#Review: RING SHOUT, by P. Djèlí Clark

I’ve read three of P. Djèlí Clark’s books now, and some commonalities are definitely starting to emerge. Clark does great magic systems and great worldbuilding, and tends to set his books in places and periods of time where you typically don’t get a lot of fantasy and/or horror literature. The Black God’s Drums was set in antebellum New Orleans, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is somehow a police procedural set in Cairo in 1912, and his most recent book, Ring Shout, is set in Georgia in the early 1920s, as the Ku Klux Klan is experiencing a resurgence and the movie The Birth of a Nation is taking America by storm.

Turns out the Klan is mostly motivated by a demonic force that literally eats hatred, and a surprising number of the members– designated in this book as “Ku Kluxers,” rather than “Klan,” which is applied to humans– are, uh, not really human at all. The three main characters are all part of an organization that can see the Ku Kluxers for what they are, and hunts them. And just in case it’s not obvious, all are Black, and all three are women as well.

I had … an interesting time with this book, where most of the issues I had with it are sort of outside the book itself. First, all three of Clark’s books that I’ve read are from Tor.com’s novella line. Ring Shout comes in at about 180 pages or so of story. And when you have a world that is as interesting as the worlds this guy is creating, I want to know more about them. This story, more than his other work, really felt kind of rushed. The main character, Maryse Boudreaux, has a vision of the Big Bad of the book and meets him just a couple of pages later. One of the main characters is killed off at about the halfway point, but it doesn’t have the emotional impact it ought to because we’ve spent so little time with her. That sort of thing.

I really need this guy to write a full-length novel, is what I’m saying. Or maybe three of them, one sequel to each of the books he’s written so far.

Because when you stop talking about what it isn’t, Ring Shout is pretty damn awesome. Clark’s writing style is as sharp and evocative as ever, and this is the most otherworldly of his books, so he taps into a really Lovecraftian vein that I haven’t seen from him previously, and y’all know I love me some Lovecraft-style horror. Maryse herself is fascinating, and I really enjoy the way Clark handles working in her backstory and the romantic relationship she has with one of the male characters. There is a character who is sort of an advisor to Maryse’s crew who speaks Gullah, and Clark doesn’t translate what she’s saying, and while I did hit up Google this morning to make sure I had properly intuited what “buckrah” meant, you get to a point by the end of the book where you understand what she’s saying pretty well. In the hands of a lesser author, this could have been really annoying; I actually found myself wanting more of Nana Jean by the end of the book. And then there’s Maryse’s sword, which … I’m not even going to tell you about Maryse’s sword. It’s an insanely cool idea, and I gotta leave something for you to find out for yourself.

(Just discovered this is being adapted for TV; I am excited.)

The ending also caught me by surprise. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, you can probably already guess that there’s a big fight against some sort of otherworldly entity at the end of the book (and if you’ve never paid any attention to what the Ku Klux Klan called their officers, it’s like history set itself up for this book to be written,) and you get told through the book that Maryse is going to be forced to make “a choice” during this confrontation, and, well, you are going to form some theories as the book goes on about what that choice is going to be and how it will come about.

And you will be wrong, because whatever you’re thinking, Clark has come up with a moment, here, and it’s a hell of a thing to encounter.


One more thing, and I’m putting it after a separator because I’m not really done thinking about it, and I’m not actually sure it’s an issue: I feel like it is a decision to take the Klan’s evil and, to a large extent, attribute it to inhuman, extraterrestrial/interdimensional forces. I feel like Clark knew he was doing this, or at least that he could be accused of it, because there is a lot of talk about choice in this book, and it’s particularly made clear that a certain subset of the (human) Klan are deliberately giving themselves over to this, no spoilers, Thing that they’re giving themselves over to. But D.W. Griffith’s movie wasn’t a huge success because Griffith was a sorcerer. It was a huge success because enormous swaths of America were just as awful and racist as he was. There is a reading of this book, and I think that reading is at least somewhat valid– after all, I’m talking about it– where the Ku Kluxers somewhat exonerate white America’s complicity in the (actual) Klan. I’m not sure it completely holds up, but it exists, and if you were put off by it I’m not sue I’d argue with you about it.

