Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (goodreads page)
Published: 2020
Genre, sub-genre: Horror: revenge
Pages: 320 hardcover

Notable aspects: diverse read, ownvoices author
Warnings: graphic depictions of animal and human dismemberment, murder and graphic after-imagery of animal and human deaths achieved with excessive force.

1 minute summary
The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

My rating: 3/5 – A great read, but only if this type of sub-genre is your thing
1 sentence review: Graphic and intense, The Only Good Indians is an oddly-paced but deeply gripping psychological revenge horror.

Pros: a riveting horror that sinks deep into your psyche, a great premise that weaves culture and tradition together seamlessly
Cons: story-telling choices made for odd progression, some sections and scenes are bogged down, interfering with the pacing and draining the flow of suspense.

Good for readers who: Enjoy revenge horror and adrenaline-fueled thrillers with a bit of slasher action.
Not so great for readers who: Don’t care for gore or graphic murder in their horror, dislike the intensity of psychological slasher thrillers or emotional fracturing as a way to create suspense.

I want to be really up-front and say that 1.) if I knew more about this story, I wouldn’t have read it. It’s the kind of horror I specifically try to avoid. 2.) I skimmed the last 15-ish% but I did catch all the major points.

I originally picked this book up because I like monster horror: something lurking in the woods with human intelligence. I honestly thought it was going to be more on the cryptid side, but the horror ended up being more about the slow, inevitable approach of graphic death and the frightening frailty of the human mind. Bodies (both animal and human) piled up, and the aftermath of their cruel deaths were described in detail.

Pro: the story is gripping. As someone who avoids this type of psychological horror, I will say that the book ensnared even me, and it’s the first book this year that I got through in a single day. It’s incredibly gripping, pulling you in and not letting you look away. It’s revenge horror, so it’s basically like a train wreck: the excitement comes from knowing what will happen and not wanting to see it, yet being unable to stop yourself from hurdling towards it.

Con: the pacing was really odd. The summary would have you believe that the book is about revenge visited upon four people, and that’s both true and very not true. What you assume is the height (and end) of the story due to the intense riotous confrontation actually isn’t the conclusion at all; there’s a good chunk of the novel left. While it tries to keep the action going, there’s really no coming back from the height of what you assumed was the big finish. As a result, the ending really dragged for me.

Con: Jones assumes you know a lot about basketball and motorcycles. This the first sentence in one of the beginning chapters:


I didn’t actually know what the first half of this sentence meant—or what a “bitch seat” was (which showed up a few sentences later.) It actually took me a few pages, and it wasn’t until Jones actually wrote the word ‘motorcycle’ in the next scene that the image could coalesce in my mind correctly. Until then, I assumed they were driving cars, even though the imagery didn’t fully fit.

The same thing goes with basketball, which shows up a ton in the final third of the book. Descriptions of, I assume, basketball moves and positions and terms fly by, and mean nothing to me. I couldn’t picture any of it in my mind. I kind of just skimmed much of it and read the dialog that was happening during the games.

I don’t know how relevant this point is, though. Not being firmly entrenched into what’s generally considered American culture, it may be that I’m just ignorant of terms and facts that are common to most US readers.

Overall: There’s no denying how engrossing, heart-pounding and even terrifying this story is. For revenge horror fans, it’s a must. For everyone else, it’s a choppy but great read if you know what you’re getting into.

7 Comments on “Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

  1. The basketball stuff would put me off more than the bodies piling up, but I don’t like animals getting killed in books … I’m still feeling very unsure about whether to read this or not. Maybe I’ll pass for now.
    Great review. 🙂

    • Oh yeah, pets die. It’s described to you. It was sad and cheap, at least in my opinion. I don’t care for books that rely on gore for shock value, and this was definitely used for that. Like I said, if I knew what this book was about, I wouldn’t have picked it up.

      I find it kind of sweet that if you look at goodreads pages for horror books, the top question is always, “Does the MC’s dog die??” or “Is there animal suffering in this?”

      • Hmm, OK, that’s decided me. Thank you.
        So sweet! Things like that remind me that there are good people out there when I get all doomy. 😄

  2. Hmm! So, I only read about 5% because I wasn’t in the mood. I thought I might get back to it later but what you’ve written here makes me think I might not. I’m also not into adrenaline/gore horror and was more interesting in the ‘something lurks’ side of things.

    • Yeah, I’m always around for a “something lurks” horror! This did have that, but it just had a lot of gore and tension too. It kind of reminded me of the film It Comes At Night. It’s a good film–if you know exactly what it’s about and you’re ok with that. Otherwise, it’s a bit much.

      • Hmmm, I’m not really one for scary movies… I put off Stranger Things for a year because, even though it sounded like something I would like, I thought it would be too scary haha (it was not too scary, even for me). Certainly I can handle more scary in book than movie form ;P

  3. I have complicated feelings about this book. Most of my appreciation for what Jones did came after finishing it and agree I spent a significant part of the actual reading time confused about what was happening. I also don’t generally enjoy slasher horror but think Jones has a lot of smart things to say within the framework of his revenge tale and that’s what I appreciated about the story. Very odd book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: