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A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror

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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 e 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.


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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 e 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.

30 review for A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sadie Hartmann

    Review originally published at Cemetery Dance Sept. 23rd, 2019 The cover of A Lush and Seething Hell depicts two figures standing in some brambles; a darkness looms behind them, above them, all around them. It’s a menacing tower of darkness bearing down, but also rising up. Upon closer inspection, the figures aren’t so much standing as they are cowering. I know because I stared at the cover and the title for awhile before I ventured past it to get at the meaty insides. And it’s that posture of cow Review originally published at Cemetery Dance Sept. 23rd, 2019 The cover of A Lush and Seething Hell depicts two figures standing in some brambles; a darkness looms behind them, above them, all around them. It’s a menacing tower of darkness bearing down, but also rising up. Upon closer inspection, the figures aren’t so much standing as they are cowering. I know because I stared at the cover and the title for awhile before I ventured past it to get at the meaty insides. And it’s that posture of cowering I remembered after I finished this book. There are two stories that make up A Lush and Seething Hell. The first is titled “The Sea Dreams it is the Sky,” and it’s about a poet named Rafael Avendano, also mysteriously known as The Eye, who strikes up a casual friendship with a woman named Isabel. They realize they have a lot in common and their relationship deepens. For the reader, Jacobs writes with so much attention to detail, it’s impossible to remember that what is unfolding are fictional events. I kept wanting to reach for my phone and Google “Rafael Avendano” so that I could read more about his life and poetry. As a side note here, graphic scenes of torture are difficult for me and at some point in the story, Avendano finds himself in the hands of his enemies. What happens to him is so graphic and told in such an unflinching manner, I might have shied away from it, but Jacobs lured me in with describing Avendano’s mental escape into oblivion. There was this beauty to what was happening inside this poet—that even the cruelty he was experiencing physically couldn’t strip him of what was happening in his mind. I hope that makes sense. It does when I read it back to myself. Eventually, Isabel and Rafael’s narratives experience a shocking confluence that leaves the reader suspended in mind-reeling bliss. I read one scene over and over again because it was just so powerful. It captured my imagination and lead me into a long spell of thoughtfulness. I couldn’t fully get my brain around it until I gave myself more time with it. I came away from this story with a nasty, bookish hangover…the only cure? Jacob’s second story (and my favorite of the two) “My Heart Struck Sorrow.” This is the story of a librarian weighed down by grief and guilt. He goes on this assignment with a coworker to an estate left in their company’s possession by a philanthropist who has passed away. They find a long forgotten room filled with recordings and journals. As a lover of horror fiction, I get excited about stories with found footage/files—one of my favorite subgenres. The narrative splits into two at this point, with our present-day protagonist becoming immersed in the discovery of these forgotten memoirs and the tale that he’s reading about: Two men in the 1930s are commissioned by the Library of Congress to travel around America collecting the songs of the people for posterity. Folk songs. One song in particular catches their attention. I’m not going to sugarcoat the facts here—this story terrified me. This song that keeps coming up and the strange events that happen after it is sung and listened to—it’s unnerving. Again, I was captivated by Jacobs’ storytelling style and his impressive use of specific details, which really must come from his extensive research. I kept experiencing this inability to remember that what I was reading was fiction. This illusion adds to the bone chilling nature of the story. I loved this novella. It’s one of my favorites now. I will be recommending this one a lot and keeping an eye on anything John Hornor Jacobs releases in the future.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Char

    After reading THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY, I became an instant fan of John Hornor Jacobs. A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL reassured me that my respect and high esteem for the man was earned and well placed. This book is comprised of two stories, the first a novella, (the aforementioned THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY), and the second, a short novel titled MY HEART STRUCK SORROW. This review is going to focus almost solely on the second tale. When I saw on Twitter that this book was coming out, I clicked t After reading THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY, I became an instant fan of John Hornor Jacobs. A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL reassured me that my respect and high esteem for the man was earned and well placed. This book is comprised of two stories, the first a novella, (the aforementioned THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY), and the second, a short novel titled MY HEART STRUCK SORROW. This review is going to focus almost solely on the second tale. When I saw on Twitter that this book was coming out, I clicked the pre-order button right away. (There wasn't a description there yet, and I didn't know that THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY was going to be included. When I did discover that, I didn't care because...support.) You can find my review of THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... I went into MY HEART STRUCK SORROW almost totally blind. I was excited to find out that music was a central theme to this tale. I'm a lover of Blues music and I'm fascinated by many of the old artists who were the basis for a lot of the popular music of today. You cannot imagine how stoked I was to find a deep connection with music from the old south in this book. Cromwell and Harriet are called in to the Parker estate to itemize and catalog Parker's extensive collection of old acetate recordings and journals. I loved this way of framing the story as we are then taken to Parker's point of view for much of the book. He was traveling the south interviewing and recording musicians as an ethnomusicologist, (like the real-life Alan Lomax), dedicated to capturing and preserving music. He traveled with a SoundScriber, the heavy, awkward machine with which he recorded said musicians. These artists and the areas in which they lived were brought to vivid life in my mind's eye. I easily pictured them. I smelled them. I felt the humidity and heat of the south. I felt the humanity in their songs, and how they changed from one town to another, especially the songs about Stagger Lee. (Or Stacker Lee, or whatever title was used.) "In Mississippi, in the delta of Arkansas and northern Louisiana, they speak in harsh tones, clipped syllables, as if their entire morphology of communication were angry and inflamed." One of the men he interviews, Honeyboy, is actually in prison. Parker is able to obtain permission to interview and record him. During those scenes I came across this passage: "Even the guards laughed at this, and for a while the barracks were full of the laughter of incarcerated men. They sounded like any group of men gathered together. Each full of his own particular sorrow, his mirth, his guilt, the comet's tail of his existence pulling wreckage after him." This got me to thinking about my comet's tail and what kind of wreckage I carry around within it. Jacobs deftly weaves the threads of the past and the present, most especially those of Parker and Cromwell. Turns out they had a few things in common. I didn't see what they were at first, but as this tale unraveled, I did. Grief, loss and most of all, guilt, come to each life-how we handle those things, or not handle them as the case may be, made for an engaging and stunning denouement. I find myself lacking the words and/or skills to properly communicate to you how this book made me feel and why I think you should read it. The tales within are distinctly different from each other, one more a tale of torture, politics and cosmic horror, the other- for me, being at heart a story of loss, guilt, and grief, well framed and partially hidden in a tale about blues and folk music. I'm not going to pretend that I "got" everything there is to get with this story, I already know I will read it again. I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about ethnomusicology, but I can say I want to learn more about it and about Alan Lomax in general. Leaving behind my inadequacies in getting across how this tale made me feel, I'll wrap with saying that both stories here are extremely well written, unique, thought provoking and powerful. I'll leave you with this quote: "We are sound waves crashing against the shore with no SoundScriber to take down our likeness, our facsimile. Words like these are just echoes of that original sound. We are but small vibrations on the face of the universe." With that, my fellow small vibration on the face of the universe, I give A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL my HIGHEST recommendation! Available October 6th, but you can pre-order here: https://amzn.to/2kXiu92 *Thanks to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for my honest feedback. I'm buying the book anyway, but I got to read it sooner this way!* **Please forgive me for the quotes, but I felt they were necessary to help convey me feelings.**

