Fiction, Reviews

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It takes two heartbeats for them to fix on me. Then they’re galloping on all fours, snarling and marking me as prey.

But like I said already, I hunt monsters.

And I got a sword that sings.

Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the digital ARC; which we received in exchange for an honest review.
Published: October 2020
Genre: Horror, Alternate Universe, Historical Fiction
Representation: Black Folks & other People of Colour (BPOC), WLW
Content Warning: gun violence, monsters, racism, occultism, Jim Crow society, discussion of past slavery, mention of lynching, allusion to sexual acts and cunnilingus, past death of loved ones, past abandoning by parent, physical violence, allusion to past sexual assault, description of closed space, nightmares, white supremacy, romanticization of the KKK by white folks, propaganda, arson, being inside a burning building, whipping, disfiguration, maiming, death of a loved one, blood, gore, mutilation, hanging, witnessing the death of loved ones.

Summary

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror.

D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.

Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.

— summary from Goodreads

Review

We were so excited to be approved for this arc – as you might have noticed if you’ve been following our blog, we’re big fans of P. Djèlí Clark. We’ve already reviewed two of his books (see them here and here), and while we really tried to refrain from reviewing more until we had more variety, we just couldn’t resist with this one. This one was SO. DANG. GOOD.

Just like we’ve said before, we marvel at P. Djèlí Clark’s talents in writing full, compelling stories with three-dimensional characters within his novellas. This book is no exception – and in fact, we think this book embodies his skill. Just like The Black God’s Drums, Ring Shout features dialect writing, including a character who speaks only in Gullah. And just like we said in The Black God’s Drums, the dialect writing serves to completely immerse the reader into the world that Clark has built so swiftly, that you can’t help but be invested in the characters and their plight almost immediately. Of course, that also has to do with Clark’s somewhat eccentric and wholly unique characters, taking form in the protagonist Maryse and her friends, Chef and Sadie. Their conversation about the use of the “n” word right at the beginning of the book gives you an immediate and cheekily accurate representation of these characters and their dynamic before you’ve even gotten a sense of the story. All of the characters in this book are so interesting, which makes reading this book a lot of fun, despite the darker themes. Come for the historical horror story, stay for the imaginative plot and quirky characters.

Speaking of imaginative, we delighted in the quite-literally-monster representation of the KKK throughout the novel. While there is a difference between the terrible, racist, human KKK and the Lovecraftian monster Ku Kluxes, the whole dynamic still brings to mind the pure, unadulterated hate that takes the form of racism no matter where or when you’re looking. Even more interestingly, Clark draws a sharp distinction between the hate of people like the KKK and the resentment and pain of those who have been on the receiving end of such hate, and who have been harmed both physically and mentally.

[…] we hurt. Not just me, all of us, colored folk everywhere, who carry our wounds with us, sometimes open for all to see but always so much more buried and hidden deep. I remember the songs that come with all those visions. Songs full of hurt. Songs of sadness and tears. Songs pulsing with pain. A righteous anger and cry for justice.

But not hate.

They ain’t the same thing. Never was. These monsters want to pervert that. Twist it to their own ends.

— Maryse; “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark

What Maryse says above is certainly reflected in the novel; you really watch this play out as the villain tries to twist the anger and frustration of Maryse for their own means. It is an extremely powerful literary representation of the repercussions of racism, while also drawing a clear line between the hate from those racists and the justified anger of folks of colour. It is a brilliant way to dealign people of colour from their tormenters, and it is an especially stirring analogy to the race riots of today; specifically, it directly rejects the narrative certain people have recently pushed, claiming that people of colour who are protesting are the aggressors, not the victims. In doing so, Clark also draws upon the legacy of those who are no longer with us, in a beautiful ancestral storytelling strategy that hones in on the injustice that still endures even after a person has died. It is a brilliant device, one that certainly brings one to tears near the end of the book when we see how this plays out for Maryse and her friends. 

There is a lot of body positivity, appreciation of dark skin, and celebration of culture that makes this book as enriching as it is compelling. The themes of music and rhythm, the centrality of how poisonous hate is, the resilience of Black folks, and badass female characters – what’s not to like? 

Needless to say, there is a lot of emotion and vulnerability within these pages, even with the gruesome Lovecraftian horror feel of the book. Badass female characters, queer folks, heartwarming character dynamics, and a heart-pounding climax to boot, this book is a must-read for spooky season!

3 thoughts on “Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark”

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