Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Ring Shout

by P. Djèlí Clark

  • Genre: Historical Fantasy
  • Publisher: Tordotcom
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Release: October 13, 2020

About the Author: Born in New York and raised mostly in Houston, P. Djèlí Clark spent the formative years of his life in the homeland of his parents, Trinidad and Tobago. P. Djèlí Clark is the author of the novellas The Black God’s Drums, winner of a 2019 Alex Award from the American Library Association; The Haunting of Tram Car 015; and A Dead Djinn in Cairo. His short story “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” (Fireside Fiction) has earned him both a Nebula and Locus award. He is loosely associated with the quarterly FIYAH: A Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction and an infrequent reviewer at Strange Horizons. He currently resides in New England and ruminates on issues of diversity in speculative fiction.

Summary: In a fantastical, 1920’s Georgia, the Ku Klux Klan is on the move, but these Ku Kluxes are different, having not the usual, bigoted white men under the hood, but a new breed of demonic monsters fueled by hate and satiated with violence. Armed with a magical blade summoned from the most painful moments of slaver history, Maryse Boudreaux has made it her life’s mission to destroy every Ku Klux she can find, and anyone else that would stand in the way of her righteous path to vengeance. But now, as a new and powerful evil arises on the heels of D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation, Maryse and her band of resistance-fighters must summon the power of their ancestors if they hope to save the world from itself.

With Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark has accomplished something truly special. While the bits and pieces that make up this heartfelt and action-packed novella will feel familiar to anyone versed in speculative fiction, the presentation is something that has never been seen before, creating a unique and persuasive journey through the worlds of ancestry, self-discovery, and, most importantly, Klan killing. Every drop of homegrown, systemic racism is here, from segregation and bigotry, all the way to cross burning and lynching, lined up neatly on the block and ready to get chopped. And when Clark swings his sword, it swings true, subverting expectation, rewriting history, and turning some of the most horrifying parts of America’s past into a playground for Black agency—a stage from which a group of radical, young women of color can grab history by the balls and do with it as they please.

What becomes unavoidably clear from the very start of this short novel is that, besides being an insightful and thought-provoking look at America’s sordid racial past, Ring Shout is also a compelling piece of fantasy fiction, bringing with it all of the magic, heroism, and world building to be expected from the genre. Clark has succeeded in creating an America that is both ours and not, all at the same time, reminiscent of the magic realism seen in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but with the bloody action and deft humor of any modern vampire-slayer. At first glance, it is easy to assume that any attempt to make these seemingly incompatible themes work together is a fool’s errand, but, in the end, they manage to play off of each other in such fresh and exciting ways that they could very well spawn an entirely new sub-genre all on their own.

Verdict:

P. Djèlí Clark pulls no punches. This new entry into the world of historical fiction is a Klan-killing, patriarchy-smashing, sword-swinging celebration of Black power, oral tradition, and the kind of righteous, female-driven vengeance you didn’t know you needed, but have deserved all along. Clark has broken the mold with this one, and there is little doubt that Ring Shout is destined to be the subject of imitation for many years to come.

Joe Buckler

Blind Corner Reviews

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