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Black God's Drums by P.…

Black God's Drums (edition 2018)

by P. Djèlí Clark (Author)

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687251,242 (4.17)4
Title:Black God's Drums
Authors:P. Djèlí Clark (Author)
Info:Tor.com (2018), 112 pages
Collections:Currently reading

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The Black God's Drums by P. Djeli Clark



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This is the alt history Confederacy story you're looking for.

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racism.)

The magic of those old Afrikin gods is part of this city, ma maman used to say, buried in its bones and roots with the slaves that built it, making the ground and air and waterways sacred land. Only we forgot the names that went with that power we brought over here. Since Haiti got free, though, those gods were coming back, she’d said, across the waters, all the way from Lafrik. Now here’s two of them in a bordello in New Orleans. Who knows what that means.

The year is 1884, and the Union is still divided. In this alternate steampunk version of American history, the Union and Confederacy called a truce after eight years of war, in the Armistice of Third Antietam. Any states not already a part of the Union were abandoned, its enslaved citizens left to perish in bondage. As if the reality of slavery wasn't (isn't) horrific enough, Clark throws in an especially chilling detail, reminiscent of the Sunken Place: slave owners dose their human chattel with a drug called drapeto vapor, which zombifies them into compliance.

I’ve seen the tintype photographs from inside the Confederacy. Shadowy pictures of fields and factories filled with laboring dark bodies, their faces almost all covered up in big black gas masks, breathing in that drapeto vapor. It make it so the slaves don’t want to fight no more, don’t want to do much of nothing. Just work. Thinking about their faces, so blank and empty, makes me go cold inside.

Against this backdrop we meet a plucky AF heroine, thirteen-year-old Creeper (given name Jacqueline). Orphaned three years prior when her mother died of yellow fever, Creeper lives in the nooks and crannies of Les Grand Murs, the Great Wall that surrounds free New Orleans, protecting it from the superstorms that plague the coast - ever since the Haitians let loose a supernatural weapon called The Black God's Drums in order to drive Napoleon and the French from their country.

While hiding in her alcove, scoping out some potential marks, Creeper overhears a plot to deliver a Haitian scientist to the Confederacy. Supposedly this Dr. Duval has found a way to recreate The Black God's Drums, thus unleashing the power of the Gods here on earth once again. With such a powerful weapon in their hands, the Confederacy could actually win the war. Now it's up to a tween pickpocket, an airship captain named Ann-Marie St. Augustine (previously her mother's paramour), a pair of renegade nuns, and a feral child descended from plantation owners to foil the plot and save the day.

And oh, let's not forget the two sister-wife goddesses (or pieces of goddesses, rather) that have attached themselves to Creeper and Ann-Marie.

The Black God's Drums is amazing, and my only complaint is that we don't get to spend more time in the spectacularly captivating world Clark has created here. While Creeper shines (I'm a sucker for girls disguised as boys), every single character is multi-dimensional and engaging. I really love the interplay between Creeper and Ann-Marie - and their goddesses, Oya and Oshun. The relationship between Ann-Marie and Rose adds another layer to an already complex situation. And Sisters Agnès and Eunice are all kinds of awesome.

Clark paints a colorful and vibrant picture of 1884 New Orleans, from the mixed-race and gay-friendly bordello Shá Rouj to the crumbling plantations claimed by the swamps. The alternate history is fascinating, though it's frustrating that we don't learn more about the circumstances leading up to (and fallout of) the treaty; I really, really hope that The Black God's Drums won't be the only glimpse we get into this 'verse. The titular Black God's Drums, particularly how Clark weaves it into Haitian history, is just the icing on the cake.

I need more. Maybe a twenty-something Jacqueline, now a college graduate and bonafide member of the Midnight Robber, helping Ann-Marie and the rest of the crew to take down the Confederacy for good? Bonus points if guerilla fighter Harriet Tubman makes a cameo. Not to typecast her, but Aisha Hinds has to play Tubman in the film version. (She's just too perfect, once you see the monologue episode of Underground you won't ever be able to picture anyone else as Minty.)

And yes, this needs to be a movie like yesterday. Get on this, Hollywood.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2018/11/27/the-black-gods-drums-by-p-djeli-clark/ ( )
  smiteme | Sep 19, 2018 |
Jacqueline is a teenager living on the streets of the Free City of New Orleans, scratching a living in the only free city and independent city in the Confederacy. She is helped by her constant companion - the Orisha Oya, lady of winds.

She doesn’t want to stay - she wants to see the world and Anne Marie, agent of Haiti and the Free Islands, may be the ticket out there on her airship.

But first they have a city to save…. As a Haitian scientist has been captured and with the secret of their most powerful weapon: the Black God’s Drums.