  3. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    My gushing blurb! The audacity of John Hornor Jacobs to write two brilliant, hallucinatory, terrifying short novels that mash up South American poetry and politics, pre-WWII American folk songs, all-too-human depravity and longing, and cosmic horror. And then, he presents them in one book, A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL; one of the best books of the year. Damn him.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mir

    I did not read "The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky" -- I read the first 30 pages, checked some reviews (torture is not my thing), and skipped to the second novella, "My Heart Struck Sorrow." Your mileage most certainly may vary. Jacobs is certainly a skilled writer, and the period elements seemed well done to the best of my non-expert knowledge. However. This was a lot of driving around the South in a hot Studebaker for very little Cosmic Horror payoff. I'm not even certain why the supernatural elemen I did not read "The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky" -- I read the first 30 pages, checked some reviews (torture is not my thing), and skipped to the second novella, "My Heart Struck Sorrow." Your mileage most certainly may vary. Jacobs is certainly a skilled writer, and the period elements seemed well done to the best of my non-expert knowledge. However. This was a lot of driving around the South in a hot Studebaker for very little Cosmic Horror payoff. I'm not even certain why the supernatural elements were included, since most of horror comes from human horribleness and social conditions. Is it just to justify the tagline, because more people want to read Cosmic Horror than Realistic Commentary horror? I mean, if it hadn't said Cosmic Horror I wouldn't have picked it up, so probably that's true. Anyway, I'd recommend this for people who like understated realistic disturbing things about the horrors of violence or racism and how people are awful.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    3.5⭐ A Lush and Seething Hell is comprised of two books - a novella called The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, and a short novel called My Heart Struck Sorrow. I read an ARC of The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky last year, so I'm copying my review into this one, and then will talk about My Heart Struck Sorrow below that. The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, and I'm so glad that I picked it up. This story immediately drew me in, and I was hooke 3.5⭐ A Lush and Seething Hell is comprised of two books - a novella called The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, and a short novel called My Heart Struck Sorrow. I read an ARC of The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky last year, so I'm copying my review into this one, and then will talk about My Heart Struck Sorrow below that. The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, and I'm so glad that I picked it up. This story immediately drew me in, and I was hooked the entire way through. I'm impressed with the author's ability to do a great character study in such a short amount of time, along with having the horror of being exiled from a war-torn country surrounding it. I really enjoyed reading about the characters in this book, and I would continue reading about them if there ever happened to be more stories. This book is heartbreaking, and it's very easy to get wrapped up in what the characters are feeling. The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky is a solid story across the board. I wish some more of my questions had been answered, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I gave The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky 4⭐. My Heart Struck Sorrow: I was really looking forward to My Heart Struck Sorrow since it has a fascinating synopsis, but I had a tough time connecting with this story. Cursed item & music horror stories will always grab my attention. My Heart Struck Sorrow is very detailed (to the point that it felt overwritten for me). The spooky moments were few and far between, and most of the story was just mundane information about the jobs of the people who worked for the Library of Congress and were researching the music. It felt very repetitive after a while, and it was more like historical fiction with horror tones than the cosmic horror I thought it was going to be. The folk horror elements were intriguing, but I had a difficult time maintaining interest in the story. I felt that the ending was sort of lackluster - I figured the story was ramping up to something big, but the slow burn just fizzled out. I didn't feel a connection to it as a reader, and there was a lack of emotion due to more telling than showing. This isn't a bad story; I just wasn't the right reader & was hoping for more. I gave My Heart Struck Sorrow 3⭐, so it's a 3.5⭐ for A Lush and Seething Hell as a whole.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ctgt

    Even the guards laughed at this, and for a while the barracks were full of the laughter of incarcerated men. They sounded like any group of men gathered together. Each full of his own particular sorrow, his mirth, his guilt, the comet's tail of his existence pulling wreckage after him. Two novellas with writing that is several notches above the average fare. The type of stories that make you feel as if something unseen just brushed past you, raising the hair on your arms. 8/10 Even the guards laughed at this, and for a while the barracks were full of the laughter of incarcerated men. They sounded like any group of men gathered together. Each full of his own particular sorrow, his mirth, his guilt, the comet's tail of his existence pulling wreckage after him. Two novellas with writing that is several notches above the average fare. The type of stories that make you feel as if something unseen just brushed past you, raising the hair on your arms. 8/10

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sheila

    4 stars average--I really liked it. This is a book of two horror novellas. Both are really well written. The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: 3 stars. This is a story of cosmic horror, and also the tale of a South American dictatorship and all the horror that entails. It uses one of my favorite plot elements: a mysterious manuscript that must be translated, and that might reveal some universal secrets. If you're squeamish, be warned that there's lots of torture here. I liked the story, but thought the e 4 stars average--I really liked it. This is a book of two horror novellas. Both are really well written. The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky: 3 stars. This is a story of cosmic horror, and also the tale of a South American dictatorship and all the horror that entails. It uses one of my favorite plot elements: a mysterious manuscript that must be translated, and that might reveal some universal secrets. If you're squeamish, be warned that there's lots of torture here. I liked the story, but thought the ending was a bit abrupt. My Heart Struck Sorrow: 5 stars; I really loved this American folk-horror tale about the folk song Stagger Lee. The research done for this story--about the American south after WWI, the Mississippi flood, racial tensions, folk music, etc.--was impressive. At its heart, the story is about guilt and punishment. The resolution was perfect, and the characterization (Honeyboy!) was excellent. I received this review copy from the publisher on NetGalley. Thanks for the opportunity to read and review; I appreciate it!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    This book is a pile of hot garbage. Maybe if it wasn't marketed as a horror book the review would have been better. This book is basically if Lewis Carrol got a concussion then fell on a type writer. This book is a pile of hot garbage. Maybe if it wasn't marketed as a horror book the review would have been better. This book is basically if Lewis Carrol got a concussion then fell on a type writer.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christine Sandquist

