The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Absolutely stunning!! The biggest disappointing is that this is a short story and only 111 pages long. While a good little story Black God's Drums really feels more like the introduction to a new larger world that could have many books written it it. From airships, voodoo, southern culture, strong heroines, steampunk influences and more; there is a lot here to love.
While P. Djeli Clark (sorry I don't have accents accessible on this keyboard) doesn't specifically call it out by the end of the book I was fairly confident that our story was set sometime within 100 years of Napoleon having power. Given there are airships and other awesome steampunk items throughout the book; I'm going to say this is a sort of alternate history. Usually I'm not a big fan of alternate history because it's not creative enough. But that definitely cannot be said about Clark's short story. Instead I had to really think about it when little tidbits that gave hints to the timeframe and world came up. I would have been totally okay if this was a whole new fantasy world to learn. But it does work elegantly the way it is and you can apply many of our social norms to the scenarios successfully which cuts down on the explanations needed.
Setting is such an important part of a fantasy story and when the items around you and magic that may (or may not) manifest is dependant on the landscape it's almost a character all of it's own. Think of Game of Thrones and consider each of the major strongholds of Westeros as characters. The Eyrie, Winterfell, Harrenhal, Kings Landing, etc. all have their own tone, cultural expectations, weather and location that affect everything and everyone around them. The Black God's Drums is like that as well. Where we are and how our location(s) are being approached affects so much around them.
Ever since Sookie Stackhouse gave me some of my first 'real' introduction to Louisiana culture and history in books I have loved learning more about New Orleans (and area). I've also found myself really into blues music over the years and so that has helped with my immersion into understanding this unique area of the United States.
As if the above wasn't enough to be engaging we also have two of the strongest and most interesting heroines I've read about. Each has their own skill sets and a spirit, magic or goddess (whatever you'd like to call it) that speaks inside their head. The struggle between each of the women and their way of dealing with the voice in their head are starkly different and represent the difference between people's approaches and reactions to similar situations. There is a wonderful Psych paper to be written somewhere in here about how people cope and handle the exact (or similar) situation differently.
I absolutely understand why The Black God's Drums was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy award. I'm sad it didn't win any of them! It's definitely more than deserving of any one of these prestigious awards. That said I know the competition is fierce out there these days. It has all the right elements and is elegantly put into 111 pages without feeling rushed, squished or inadequate. If Clark was trying to see what people would think of this concept he has used then I'd say he should immediately write everything possible about these two heroines, their world and it's challenges.
Clark is definitely an author to watch. I will be keeping a close eye on him and keep hoping that TOR and him have a full novel in the works! Too bad I don't know how to do voodoo, like practiced in the story, to ensure more writing is guaranteed from Clark in the future.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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