Oooooh, yes, yes this is me intrigued

This is an alternate world, a steampunk world - honestly I don’t even know why I’m calling it a steampunk world because i think there’s only one airship to give me that hint, but the whole sense of this is really evocative of steampunk. In fact the whole book has an incredibly powerful sense of of place and setting. It’s surprising because this is done with very neat language. Normally when I describe a book as evocative and with a strong sense of place it’s a very positive spin on “really overwritten” or “in need of an editor with a big pair of scissors”. But this isn’t overwritten - it’s short and the writing is wonderfully concise at giving this sense of the entire world with minimal info dumping despite a massive amount of information to impart

And this world is fascinating. We have the standards of steampunk with the airships et al. But we also have a mix of magic and religion with the yoruba gods and loa having direct effect on the world and clear other magic systems being powerful influence. The United States is divided, the civil war still ongoing for years albeit with a truce. New Orleans is a free city, fiercely independent with strong allies allowing it to be independent from the Confederacy despite forces trying to undermine that. The Caribbean is independent, the Free Islands, following Haiti’s revolt now aided by powerful technology and divine intervention

It’s a fascinating world setting to take a steampunk setting and then outright addressing and combating the themes of colonialism which are almost inherent to this genre - or completely ignored by this genre. By openly addressing this, addressing the bigotry and oppression and then taking the magic and technology of the setting and using it to overturn some of that, it really does subvert so much of this genre. And any historical genre - there’s so much ”alternate history” fiction out there which basically replicates exactly the same modes of oppression that exist today - and the exact same victors, despite throwing in all kinds of supernatural elements. There’s no reason to repeat the same reality we have today when so much else is changing.

Our protagonist is Jacqueline (known as Creeper), a classic Urban fantasy orphan who lives on the streets of New Orleans. Her mother, a sex worker is gone - but despite that still has multiple maternal figures - from a collection of subversive spying nuns, to the madam at a brothel (and both she and Jacqueline are clear in combating and resisting any sense of shaming of sex workers) who are there to try and grab her off the streets and still look out for her. She also has a deep relationship with the goddess Oya, orisha of the winds, storms etc which is a fun relationship with powers and visions - albeit at Oya’s will not Jacqueline’s - I think Oya definitely has her own agenda

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  FangsfortheFantasy | Sep 14, 2018 |
The Black God's Drums by P Djèlí Clark is a novella set in a steampunk alternate history New Orleans in 1884. The alternate history aspect involves a quicker end to the American Civil War after Britain and France sent reinforcements by airship, starkly altering the sociological landscape of the world.

The most interesting thing about this novella was the setting and the worldbuilding. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into it and I would be interested in seeing the setting explored further. Since this is a novella and hence relatively short, I felt like it only scratched the surface of some aspects and that there are more stories that could be told in this setting.

I liked Creeper, the thirteen year old street girl who was quite capable of looking after herself and who also lived with the presence of a god. The other main character was also fun to read about, though we didn't see quite as much of her and mostly saw her from the perspective of Creeper. The story is written as first person narration by Creeper, which strongly overlays her interpretation of the world over the story. The dialogue is written in the accent or dialect matching the character speaking, which sometimes took me an extra second to parse, but did a lot to distinguish different characters and, to some degree, their origins.

My main disappointment with this story was that, even though it's a novella it felt very short. More like a long short story than a novella. It's not that nothing happened, but the plot was fairly limited and contained and when I neared the end it felt like it was over too quickly. I think I would have preferred a slightly meatier story that was a bit less linear. Not that the plot was bad, I have just gotten used to longer novellas, I suppose.

Overall, I recommend The Black God's Drums to readers who are intrigued by the premise of a steam punk New Orleans. It's a short read and an enjoyable one, especially if you go in with accurate expectations.

4 / 5 stars

You can read more of my reviews on my blog. ( )
  Tsana | Sep 12, 2018 |
I really enjoyed this novella. The characters, time period and concepts were interesting, and the atmosphere of this was also just done really well.

In this novella, we follow Creeper - a young teen living on the streets, thieving to survive. Creeper wants out of this life though, so after overhearing a conversation, she strikes a bargain with the Captain of the Midnight Robber, and must prove herself to get on board.

So when I first went into this, I thought a lot more of it was going to actually occur on the Midnight Robber, but this is more of an origin story of how Creeper gets there. I ended up really enjoying it, and the writing was well done for this novella. The language took a little to get used to, and I had to look up a few terms, and re-read some sentences, but overall I really thought it added to the atmosphere and feel of the story.

Creeper is a great protagonist, and Ann-Marie is a great contrast to her as well, yet it's easy to draw similarities. The world they live in was super interesting - post civil war, but where New Orleans is a free state. I liked the exposition on how this world came to be about, and for a novella, the author did a good job getting the important bits across. If this were a full length novel, I definitely would have wanted more information, but it wasn't super relevant to get it for this particular point in time.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and hope to read more from the author soon, and maybe more about Creeper and her adventures!

* I received an ARC of this on Netgalley from the publisher for a free and honest review * ( )
  jdifelice | Sep 3, 2018 |
The Black God's Drums by P. Djeli Clark is a fascinating alternative history/world where there is more steampunk but also tribal gods are real. A truly unique world. Wonderful well developed characters that came alive on the pages! The world building was outstanding especially since this was such a short novel. The author put so much into so little space and it turned out great! I will be looking for more books by this author. I got this book from the library. ( )
  MontzaleeW | Aug 29, 2018 |
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