    This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks. This is not a comfortable book. It is brutal. It is often gory. It is violent, torturous, and painful. It is not palatable. And yet, A Lush and Seething Hell is perhaps one of the most polished and seamless books I have read. As Chuck Wendig put it in the foreword, “his magic tricks remain pure fucking magic. These murder ballads are ones we have not heard before.” I cannot find it in myself to disagree with him. When I review This review and others can be read on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks. This is not a comfortable book. It is brutal. It is often gory. It is violent, torturous, and painful. It is not palatable. And yet, A Lush and Seething Hell is perhaps one of the most polished and seamless books I have read. As Chuck Wendig put it in the foreword, “his magic tricks remain pure fucking magic. These murder ballads are ones we have not heard before.” I cannot find it in myself to disagree with him. When I review a book, I tend to pick it apart to see what makes it tick. Then, I reduce it down into a format that will give a reader a good idea as to the tone and content of the book while also allowing some of my own biases and voice to come through. I fail to pick this book apart. I fail to see the specific gears that make it tick, though I can certainly see the hands turning and hear the bells chiming. A Lush and Seething Hell is a duology of two novellas, The Sea Dreams it is the Sky and My Heart Struck Sorrow, the latter being closer to a novel in length. However, neither of these two books feel like novellas. It is shocking to think back and realize how short they actually were. It is an illusion, a conceit, but never a façade. They are so well-crafted that they have the feel of length due to their depth. They are two very different stories, yet they complement one another perfectly. The expectations set up in the first novella are subverted and twisted in unexpected ways, almost a sucker punch to the reader. -The Sea Dreams it is the Sky- ‘A thousand voices caromed in my head. From such a remove, I can see now it was just the tugging of the flesh, trying to find something to grasp onto to protect itself, the quivers of an organism in distress sorting through experience and conditioning. My life up until then was just a fabric of verse and poems. Now my life was no longer mine.’ While reading The Sea Dreams it is the Sky, I found myself searching online repeatedly for the country of “Magera,” located somewhere in South America. This country is fictional, and I suspected as much while reading and due to the futility of my online searches… and yet, I doubted myself. This felt real. This felt like a country that ought to exist. And, perhaps, in a way it did exist – only to slip down a voracious, toothy gullet that had been coaxed open with a surfeit of human suffering and cruelty. The book opens on two refugees from Magera who chance to meet in Málaga, Spain. Isabel, a teacher at the university nearby, develops a strange friendship with the one-eyed and once-famous poet, Rafael Avendaño, now also known as The Eye. Isabel initially finds Avendaño to be quite off-putting: he is misogynistic, often rude, and overall incredibly rough around the edges. Even so, she finds herself drawn to him as a curiosity in her otherwise predictable world. When Avendaño departs from Málaga to return to Magera, he leaves his home and all its contents in Isabel’s care… along with the request that she ensure to always feed the cat, for her own protection. ‘I could not say I liked The Eye. I think I disliked him the way one dislikes a cousin or uncle. But he was interesting. And so familiar. We agreed on a meeting time. He stood, drained his coffee to its dregs. “I will be up all night now,” he said. He placed far too much money on the table. When I indicated it was ten times his share, he said, “Go, buy yourself a book. I’ve enough to spare. Allow me to spend my money on young women in ways that won’t get me chased out of town.”‘ Avendaño’s home is younger than his years, a den of sin and gluttony. The beds are large, hung with colorful fabrics, decadent. It is the home of a young man in his prime, intent upon woo-ing women, and living large in all respects. Isabel takes full advantage at first, bringing her own lover, Claudia, over to the home where they enjoy themselves thoroughly. When she begins to dig deeper into just what Avendaño was doing here in Málaga, however, she uncovers a manuscript he had been working on titled Below, Between, Beneath, Beyond. This manuscript details his work on a translation of a book called Opusculus Noctis, which he titles A Little Night Work, during the fascist takeover of Magera. Thoughts of this book creep through Isabel’s mind, both waking and dreaming, and ultimately, she follows Avendaño back to Magera to discover the truth. ‘[Claudia] stubbed out her cigarette and rose. She looked in the fridge. “Did you get tomato juice?” Something about the question irked me. There had been no thanks from her, for anything. The breakfast. The date. The lovemaking – not that I demand assurances. But she was ungracious. “I think you should go,” I said. “I’ve got work to do here.” She turned to look at me, incredulous. I ignored her, picking up the manuscript of Below, Between, Beneath, Beyond. “Okay,” she said. She disappeared into the Eye’s bedroom. When she emerged, she had her purse and was putting on her earrings. “See you at school,” she said, and left unceremoniously. I sighed. I felt as if a great weight had lifted. Surely, Sartre had it right. Hell is other people. I found myself holding Avendaño’s secret manuscript. I opened it and began to read.’ After Isabel leaves for Magera, the surreal, Lovecraftian elements begin to seep into the narrative. They take root, forming fruiting bodies within the text. The spores release and the reader breathes them in, becoming a host in turn to the ideas within the pages. The normal becomes the uncanny. The uncanny becomes the surreal. The surreal becomes horror. The horror becomes intolerable. The intolerable must be plucked from the host. So it goes. Isabel is pushed further than she realized she could go – she is transfigured by her own hand. She encounters death. She is an animal. She is death. Death permeates, and that which is beyond death clutches at her. And as Isabel pulls through to the conclusion – hers and Avendaño’s – the reader is not left dissatisfied. Lovecraftian horror too often becomes overly ambiguous and surreal. Jacobs walks the tightrope between the cosmic and the mundane, bringing the reader to a close that feels just strange and uncanny enough to satisfy without being overly opaque and impossible to parse. The prose is both purple and clipped simultaneously, creating a tone that transports you into the lush, seething hells of Magera’s dictatorship. The Sea Dreams it is the Sky hovers in the liminal spaces, lurking at the edges of your vision. -My Heart Struck Sorrow- ‘Come think on death and judgment, Your words have all been said, A soldier home from warring, His hands and heart stained red. No water flows will clean you No ocean wash away The stain that now corrodes you Until your dying day.’ My Heart Struck Sorrow takes a sharp turn from the subject matter of The Sea Dreams it is the Sky. Where the former was set in Spain and Latin America, My Heart Struck Sorrow is a tale woven from the fabric of North America, the United States. This is a story of Southern Devils, of the hell that exists in the hearts of men and women. A story of racism, sexism, discriminations large and small, present and past; a story of the sheer disregard we hold for our fellows. The book follows Cromwell, a middle-aged white man working for the Library of Congress examining folk songs. He is not a good man. While it is revealed early on that he has recently lost his wife and son, snatching a morsel of sympathy from any reader with a heart, it’s also revealed that he’s been involved in a years-long affair with another woman at work. He has justified this to himself, argued for it, even as he recognizes it for the moral failing that it is. He and his partner, Hattie, are assigned to document the contents of a house that has been left to the Library – former residence of a famous cataloguer of folks tunes, Harlan Parker. In the house, they discover a locked and boarded up room behind a dresser, which contains a myriad of old records and a journal that takes Cromwell back in time through music and old hatreds. Cromwell is enraptured by the story that unfolds in Parker’s journal, quickly developing an obsession with uncovering the truth. Hattie accuses him of taking advantage of historical black music for his own gain, pointing out that his motives have nothing to do with the community that created this music and mythos, but only with the wants and desires of the old white men in charge of his department. ‘She tilts her head. “It’s a matter of perspective, Crumb. I see this shit for what it really is and you’ve got your blinders on. Ever think that, back in Parker’s day, the mission of the Library was coming from a race-based viewpoint? That these fine, upstanding, woke-as-fuck dudes from 1938 were collecting for the archive, but the archive itself was geared toward a white audience? Academic circles were almost wholly white. And all these fellas would go back from collecting and make the speaking circuit to audiences full of white faces wanting to hear ‘primitive’ music and stories of the proletariat.” Cromwell shrugs. “Whatever else it is, or represented at the time, it’s data, to be interpreted how it’s interpreted. You’re here now.”’ As his digging into the journal becomes deeper, the imagery contained within becomes ever more disturbing. He seeks to find the roots of the song “Stagger Lee,” a song about a “bad, bad man” with devilish themes and nightmarish connotations. This song, also titled “Stackolee,” “Stagolee,” and other permutations, becomes a fugue throughout the novella, reappearing time and time again. The refrain, “I am an ocean, a black and churning sea,” follows Cromwell, haunts him. As he comes closer and closer to the conclusion of the journal, his own flaws come to the forefront: he is a sad, pitiful man. The denouement of the novel pulls each piece together to cast his heart in sharp relief as both his story and the story of Harlan Parker converge. — While this is not a book I would recommend to everyone given its often gruesome and painful content, it is a novella duology that is undeniably a masterpiece. I stood enthralled by his storytelling. It has been polished to a bloody-black gleam, cutting when you are least ready for it. If you enjoyed this review, please consider reading others like it on my blog, Black Forest Basilisks.

