured itself.

In My Heart Struck Sorrow, a librarian discovers a recording from the Deep South—which may be the musical stylings of the Devil himself.

Breathtaking and haunting, A Lush and Seething Hell is a terrifying and exhilarating journey into the darkness, an odyssey into the deepest reaches of ourselves that compels us to confront secrets best left hidden.


Content Warning : Torture, Violence, Self Harm, Mild Sexual Content

This title contains two novellas, one is perhaps shorter than an average novella and the other is longer than average.

I’ll start with the first, The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky. It takes up about 30% of the book. Or somewhat over 100 pages. This story gave a fantastic first impression and would get five stars on its own. The writing style is immediately noticeable for its artistic and insightful range.

The story takes place in a South American country not unlike Chile and makes references to dictatorial regimes and political figures. Augusto Pinochet and Pablo Neruda for example. There are allusions made to victims of the atrocities during that time. Having some minor familiarity with the subject matter, this story was vastly effective and gut-wrenching.

I recall watching this film from 1982 called Missing, directed by Costa-Gavras. It’s about a young journalist that was one of the 10-30k people “disappeared” during the regime, likely tortured and killed as many were around that time of political upheaval. I had felt a sense of dread wondering what all he likely went through. This story really brought back memories of watching that film for the first time and provides a grisly example.

I highly recommend reading this novella in one sitting. A break between can really impact one’s feel for the mood and nuance leading up to the finale.

If this entire book was in line with that first story, this would be an easy 4-5 stars. But, and admittedly for mainly subjective reasons, I did not find the second story appealing.

There is a quiet dignity and sophistry to the writing at large and I would like to emphasize that in terms of technical quality, both stories are consistent. But where The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky deals with heavy subject matter that lends a pulse to the proceedings, My Heart Struck Sorrow struggled to capture my interest.

The lead character, Cromwell, has lost his wife and child. Though still in a state of mourning, he keeps busy with as a librarian of arts. He and a co-worker find a hidden door that leads to a bunch of journal entries and old recordings from the 1930s. They proceed to explore the collection as its very relevant to their area of expertise.

Most of these chapters have to do with a character named Harlan Parker who traveled throughout the southern states of America during that time, archiving folk music. I was so uninterested in Harlan himself. Those sections with him permeate the vast majority of this novella.

Worse yet, his lengthy journals are in full italics. I’ve seen books get criticized before for overuse of italics. I did not fully understand why this could be such a problem until encountering a good example of such in this novel. A petty complaint perhaps, but it’s consistently irritating. Do note that this review is based on an ARC. I plan on hunting down the final version and if italics are not overused in those sections, I will update this review accordingly.

Another pet peeve- songs being transcribed in novels. While there is nothing wrong with the songs here and they seem thoughtfully poetic, they are numerous and were often lost on me.

So between the italics, the plentiful song lyrics, and Harlan and Cromwell being less than thrilling to read about, this novella wasn’t quite a hit with me.

The final thing I’d like to note is that this book’s month of release, its cover, even its title- A Lush And Seething Hell- brings it to the forefront as a perfect Halloween read.

It could be, depending on your tastes. The horror present here is very down-to-earth and psychological in nature and mainly only frightening in its violence. This isn’t a spooky/scary or heart-pounding type of horror and this novel’s best strength is in its literary prose which could be off-putting for people looking for a more fast-paced scare. A Lush and Seething Hell is a meditation on humanity’s ills and best catalogued as dark fiction.

Rating – 6.5/10

Why You Should Try It – Two novellas that are extraordinarily different in setting and scope but consistently written. Fabulous literary prose and sophisticated style. The setting and aims of the first story really got to me and cover a topic that is little explored in fiction, much less horror. Fantastically researched, complete with a bibliography at book’s end.

Why You Might Not Like It – For mainly subjective reasons, I really didn’t care for the second story and struggled with Harlan’s point of view. As much as this title has to offer, my ambivalence toward a whole two-thirds of it has influenced the above rating.

Disclosure : I received this title as an e-ARC from Netgalley for the purpose of review.

One last end note, I might have a pretty unpopular opinion on this title. Based on perusing some Goodreads reviews, some people really love the second story. Same dislike the first story. Some love both. Quite polarizing really, and fitting as both stories are massively different.

Have you read any works by John Hornor Jacobs or plan to? Are you interested in A Lush And Seething Hell or have read it already and have thoughts? Thanks for reading this review, I look forward to your thoughts. ~ Kitty


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