Stephen Graham Jones posted on social media a few times about a book called In the Valley of the Sun and I took note, but it wasn’t until he posted the book’s cover that I got excited. The cover boasts a human skull bleeding from the eye sockets. It’s wearing a cowboy hat and vampire incisors are clearly visible.
A blurb by Dr. Jones across the top reads, “I burned through this.It’s got teeth on every page.” I wondered, “Is this a vampire book? God, I hope this is a vampire book.” As soon as it showed up in my mailbox, I knew I’d be up in its pages and sure enough, just a week or so later, here I am writing this review.
Let me set this up for you a little bit. In the Valley of the Sun is Andy Davidson’s debut novel. It was released in 2017. It crawled on its belly, undetected in my tiny world of horror, but it made a huge impression on the HWA and it was a finalist for the Bram Stoker award recognizing Superior Achievement in a First Novel.
Let me see if I can unpack what it is about this book that is so deserving of such a fine nomination. First, Andy Davidson has that natural “it factor” when it comes to storytelling. For me, the narrative reads like the confident, assured voice of a seasoned veteran but with all the originality, nuances and brilliance of a prodigy.
I’ve never read anything quite its equal. I’ve seen the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy and Anne Rice and sure, I can see that, but Andy is totally in his own lane. This was new territory in horror fiction and it was incredibly exciting to read and enjoy.
The story is a fresh take on vampire lore set in the arid, dusty backroads of Texas. Travis Stillwell is a mysterious young man who is seriously caught up in some bad business. He has a Texas Ranger hunting him down, which I wish I could say is the worst thing hunting him; unfortunately, something far more dangerous has an eye on him as well.
Aimlessly wandering, his travels take him to a barely operating motel run by Annabelle and her young son, Sandy. Something follows him there.
Annabelle is now a favorite female protagonist. I immediately fell in love with her quiet spirit and her fierce love for her son. She made so many brave choices. I haven’t invested in a character like I did with her in a long, long time. Truly a new favorite.
This story is dark. Pitch-black. It’s one of those tales that reaches far back enough into everyone’s past that almost nobody is a villain here—and yet, there are villainous acts. There is wickedness. Blood is shed. There are scenes so terrifying, I shudder to think that there would ever be a cinematic adaptation…but I long for one, too.
There’s enough meat on the bones of this story to satisfy any fan of any genre. This isn’t just appealing for horror fans—this book would appeal to readers who love the chase between detective and fugitive; the chase between a man and a woman; and, especially, the chase between good and evil.
I could have read this book for hundreds more pages and I know I’ll read it again someday. One of my new favorites. Highly recommend.