  10. 4 out of 5

    T. Frohock

    Horror is many different things to different people. What scares one person isn’t the same as what frightens another. For me, the best horror is a deep examination of our negative emotions; those thoughts and fears that disquiet in the depth of the night: moments left undone, words unsaid, the strange, the weird, the obscene brought to light. Done well, it is a cerebral exploration of the darkness that lies within everyone. If that is your vibe, too, then here are two stories done exceptionally w Horror is many different things to different people. What scares one person isn’t the same as what frightens another. For me, the best horror is a deep examination of our negative emotions; those thoughts and fears that disquiet in the depth of the night: moments left undone, words unsaid, the strange, the weird, the obscene brought to light. Done well, it is a cerebral exploration of the darkness that lies within everyone. If that is your vibe, too, then here are two stories done exceptionally well and collected in a single volume entitled A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs: THE SEA DREAMS IT IS THE SKY I read this story as Word document last year. It immediately reminded me of the Jorge Luis Borges story, “The Gospel According to Mark,” which I read many years ago. Stylistically, both works begin in the most mundane of ways and make a slow, steady progression, first into the surreal and then into horror. Jacobs takes the unsettling imagery of a country at war with itself and gives us, what I like to call, Borges meets Lovecraft. Refugees from the fictional Latin American country of Magera chance upon one another in their self-imposed exile in Málaga, Spain. One is the poet, Rafael Avendaño, and the other is a teacher, Isabel, who is our narrator. Avendaño is thought by most to be dead, murdered by the fascists who now rule Magera, but instead, he escaped with his life, but not with his art. Since his exile in Spain, he no longer writes poetry. Isabel, on the other hand, doesn’t approach her friendship with Avendaño with any sense of reverence. She finds his poetry to be misogynistic and puerile, nor does she teach his works in her classes. He invites her to a movie. She goes. Their strange friendship begins. When Avendaño leaves Spain to return to Magera, he gives Isabel the key to his apartment and asks her to look after his place. There, she finds a book authored by Avendaño entitled Below, Between, Beneath, and Beyond. Here, she finds the story of Avendaño’s days before, during, and after the fascist takeover of Magera, where Avendaño is required to translate a book, Opusculus Noctis, which he titles A Little Night Work. As she reads Avendaño’s autobiography and discovers his notes on A Little Night Work, Isabel decides to return to Magera to find Avendaño. Here, their stories converge, and the Lovecraftian aspects of the story emerge in full bloom. Lovecraftian stories can be hit or miss for me, primarily because the endings can swerve into the obscure with the ending so ambiguous or arcane that the reader is left foundering for a solid landing. Jacobs avoids that pitfall here. He keeps the narrative tight, and as the story seeps into the surreal, leading the reader to a logical ending that seems neither too real, nor too opaque. It’s a hard balance to write, but Jacobs handles it like a virtuoso, drawing the reader into his world and unveiling the strange, the weird, the obscene, to bring the true horror of evil into the light. This is the kind of dark fiction I love to read, and I offer it to you, highly recommended. MY HEART STRUCK SORROW<\b> My Heart Struck Sorrow is my favorite of the two. While Lovecraftian stories have their allure, southern stories with the devil are some of my personal favorites. Primarily because the devil and his kin are often stand-ins for those aforementioned emotions. Stories that entwine music and madness are also some of my favorites, so with My Heart Struck Sorrow, I got the best of both worlds. This is one of those stories that the less you know going in will enhance how the story works for you, so I’ll only give a very basic overview of the plot. Cromwell is a music librarian in the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. His wife and son have recently died, leaving Cromwell in a state of grief even as he returns to work. There, he finds that the grandniece of Harlan Parker has died and bequeathed their rather massive collection to the Library of Congress. A war hero, Harlan Parker once worked for the Library of Congress, travelling across the south to collect and index folk music on a commission of ethnomusicology, but something strange happened during Parker’s travels, causing him to abandon the commission and simply disappear into his sister’s Springfield home, where he remained until the end of his days. Cromwell and his co-worker, Hattie, go to the Parker estate to catalog and preserve the estate’s records. In doing so, they find a secret room, because all horror stories should have at least one secret room, and in this small chamber Cromwell and Hattie find acetates of folk music that Parker recorded during his travels, along with Parker’s diary from the late thirties. Soon Cromwell is immersed in Parker’s writings and infatuation with a song known interchangeably as “Stagolee,” “Stackalee,” or “Stagger Lee.” As Cromwell listens to the recordings Parker created and follows the events within the journal, he is led into Parker’s increasingly bizarre adventures in the rural south, which at times, seems to mirror Hell itself. Yet, in the end, Jacobs loops the story back to Cromwell, and the two seemingly divergent trajectories are brought together in a startling conclusion that is both poignant and horrific in its intensity. My Heart Struck Sorrow moves like a song with the refrain of “Stagger Lee” as the backbeat, a thumping baseline of desire for power, for revenge, and finally, as the music winds down, for remorse unanswered by forgiveness. While I enjoy and admire many writers, it’s rare I stand in awe of another contemporary author’s work, but this is one of those times. If you love horror and genuinely excellent storytelling, you should enter A Lush and Seething Hell. You won’t regret the trip. Tell the Devil I said hello.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Starling

    Unsettling and incisive, these collected novellas illuminate the brutality of recent history and the cruelty - both heartwrenchingly mundane and more eldritch-leaning - of those in power. My Heart Struck Sorrow is a lush, hallucinatory portrait of guilt, self-loathing, and the extent to with a heart can twist back on itself to deliver punishment, while The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky tackles the horrors man is capable of, as well as the lasting trauma of physical and cultural violence, even as it we Unsettling and incisive, these collected novellas illuminate the brutality of recent history and the cruelty - both heartwrenchingly mundane and more eldritch-leaning - of those in power. My Heart Struck Sorrow is a lush, hallucinatory portrait of guilt, self-loathing, and the extent to with a heart can twist back on itself to deliver punishment, while The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky tackles the horrors man is capable of, as well as the lasting trauma of physical and cultural violence, even as it weaves an unsettling tale of eldritch terror. The prose is spot on for its inspiration, and the plot and setting go far beyond.

