Desert Bleeds Red is the third novel by Jason S. Hornsby, with cover art by Dean Samed of Conzpiracy Digital Arts, and edited by Natalie Ballard. It takes place in early 2011 in some of the most remote areas of China, and borrows heavily from legends in the Bible and other apocryphal works featuring Solomon the Wise.
In the book, Logan Solomon, a Southern gentleman who has lived in Beijing far too long, has gotten in over his head. Aside from the shady business deals, surveillance jobs, and the often decadent lifestyle of the jaded foreigner, he has also managed to alienate his wife Li Na while associating himself with very rough characters—some who appear to have an otherworldly, almost demonic background. Following a seemingly chance encounter aboard a train, a chain of events is set in motion that changes Logan’s destiny forever, and leaves a trail of dead in the wake of his adventures.
After a pleading late-night phone call from her estranged mother, Li Na and Logan embark on a dangerous trip south to a village unknown to outsiders. They are accompanied by an old friend from Georgia who may or may not be able to see the future; a hulking tattooed sociopath with glowing red eyes and a short temper; and a tall man in black who, when not turning into a spiral or effortlessly passing between impossibly tight spaces, loves waxing philosophic over milk tea and kebabs.
When Li Na goes missing somewhere in the bamboo forests of Sichuan, young Solomon conjures up the darkest of forces to assist him in getting her back—a decision that may cost him not only his own life, but those of countless others along the way. On their pilgrimage west to find her and kill whoever is responsible for the abduction, the four strangers encounter villainous doppelgangers, thugs who vomit locusts, whorehouse succubae, satanic congregations in the wilderness, secret government installations, haunted plains, ravaged outposts, forgotten ruins, and countless cities reduced to rubble. Desert Bleeds Red follows almost three years of research in China, where Hornsby traveled and wrote extensively. He traveled to over 75% of the locales featured in the book, some quite far off the beaten path, and found himself in considerable danger while conducting interviews in Xiinjiang Province, Western China. Virtually every road, town, brand name, village practice, and cultural tradition in the story is based on fact.
This is Hornsby’s first foray into a third person narrative, as well being his only book to take place completely outside of America (with the exception of a few flashback scenes in the story, usually set in Elberton, Georgia where the protagonist was born and raised). SPOILER ALERT: The novel also features an extended cameo from Layne Prescott and Tara Tenille, the two surviving main characters of Hornsby’s earlier book Eleven Twenty-Three.
Links to King Solomon's LegendsEdit
The storyline, characters, and mythology are based almost completely on various legends regarding King Solomon. There is essentially nothing in the novel that is not based wholly or in part on the tales of Solomon from the Bible, the Key of Solomon, the Lesser Key of Solomon, and the Testament of Solomon. Following is a list of parallels between the King Solomon of legend and the Logan Solomon character of the novel (and warning - POSSIBLE SPOILERS ahead):
- Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba, and indeed had a younger brother named Aiden, a temperamental and frightened man who nevertheless had ambitions of his own for the throne. In the novel, Bathsheba takes on the moniker Beth, a practice common to this modernized take on the stories.
- Many of the “American” towns of the novel are actually fabled locations from the Bible, often of significance to Solomon and David lore. For example, Gibeon from the novel is actually where Solomon was supposedly granted pansophy from the Lord.
- The nickname Shi Ba Li Na (Lina Eighteen) is a play on the name Sheba, the queen with whom Solomon may have had an affair. Accounts vary in historical and Biblical records of this. Just like the Queen of history, Lina in the novel travels from the Far East every day as an English student, loves confounding people with riddles, and insists on being referred to as Queen, as opposed to “gong zhu,” or princess. In the Testament of Solomon, Sheba is a witch, which is consistent with David’s assertions of this enchanting Eastern woman in Desert Bleeds Red.
- Most of the demons’ Mandarin titles in the novel are also plays on their original names as they appear in the Lesser Key of Solomon and other apocryphal works concerning demonology.
- A litany of references are made to Solomon’s famous ring, given to him by his father (and in one text, by the archangel Michael). The ring was said to give the King great power and even psychic knowledge, and was coveted by many evil forces. A particularly clever demon managed to get the ring off of Solomon’s finger at one point, and immediately cast it into the sea, where it was swallowed by “a great fish.” What becomes of the ring in legends is almost verbatim what occurs in the denouement of the novel.
- Just as in the novel, Solomon was said to have personal contact and even alliances and friendships with several demons, especially Duke Agares, King Asmodeus, and Lord Paimon.
- The demons’ physical and personal descriptions in the book are meant to mirror exactly their character traits from the Lesser Key of Solomon. This is true all the way down to the clothes and jewelry they wear and the shape of the chest hair on their body.
- In the novel, the characters at one point come across a deteriorating statue of Chairman Mao in Qinghai Province. The placard description below the monument matches almost word for word what was written in the Solomon legends when the King and his demon companions are led by a “strange bird” in the desert to a famous pharaoh’s tomb hidden behind a wall with seemingly no entrance.
- Why does Brittany Nahemah’s family seem to dislike Logan so much in the novel? There is a reason for this, and it can be found in the very name Nahemah, or Naheem using a Wikipedia search.
- The “real” Solomon was a notorious lothario, having hundreds of wives and even more concubines. One of these wives was a girl named Naheem, who was the daughter of a countryside emperor. After having lost all of his power and fortune at the hands of a demon (some refer to the demon as Asmodeus, others claim it to be Agares, or some other dark lord altogether), Solomon found himself working as a chef in the emperor’s royal kitchen. He fell in love with Naheem and asked the emperor for his permission to take her as his wife. The father was so enraged at the proposition and his daughter’s love for this “low” man that he expelled both of them into the desert. They survived, though, and it was on the other side of the great desert that Solomon got back what was his…
- And these are only a few of the parallels between the Solomon of Desert Bleeds Red and the Solomon of legend. If anything appears strange or off-beat in the novel, this is likely due to its origins within the Solomon canon.
Desert Bleeds Red has received almost universal acclaim from other authors and horror critics. Many readers have remarked that this is Hornsby’s finest work yet. Peter Clines, bestselling author of -14- and the Ex-Heroes series, said, “I sat for hours trying to come up with some clever, witty way to describe Desert Bleeds Red. The simple truth is, it's a masterpiece, and it's sad to think that word's overused so often that it doesn't convey the impact it should. It isn't limited by genre or style or any of those other ways people try to contain a book. It's just a masterpiece."
Similarly, D.L. Snell of Pavlov’s Dogs and Demon Days fame, was quoted thus: “As dense and biblical as Blood Meridian, and just as lyrically violent, Desert Bleeds Red is a traveler's worst nightmare, and every human's darkest. From squalid cities to blasted wastelands, Hornsby takes us to Hell in a handbasket, on a trip we won't soon forget, for all the burns and scars."
Bestselling author Craig DiLouie, who wrote Suffer the Children, said, “Hornsby’s prose runs deep and his imagination and sheer talent soar in this very dark and epic fantasy.”
Thom Brannan of Sad Wings of Destiny and Lords of Night fame, described the book in the following words: “This, the third movement in Jason S. Hornsby's apocalyptic symphony, is beautiful and terrible, and it will leave you splintered.”
Finally, Jonathan Moon, who wrote Worms in the Needle and The Boom Generation, said, “With Desert Bleeds Red, Hornsby uses vivid prose and characters to draw you in, and then with a masterful blend of fact and fiction he ramps the terror and paranoia to new heights. I still feel sand on my skin and catch the lingering scent of jet fuel. Hornsby is a true architect of realistic terror.”