I been readin’: some reviewlets

4169sZXxF0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I spent a lot of time reading this weekend, which is the best way to spend a weekend; I managed to read two complete books cover to cover basically before even getting into the shower yesterday, and knocked out another one this afternoon.  I know I keep saying it, but it’s nice not working weekends.  I didn’t even put my watch on today!  That’s how awesome this weekend has been.

At any rate, seeing as how I really enjoyed all four of the books I’ve finished, but I don’t want to write four full book review posts, y’all get some quick reviewlets instead of a solid week of book posts.

We’ll start with Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant, who is also Seanan McGuire.  I’m a big goddamn fan; I know I’ve talked about her under both pen names around here repeatedly, so I’ll cut to the chase on this one: it’s her best book.  ITDD is kind of a book designed to push my buttons in a lot of ways; all of the characters are scientists (and damn near all of them are women scientists, which is even better) and the book is a great mix of research-intensive oceanographic geekery, cryptid speculation, and gut-wrenching horror.  It takes a lot for a book to scare me, to the point where I can only recall praising one book in the past for how scary it is.  This is right up there.  It’s also insanely movie-friendly.   I want to see this movie on the big screen so bad I can taste it, and some Hollywood bastard needs to shovel a ton of money at Seanan and get this on screen now.

410o6yuEykL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ My love for Tor.com’s novella line continues to grow with every book they release.  I have damn near an entire shelf of them by now, and I’m at the point where I’m putting them on my Amazon wish list the second I find out about them regardless of who the author is or the subject matter.  That said, P. Djèli Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is a perfect exemplar of what I love about the line: an author I’ve never heard of (I have found so many good authors through these novellas!) writing an alt-history featuring characters that are generally underrepresented in genre literature.  In this case, the book is set in an antebellum, independent New Orleans, in an America that is split into at least three or four different factions, with airships and steampunk and, oh, right, orisha magic.  The main character, a young girl named Creeper, is possessed by Oya, an African god of wind and storms, and occasionally is able to manifest magic powers.

Oh, and there are nuns who are basically spymasters, which kinda rocks.

51UnBCky8WL._AC_US436_QL65_I have actually already read most of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries, but it’s been a really long time and I’ve been slowly working my way through his books over the course of this year.  This is the third one I’ve read and the second of the Rawlins mysteries.  It’s weird; the last time I read a lot of Mosley was in college, and for years I’ve been telling people that he was an author where I was really fond of his sentences and paragraphs but that I didn’t necessarily love his books.

College Luther was kinda dumb, I guess.  Or he was half right, at least, since Mosley remains a brilliant craftsman as far as the beauty of his writing goes, but I really wasn’t giving his skills with plot and story enough credit.  I’ve been enjoying these books much more on the second pass-through than I did when I first read them, and even back then I recognized how good the guy was.  There will be more Mosley to come this year, that’s for sure.

81LZP9WQ7yL-1I encountered Ismail Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche through Twitter, and specifically through my friend Anne Leonard, who Tweeted out a link to this New York Times profile of the book.  It caught my interest as well, and when Barnes and Noble actually had the damn thing when we popped in on Saturday I took it as a sign and bought it.  Kadare’s book is the one I’m most conflicted about out of everything I read this weekend, mostly because I feel like I didn’t quite get everything that was going on: the book was written in 1978, and only recently translated into English, and while it’s supposedly about the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, it’s actually about Albania in the 1970s.  Albania in the 1970s was a client state of Russia and controlled by a dictator.  This is therefore not only literally translated from the Albanian it was written in, but is metaphorically complicated as well; the book demands to be read on a couple of different levels and the simple fact is that I’m not in possession of the necessary background knowledge (I just told you everything I know about Albania) to be able to read the book with the understanding and background knowledge that it probably deserves.  I four-starred it on Goodreads, but it could have been a five and it might end up in my 10-best list at the end of the year anyway.  It’s just kind of a rough book to form a snap opinion on.

What’s it about?  Severed heads.

Just trust me.  🙂