  12. 4 out of 5

    FanFiAddict

    Thanks to Harper Voyager and the John Hornor Jacobs for an advanced reading copy of A Lush and Seething Hell in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this eARC did not influence my thoughts or opinions on the novel or author. Note: Though the book is comprised of a novella and a short novel, I will really only be reviewing the short novel this go-round, though the extent to which I savored his writing will be plastered all over it. I was lucky enough to have received an advanced reading copy of Thanks to Harper Voyager and the John Hornor Jacobs for an advanced reading copy of A Lush and Seething Hell in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this eARC did not influence my thoughts or opinions on the novel or author. Note: Though the book is comprised of a novella and a short novel, I will really only be reviewing the short novel this go-round, though the extent to which I savored his writing will be plastered all over it. I was lucky enough to have received an advanced reading copy of The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky last year and it was my favorite novella of 2018 (you can find my full review here). It was my first attempt at a work by Jacobs and ended up cementing him as one of my go-to authors for not only reading enjoyment, but writing inspiration. So when I saw that Harper Voyager was publishing a new book by Jacobs, I instantly submitted my request on Edelweiss and NetGalley. I honestly didn’t even give it a 2nd glance to see that it included TSDIITS as I was just THAT excited for it and the gorgeously creepy cover by Jeffrey Alan Love drew me in. To be honest, re-reading TSDIITS was just as enjoyable as the first go-round, and I picked up on some things I missed. But getting to My Heart Struck Sorrow was my ultimate goal. In short, this short novel scared the sh*t out of me. It has stayed with me for days and I keep picturing myself gripping my Kindle harder and harder as I fell deeper and deeper into Jacob’s writing and the story that unfolded. While I can’t say the beginning hooked me, it was enough of a taste to keep me wanting more. TSDIITS was sort of the same way: a slow burn; a fuse that burns down without ignition, only to explode as you begin to look away. And as the flames rise higher, you become entranced; unable to look away and hallucinating things that aren’t really there. Or are they.. Jacobs ability to dissect the human psyche through oft-times intense psychological terror and put that onto paper is immensely brilliant. The supernatural effect that the recordings have on our protagonist feel so real that they leap off of the page. What really kept me intrigued were the recordings themselves. While they started off fairly innocent, a quick turn of events sent us off course and onto the highway to hell. The Lovecraftian elements shined through in the darkest depths of the novel and lead to several scenes of pure terror; ones in which I had to click the lamp back on and steady my breathing. All in all, I cannot recommend A Lush and Seething Hell enough. While these stories aren’t for everyone, those who love brilliant writing and slow burn horror will find themselves overjoyed which what Jacobs has given the world. I loved it and I think you will, to. A Lush and Seething Hell hits stores on October 8th.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    Weird and wild, disturbing and delightful. Pretty much what it says on the tin. Being an archivist (at a place that includes a very large historical audio archive), the second one was particularly wonderful. Clearly Jacobs knows a bit about audio preservation and archiving -- I mean, how many people even know what a Soundscriber is?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Baker

    I decided to power though this because it’s been chilling on my shelf for almost 2 years, and I have mixed feelings. The first story was definitely my favorite of the two, but I still didn’t love it. It was prose-heavy, which isn’t a bad thing typically, but in this instance it felt like homework lol But otherwise, it had some unsettling and gross imagery, even a little body horror that was pretty vivid and the cosmic aspect was pretty cool. Now the second story, idk if it was just me but I thou I decided to power though this because it’s been chilling on my shelf for almost 2 years, and I have mixed feelings. The first story was definitely my favorite of the two, but I still didn’t love it. It was prose-heavy, which isn’t a bad thing typically, but in this instance it felt like homework lol But otherwise, it had some unsettling and gross imagery, even a little body horror that was pretty vivid and the cosmic aspect was pretty cool. Now the second story, idk if it was just me but I thought it was S-L-O-W. And not really scary or creepy at all. I liked the idea of the story within a story aspect of it, but I just don’t have a lot to say other than I thought it was a tad bit boring. Idk, all in all not my favorite, but I’m not mad I read it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick Chianese

    Egregiously mis-marketed. By no means should these stories be labelled either "cosmic" or "horror". But just because the tales aren't what one expects, that doesn't automatically make them bad. Who doesn't like a pleasant surprise? And a compelling story is a compelling story, no matter the genre. The problem is that John Hornor Jacobs isn't concerned with story or character--the two ingredients that make up a good narrative. He's solely focused on theme, on ideas of political oppression, system Egregiously mis-marketed. By no means should these stories be labelled either "cosmic" or "horror". But just because the tales aren't what one expects, that doesn't automatically make them bad. Who doesn't like a pleasant surprise? And a compelling story is a compelling story, no matter the genre. The problem is that John Hornor Jacobs isn't concerned with story or character--the two ingredients that make up a good narrative. He's solely focused on theme, on ideas of political oppression, systemic racism, subjugation, and the like. Stephen King wrote it best: “Starting with the questions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction. Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme." Jacobs unfortunately does the opposite. Narratively the stories go nowhere, they end abruptly without any resolution, and the characters exist solely to progress a political agenda (in the first tale, regarding corrupt governments, and the latter tale, regarding racism in America). There's nothing inherently wrong with discussing these topics, of course. I'm sure Jacobs saw this as a noble endeavor. But if you're using horror to convey an important message (which horror fiction has been able to do for centuries), the STORY needs to be the driving force, not the message. I can only write about the themes and message in this review because there's truly nothing to say about the plots--they're meaningless. Furthermore, the writing hinges on such vague, hallucinatory descriptions that it becomes very difficult to determine what's happening on the page. In this regard, the tales are practically prose poems stretched to novella length. Some nicely written poetry, maybe, but don't call it a story. Lastly, I must say there's something irksome about Jacobs (a white American male) writing about the South American experience from the perspective of a gay woman in the '80s, and the African American experience in the '30s. However noble his intentions are, it truly reads as self-righteous. Even though he actually comments on the self-righteous tendencies in the second story, that doesn't make them any less true. He's so clearly writing from the perspective of a "woke" modern man that when he attempts to write as a man in the 1930s, it comes across as laughably anachronistic. I've written this elsewhere, but I'll say it again: If you want some excellent cosmic horror in the vein of Lovecraft (without his more problematic tendencies...) read T.E.D. Klein. If you can find his collection "Dark Gods" at your local library, get it. It's basically "A Lush and Seething Hell", except exponentially, monumentally better.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I just love John Hornor Jacobs' cosmic horror. The two novellas in A Lush and Seething Hell are set in the same world as Southern Gods {my review}, and I really can't get enough of it. You definitely don't need to read Southern Gods before reading A Lush and Seething Hell, but I do recommend you read Southern Gods at some point just because I loved it so. I read the two novellas in A Lush and Seething Hell separately (a month apart), and even though I really enjoyed The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, I just love John Hornor Jacobs' cosmic horror. The two novellas in A Lush and Seething Hell are set in the same world as Southern Gods {my review}, and I really can't get enough of it. You definitely don't need to read Southern Gods before reading A Lush and Seething Hell, but I do recommend you read Southern Gods at some point just because I loved it so. I read the two novellas in A Lush and Seething Hell separately (a month apart), and even though I really enjoyed The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, I think I missed something. I was probably my own worst enemy with all of my preconceived Lovecraftian notions and expectations. I want to read this one again. The second novella - My Heart Struck Sorrow - was my favorite of the two stories. Not only was I in Jacobs' world of cosmic horror, but it turned out to be music horror which is something I always love. My Heart Struck Sorrow was dark and unsettling, and I love when reading a book becomes an experience. I will probably want to reread this novella, too, just because I liked it so much.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly K

    Wait...where was the horror?

