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'The Black God's Drums' by P Djèlí Clark, is a novella set in an alternative post US civil war New Orleans, now a place of neutrality where the Unionists and Confederates mingle with the locals, British, French and Haitians that make up the population. And in and amongst the city streets, Creeper, a young quick witted pickpocket who also happens to have a divine presence inside her, overhears a plot about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon, the Black God's Drums, information which could be her ticket off the streets, if she can find the right person to trade with.
I really enjoyed this. The world building of an alternative New Orleans in 1884, complete with skyships, magic and gods, is really deep and enriching. Even more so as the story is narrated through Creeper, complete with a slang dialect that makes the whole world really lived in and immerses you into the centre of the story.
It's a quick read (at only 128 pages), even still, the story introduces some really interesting characters that you fall in love with straight away. There's Creeper aka Jacqueline, Ann-Marie St Augustine - the one legged airship captain and her cohorts, a couple of questionable nuns, a feral orphan that is under the nun's care, and Madame Diouf of the Shá Rouj bordello in Madamesville. Really great characters that, although we're only with them briefly, draw you into the story and make you want to stay after you turn the last page.
Its an unusual, magical and delightful story that is fast paced and doesn't let up once it grips you from the start. I hope we get to revisit this wonderful world and people again. Recommended.
"The Black God's Drums" is one of those rare books where all I really want to say it: "READ THIS: IT'S WONDERFUL" and then add as a postscript:
@HBO please spend a few million making this into an award-winning piece of television.
"The Black God's Drums" is a novella of only 112 pages yet in terms of world-building, character-building and plot twists, it stands up against novel two or three times its length.
Djèli Clark pulls off a first-person narrative that delivers a clear view of a complex alternative history and sustains a level of tension and excitement. The dialogue is perfect, especially the use of dialect, which brightens the storytelling and deepens the characters.
This a sparkling little novella is set in an original and uplifting alternative history in which, in the late nineteenth century, New Orleans and Haiti are independent nation-states and the Civil War has a different ending.
The story involves a wicked plot that could bring great destruction, a swashbuckling Haitian airship captain who is strong on technology but refuses to give ground to the old African Gods who call to her, innovative steampunk-ish science that has a dash of magic in it, two black nuns who seem closer to voodoo than Christianity, fanatical soldiers with a scary leader and, at the centre of it all, an engaging, fourteen-years-old goddess-possessed black street child who calls herself Creeper.
Creeper made the book for me. We see the world through her eyes and she is full of fire. At one point, Creeper manages to rescue a key character in the plot. They have never met before and the person being rescued expresses surprise it's just Creeper affecting the rescue.
“Wi. It is just . . . you?”
Creeper's response tells you a lot about he:
"I scowl up at her. I happen to think I’m plenty."
One of the things that I liked about this story was that all the good guys are women or girls, all but one of them is black and all of them kickass in their own ways.
I'm now a P. Djèli Clark fan. I've bought another of his novella, "A Dead Djinn in Cairo" and I'm hoping that he will go on to write some full-length novels.
I can’t even express how wonderful the worldbuilding and narrative voice in this book is. The alternate-universe, steampunk-esque New Orleans setting is incredible, and the story told within it is equally compelling. This was such an amazing combination of detailed historical research with speculative and otherworldly elements, beautifully incorporating African spirituality and cosmology as well as the blended diaspora traditions in the Americas. The writing is evocative, the characters are fantastic, and there were several scenes that literally gave me goosebumps as I was reading. This is a story that will stick with you for a long time after it ends.
Creeper is a 13 year old street urchin who survives on the streets of an alternative liberated New Orleans. A descendent of slaves brought to the America’s, she lives with the Orisha goddess Oya in her mind.
When she unwittingly uncovers a plot to release a weapon of Orisha magic over New Orleans she enlists the help of Captain Ann-Marie - and Oya’s sister-wife Oshun. Between them they work to save the city and fight for their freedom.
I will be honest and say I struggled with the length of this novel. It felt too short to fit into the ordinary category of YA, lacking some depth to the characters and their experiences with their respective goddesses , and also their full back stories. Although it felt too short, I loved the concept and feel like it’s worth your time - especially if you’re looking for a speedy read.
This story is totally immersive (I read it in less than a day), full of well-crafted worldbuilding (of the alternate Black history kind), intriguing mythology, engaging and well-rounded characters whom I found utterly fascinating, and it was at once exactly the right length (for the story it told), but far too bloody short (because I need more, more, MORE (please!) about Jacqueline and Captain Ann-Marie of the airship Midnight Robber.
I bought this on a whim after reading something about it on NK Jemisin's twitter and ended up reading it in two sittings (it would have been one but I really had to sleep!). It's a novella but packs a lot into the relatively short length; the plot is tight and the world is so clearly imagined, and characters are introduced and filled out beautifully. (Creeper and the captain are such wonderful characters, I hope he writes more in this world.)
I was reminded at times of William Gibson's orisha in the Neuromancer trilogy and George RR Martin's Fevre Dream, but this book was completely it's own wonderful thing. Highly recommended.
Really enjoyed this historical fantasy take on New Orleans (seems a popular locale for such things), and this was certainly a fun blend of action, magic, and cool characters. The only downside was that it felt short, even for a novella. Could have read a novel-length treatment for sure!
Great debut steampunk novella. Set in an alternative New Orleans, the story has some well-developed characters, and the 'world-building' is excellent. It would be nice to see Creeper, the Captain or even Sisters Agnes and Eunice reprieved in future stories. Recommended Reading.