  18. 5 out of 5

    Will Klein

    Initially reviewed here at thequilltolive.com I am not a religious man. Despite my Catholic upbringing and coming of age in the American midwest, the world of the spiritual has never called out to me. I’ve never felt the rapture of religion or the whisper of the divine. As such, I find myself sorely lacking in vocabulary to describe my experience with A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs. Comprised of the novellas The Sea Dreams it is the Sky and My Heart Struck Sorrow, this “anthology- Initially reviewed here at thequilltolive.com I am not a religious man. Despite my Catholic upbringing and coming of age in the American midwest, the world of the spiritual has never called out to me. I’ve never felt the rapture of religion or the whisper of the divine. As such, I find myself sorely lacking in vocabulary to describe my experience with A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs. Comprised of the novellas The Sea Dreams it is the Sky and My Heart Struck Sorrow, this “anthology-lite” as I’ve come to think of it is beyond normal description for me. Had I truly submerged myself in the dogma of Catholicism, with its near-magic and incensed ritualism, I might be able to better put into words how these stories affected me. As it is, however, I can only imagine that this is what people who have had spiritual revelations felt like in the aftermath: my nerves are raw and frayed, and I feel as if I have been exposed to something separate from me and all the experience I’ve had up to this point. I know that sounds rather overwrought and excessive, but so much of this book has infused me and singed the edges of all that I am that there’s no other way to describe it. The book’s cover art slowly wore away from my fingers as I read it, and over the week it took me to read and re-read and really digest the depth and weight of the stories it contained, I would find little black spots on my hands and forearms from the ink wearing away. It was almost as if I was physically consuming the book as I read it. I’ve received and reviewed a decent number of ARCs at this point, and while they’re never quite as well put together physically as a release copy of a book, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. I felt personally connected to the stories of Isabel and Cromwell, and felt that I was being marked just as they were by something incomprehensible and vast and somehow more than the paltry world I had experienced to that point. Jacobs uses the phrase “collapsed-time” in both stories to describe the fluidity and lack of form of time when experienced through a period of great pain or emotion, and that is exactly what I felt during my time with the stories. Time as I had known it ceased to act for me in the way it always had, and I felt myself separate from it in a fundamental and indescribable way. I’m normally more lighthearted in my reviews and take less care in my attempts at mellifluous descriptions and language, but I don’t know that I could review something that I felt so profoundly without all of this extra…everything. I’ve waited to start writing this review for weeks now to see whether the feeling would change or stick with me, and if anything my experience with these stories has grown more profound in retrospect. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a novel or anthology or anything else that will impact me quite the same way. I never have before. The book begins with The Sea Dreams it is the Sky, a tale about Isabel, an exiled teacher from the made-up South American country of Magera. While the country described in the story is imaginary, the trials and tribulations it undergoes at the hands of a totalitarian regime supported from behind the scenes by the United States are all too based in history. She meets her country’s most famous (or infamous) exiled poet Avendano, who is believed by most to be dead after being captured and tortured by the government. When he tells her that he must return to the country under strange circumstances, he gives her his apartment and access to his unfinished translation of an ancient and obscene text. In the process of continuing the translation she is drawn back to her country to search for Avendano and to try to reconcile what is currently happening to her with what has happened and continues to happen to her country. The story becomes more dreamlike and terrifying as it continues and Isabel is drawn further into the horror that has subsumed her home, horror of cosmic and sadly mundane nature. While there are great and unknowable forces at work in Magera, they are contrasted against the totalitarian regime of Vidal, and I found this comparison to be remarkably profound. Cosmic horror relies heavily on the fear of the unknown, that the forces at work against the protagonist are so vast and alien that the horror happening in the story is actually impersonal, because why would an ancient being with the power of gods actually care about a single individual? In stark relief against this is the specific pettiness of the horror Vidal’s government inflicts on its own people. Teachers, students, Marxists, and regular citizens who know the wrong people are intentionally targeted and disappeared in ways horrific enough that the description of Avendano reacting to the tortures that aren’t themselves described was enough for me to be truly unsettled. It is a trip down a rabbit hole into a twisted surreal wonderland that I wanted to leave but couldn’t get enough of. My Heart Struck Sorrow, the second story of this anthology-lite, is a more classic cosmic horror tale of a researcher discovering a work of art that tells a story humans aren’t meant to understand. I want it to be clear that my description of this as “more classic” is not meant to imply that this is in any way less scary or meaningful for that fact. With as much horror as I read, it’s rare for me to be physically affected by a story, but in three pages my scalp was tingling and the hair on the back of my neck was raised. This story masterfully mixes both supernatural horror and terror of a mundane nature and is stronger for not relying on one or the other. Following a music researcher, Cromwell, as he explores recordings left to the historical agency he works for as part of an old woman’s estate, My Heart Struck Sorrow is a mysterious and haunting story about the magic the world used to, and may still, contain and a man’s desperation to tap into that regardless of the personal cost. I will say no more about the story, but, “He’s a bad man, Stackalee.” I need to wrap this “review that isn’t really a review so much as me pouring my heart out about something that filled it too much” up. I’m sure you can tell from everything up to this point that I absolutely loved this book. I have never been impacted by stories the way I was with this, and the very act of reading cast a sort of glamour over me and my life for both the week I was actively reading it and each day since. Maybe it was the mindset I had going into the reading of this book. It could have been a strange cosmic alignment that changed me and made me more receptive to it. I’m not sure, but I had as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever felt while reading this, and to anyone looking for another great cosmic horror writer, look no further than John Hornor Jacobs. Rating: A Lush and Seething Hell – 10/10 (I would give it more if I could) -Will

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆

    My feels upon finishing: The first novella was okay. I'm not one for cosmic horror but it had tentacle-y guy and was a quick read. The second one was like slogging through Hell. It was boring and stupid. I hated all the characters. Harlem talked like a 2000s "woke" dude (like, this is set in 1938 and he's shook that another white guy, in the South, calls black people nigger -- like, he's so shook that he just says 'the n word' repeatedly. I'm not saying all white people were racist back then but My feels upon finishing: The first novella was okay. I'm not one for cosmic horror but it had tentacle-y guy and was a quick read. The second one was like slogging through Hell. It was boring and stupid. I hated all the characters. Harlem talked like a 2000s "woke" dude (like, this is set in 1938 and he's shook that another white guy, in the South, calls black people nigger -- like, he's so shook that he just says 'the n word' repeatedly. I'm not saying all white people were racist back then but they were at least used to the terms and such. A white guy in Jim Crowe South ain't gunna be like 'omg! that white dude called black people the ... n word!' He's also all like 'I didn't go to WW1 so the black man could be oppressed!' and BS like that everywhere.) Mostly, it was just boring and the ending SUCKED. REALLY BADLY. I'm so mad I finished this BS. This dude apparently decides to record lots of non religious songs of peeps in 1938 then randomly stopped. He's really obsessed with this one song in particular and so he goes to people and asks them to sing song, and this one in particular. Along the way, some things happened. They didn't really do anything for me. It was mostly boring with a really shitty ending.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Hicks

    My review of A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL can be found at High Fever Books. A Lush and Seething Hell is the kind of novel that you hope will, and even expect to, take an author’s career to the next level. It’s the sort of work that, if you haven’t been reading John Hornor Jacob already, you’ll be kicking yourself for this oversight and scouring bookstores for his past releases. The good news is that you’re getting two sublimely literary tales of cosmic horror here, one a novella and the other a short My review of A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL can be found at High Fever Books. A Lush and Seething Hell is the kind of novel that you hope will, and even expect to, take an author’s career to the next level. It’s the sort of work that, if you haven’t been reading John Hornor Jacob already, you’ll be kicking yourself for this oversight and scouring bookstores for his past releases. The good news is that you’re getting two sublimely literary tales of cosmic horror here, one a novella and the other a short novel. The first, The Sea Dreams It Is Sky, is one I had read previously when it was released as an ebook-only edition in late 2018. It subsequently made my best of the year list, and below is a very slightly modified review of what I wrote about it then and published elsewhere. The second story, My Heart Struck Sorrow, is exclusive to this release and was a read I’d been anticipating ever since finishing The Sea Dreams It Is Sky last year. First up… The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky Although H.P. Lovecraft is the most familiar name in the genre of cosmic horror, a number of other authors writing in this vein have shown themselves to be far better wordsmiths and storytellers - Victor LaValle, Brian Hodge, Laird Barron, and Caitlin R. Kiernan immediately spring to mind. I feel comfortable adding John Hornor Jacobs to this list now, with his novella The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky proving to be one of the best titles I've read in 2018 (and 2018 was absolutely flush with incredible horror titles, I might add). Racism was absolutely endemic in Lovecraft's work, with the man's total fear of Otherness, which is to say blacks and immigrants, pervading his mythos. Jacobs, however, writes entirely from the perspective of The Other - his central characters, Isabella and Rafael Avendaño, are South American expats living abroad in Spain. Their home country, the fictional Magera, has fallen to a Pinochet-like military junta. If either were ever to return home, it would mean certain death. Isabella is a lesbian, and, perhaps worse for those in power, both educated and an educator. Avendaño is a poet and outspoken critic of the despot ruling Magera. Whereas Lovecraft's horror arose from racist anxieties, in Jacobs's novella, political anxiety is the topic du jour, and certainly one that's far more relatable for this reader. Although set in 1987, The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky is unfortunately timely. The far-right threats of political violence stemming from the fictional Vidal's rule that threaten Isabella and Avendaño echo current global trends and the rise of nationalism. Brazil recently returned to a military dictatorship with the election of Jair Bolsonaro, the 'Trump of the tropics,' and with him came military raids of that country's universities earlier this week, a turn of events that makes Isabella's fears of returning to Magera sadly relatable. The threats to Avendaño's life simply for being an outspoken critic of an authoritarian regime vividly echo life under Trump part and parcel every bit as much as they recall life under Augusto Pinochet, and one can't help but wonder if a bomb is going to make its way into Avendaño's mailbox at some point in the narrative. The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky functions as a fictional examination of historical incidents that occurred in the 1960s-1980s, while also encapsulating the worries of political extremism circa 2018. Much of the horror stems from the fear of the Mageran junta, with the comic elements playing only a minor role in the story's backdrop. The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky certainly has its share of horror, and a few squirm-inducing scenes to be sure, but it's of a quieter, slower, and highly literary nature. The characters come first in Jacobs's story, and we get small hints of their history and past lives in the homes they were forced to flee. It's not until nearly the half-way mark that we experience a fully unflinching view of the junta's atrocity as told through Avendaño's view, and the horrors that unfold therein are almost entirely human, with only brief glimpses of the supernatural. Primarily, we experience this story, and Avendaño, through Isabella's eyes. Her position as an educated woman informs Jacobs's style, as does Avendaño's pedigree as a poet, and the writing is whip smart with the prose taking on a deeply literary aspect. Avendaño speaks with a poet's grace, his words reflecting his perspective. When he speaks on even minor topics, such as the luchador horror films he routine frequents at the cinema, he speaks of grander philosophies: "Misery is a condition that we are all promised," he tells Isabella early on. "On the screen, painted in light, that misery is very small." Isabella lives the life of a professor, but is far from cloistered within the halls of academia - she has passions and love interests, and can be tough when required. Jacobs subverts one's expectations of the nerdy damsel in distress, and even Isabella reminds us in her narrative that "I am as sensitive to situation and intuition as any person. The idea that academics—especially female academics—are cloistered aesthetics that retreat from the real world to content themselves only with books is nonsense." The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky is a smart and deeply layered novella, and its depth routinely belies its page count. This is a lushly literary narrative, one that is first and foremost a character study of political exiles, and Jacobs's authorial skills are tack sharp. My Heart Struck Sorrow Reeling from the death of his wife and son, Cromwell returns to his job at the Library of Congress’s folklore division in time for news of another’s passing. Matilda Parker, the grandniece of a former employee of the folklore division, Harlan Parker, has bequeathed her estate to the department. In cataloguing Parker’s belongings and readying the estate for sale, Cromwell and his partner, Hattie, discover a hidden room holding a number of acetate recordings made by Harlan, as well as his journal, which slowly reveals a number of mysteries of Cromwell. Before his death, Harlan had become convinced that there was an ur-version to the song “Stagger Lee,” and that an arrangement of infernal lyrics had been forgotten, or deliberately hidden, and his obsession leads him into the darkest corners of the American South. Cromwell, for his part, finds himself growing obsessive over Harlan’s journal and the dead man’s stories of his search. As with The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky, My Heart Struck Sorrow is a masterfully written piece and the concept of a bedeviling and arcane version of an old American folk song is a top-notch premise. As with the preceding story in A Lush and Seething Hell, the horror elements are supremely quiet, but Jacobs still manages to pull the rug out from under his readers on a few occasions, and to startling effect. The real meat here, though, is the grief shared across time and space by Cromwell and Parker. These two men of the folklore division present a truly intriguing duality that Jacobs slowly unravels over the course of the story. Both are grieving and blaming themselves for the loss of their closest loved ones, while also carrying the guilt of their various transgressions. We learn early on that Cromwell had an affair with a coworker, which only ratchets his guilt and self-blame up a few more notches. Parker’s journal and decades old recordings are opportunities for Cromwell to lose himself in, but also to connect with a man he never knew but whose interests are shared by him — and possibly reconnect with those he has lost. Grief is a sort of madness in its own right, and if left untended can lead to a sort of insanity. The question then becomes just how far down the path of irrationality are these men willing to let their wounded hearts lead them, despite knowing better and despite the dangers of the unknown. The infernal verses of “Stagger Lee” and their own particular illustrations of a very different kind of descent into hell have been left unsung for a reason, and yet Parker persists in his search, jeopardizing his own safety, as well as that of his partner, even as they encounter the inexplicable. But in the throes of grief, how much of Parker’s writings can be taken reliably, or has he been lost to madness? Jacobs layers My Heart Struck Sorrow with levels of meaning, raising a number of questions along the way while providing little in the way of certainty, even as some answers seem wholly resolute. It’s a story that sticks with you and keeps you pondering its mysteries for days after. [Note: I received an advance copy of this title from the publisher.]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hsu

    More notes at https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/... I liked the first novel, with the understated prose and associations with dark Latin American fiction, a lot more than the second. In the second novel, I see what Jacobs tried to do with the two narratives (Cromwell's and Harlan Parker's), but for various reasons I wasn't so convinced with the parallels. More notes at https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/... I liked the first novel, with the understated prose and associations with dark Latin American fiction, a lot more than the second. In the second novel, I see what Jacobs tried to do with the two narratives (Cromwell's and Harlan Parker's), but for various reasons I wasn't so convinced with the parallels.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Honestly, this was a disappointing book for me. The two novellas within are not badly written by any means, but I feel like they are too long for what they are. Imagine if, say, HP Lovecraft had taken a story like "Cool Air" and padded it out to 200 pages; that's kind of how I felt about this book. It's too long. The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky is by far the better of the two stories and the only one that truly brushes up against "cosmic horror" (bad piece of deceptive marketing there, by the way.. Honestly, this was a disappointing book for me. The two novellas within are not badly written by any means, but I feel like they are too long for what they are. Imagine if, say, HP Lovecraft had taken a story like "Cool Air" and padded it out to 200 pages; that's kind of how I felt about this book. It's too long. The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky is by far the better of the two stories and the only one that truly brushes up against "cosmic horror" (bad piece of deceptive marketing there, by the way....these are not even remotely "cosmic horror" stories, put that out of your mind right away) but even then I feel like the author took way too much time and resources to build up a mystery that then collapses into "A SPOOKY THING HAPPENED THE END" and it's over. It is rare that I ever re-read large portions of a book after finishing it, but I was so profound disappointed by how both these novellas wrap up, that I literally re-read the last third or so thinking I had missed something or just wasn't paying attention. Nope....the stories just really do sort of run out of steam and end like that. I like unexplained, vague mystery in horror stories. I often feel like too often authors give in to the temptation to write out a whole explaination of things which ruins some of the mystery. But, on the flip side of that, I feel like there is the reverse where a lack of any coherent closure can really hurt all the work the author does in building the road to get there. This has a massively positive audience response and lots of critical acclaim so I guess I am just not seeing it; this really didn't strike as me as remotely as scary or unsettling as most people do, mostly because I think , as I said, the stories take WAY too long to get where they are going.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    4 and 1/2 stars I really enjoyed this one. Not too very familiar with the cosmic horror sub-genre but what I got from it is a strange feeling of dread while reading both stories. I can't say I like one story more than the other (but if I had a gun pointed to my head I would say the first one only for the breath of fresh air feel I got right up from the start) but what I can say is that the reader will probably be as enthralled as I was. A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL reminds me of the Dell /Abyss line 4 and 1/2 stars I really enjoyed this one. Not too very familiar with the cosmic horror sub-genre but what I got from it is a strange feeling of dread while reading both stories. I can't say I like one story more than the other (but if I had a gun pointed to my head I would say the first one only for the breath of fresh air feel I got right up from the start) but what I can say is that the reader will probably be as enthralled as I was. A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL reminds me of the Dell /Abyss line which was known back in the day (the '90s) to publish literary horror, mostly from budding horror writers who have went on to become well-known in the industry. John Hornor Jacobs's impressive title would have fit right in with the best of them. While not exactly an easy book to get into A LUSH AND SEETHING HELL will nonetheless impress for its rich narrative and imposing chilling scenes. A must read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Daviau

    Hmm, I’m right in the middle with this one, I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. Some parts were incredibly interesting and at times I was thoroughly enjoying this novel and convinced it would be a five star read because there’s nothing I enjoy more than a story about a book or music, added bonus if it’s a horror story! These two stories had some original and unique ideas that I really did enjoy but at times it got a bit long winded and I too often found my interest waning. And that’s n Hmm, I’m right in the middle with this one, I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. Some parts were incredibly interesting and at times I was thoroughly enjoying this novel and convinced it would be a five star read because there’s nothing I enjoy more than a story about a book or music, added bonus if it’s a horror story! These two stories had some original and unique ideas that I really did enjoy but at times it got a bit long winded and I too often found my interest waning. And that’s never a good sign when I’m reading, I want to be fully captivated and feel like I’m part of the story. I did enjoy the pure weirdness though, there was lots of it and I thought it was brilliant in that aspect. Both stories have such a strong concept, I just wish the author had drawn me in more. So you see what I mean, I’m just right in the middle with this one.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Ugh. Cosmic horror? Not even close, not even horror, really. It is not quite the New Year but I am resolving (?) to stop grabbing books without thoroughly researching them first. I love horror novels, and I like Cthulhu-Lovecraftian stuff (though a bit less, but still quite a lot). A genre and a micro-genre that are hard to do well, and this book is an example of when things go poorly. I am not going to waste a lot of time going into details. Suffice it to say there is little cosmic horror in th Ugh. Cosmic horror? Not even close, not even horror, really. It is not quite the New Year but I am resolving (?) to stop grabbing books without thoroughly researching them first. I love horror novels, and I like Cthulhu-Lovecraftian stuff (though a bit less, but still quite a lot). A genre and a micro-genre that are hard to do well, and this book is an example of when things go poorly. I am not going to waste a lot of time going into details. Suffice it to say there is little cosmic horror in the pages. Plenty of tropes, way too much dialogue, and scads of over-writing, but not much else. Avoid. Pun intended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Grace Bingham

    In reading this book there are signs that JHJ can write, particularly in his graphic descriptions and ability to set a mood. However, just when his writing begins to get particularly good, he seems to step back from himself, and instead leaves vague details. I'm all for endings where you don't know the truth of what has happened, but he leaves too many questions unanswered. His attempts to use exploitation as a horror aspect calls back to the 70s and 80s but not in any sort of good way. Instead, In reading this book there are signs that JHJ can write, particularly in his graphic descriptions and ability to set a mood. However, just when his writing begins to get particularly good, he seems to step back from himself, and instead leaves vague details. I'm all for endings where you don't know the truth of what has happened, but he leaves too many questions unanswered. His attempts to use exploitation as a horror aspect calls back to the 70s and 80s but not in any sort of good way. Instead, his exploitation is merely a distraction from the plot of the two short stories. I can't be scared when what's happening hasn't been made clear in the slightest.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Becky Spratford

    Review will be appearing in the October 2019 issue of Library Journal: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detai... Review will be appearing in the October 2019 issue of Library Journal: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detai...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim Lockhart

    Fair warning: this will be a fairly long review, because I had so many thoughts as I was reading. The book is actually two medium length stories. Both have some elements in common, and neither rushes the plot. The first story is titled "The Sea Dreams It is The Sky," which immediately conjures for us the mirror effect, in the images of sky and sea. What we often think of as opposites are, in some ways, merely mirror images of each other, and have equal bearing on each other, for evil or for good. Fair warning: this will be a fairly long review, because I had so many thoughts as I was reading. The book is actually two medium length stories. Both have some elements in common, and neither rushes the plot. The first story is titled "The Sea Dreams It is The Sky," which immediately conjures for us the mirror effect, in the images of sky and sea. What we often think of as opposites are, in some ways, merely mirror images of each other, and have equal bearing on each other, for evil or for good. This story slowly eviscerates the collective consciousness, that searing memory of "the disappeared," the political victims of every Western-backed dictator and military junta in South America. What appears on the surface to be an obvious (yet limited) imbalance of power, turns out to have volatile subtext. The prisoner and his torturer both erode their humanity, as a direct result of the effects they have on each other. There are inelegant ways to die, just as surely as there are inelegant ways to live. Hardening of supreme will over others merely hones the subjected into sharper weapons. This is most evident in the mind's eye, that inner compelling directing voice. The writing is as cool and sharp as a knife's edge, tactile and ethereal, drawing us in, while simultaneously making us want to back away. The author is particularly skilled in the way he makes the reader feel present at the scene. The second story is "My Heart Struck Sorrow" and it's a bit more dark in a psychological sense than the first story, which was more physically jarring. The themes explored are of guilt, grief, longing, justice, redemption, and the power of music. Music, the great equalizer, open to rich and poor, weak and strong, hauntingly beautiful for those who are haunted by grief and despair. Does music smooth our raw animalistic nature, or does it elicit it? Music can be enigmatic in nature, holding opposites in tension, creating paradoxical internal and external conflict, like an unwelcome talisman, or a burdensome Ebeneezer. Music can wrap around the darkness within, the poison places which we can never escape. The characters present a striking juxtaposition: a sentimental stylized pouring out of one's soul versus a stark kind of existentialist worldview in which all emotions are held in tension. At its most supernatural, the story lifts the veil between life and death. At its most straightforward, it skewers Manifest Destiny and the White Man's Burden. There's a lot more going on than we first realize. It's a good piece of writing. The first story reminded me heavily of Roberto Bolaño, the incredible Chilean writer who wrote 2666. I'm not sure who the second story reminds me of, but several have compared it to the writing of H.P. Lovecraft. This is a worthy read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marie-Therese

    4 stars for the first novella and around 3 for the second. 3.5 stars overall.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Richard Bankey

    Worst book I've read in a long time. I'm actually mad at myself for finishing it. I would give it zero stars if that were possible. Worst book I've read in a long time. I'm actually mad at myself for finishing it. I would give it zero stars if that were possible.

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