The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am loving the explosion of speculative fiction set in New Orleans. The Black God’s Drums isn’t just speculative fiction, it’s alternate history. And on top of that, it’s steampunk. Just take all my money now.
Like Sarah Gailey in American Hippo, P. Djeli Clark takes us down the Mississippi river to the Big Easy by way of a few changes to your history textbook. Successful slave rebellions, a few alterations to the American Civil War, a dash of steampunk, and you’ve got the free city of New Orleans, an airship port straddling the tenuous relationship between the North, the South, and various island nations of the Caribbean. Clarke deftly walks us through this within the 110 pages of the novella, scattering well-placed details when they become relevant to the story instead of info-dumping all the ways this New Orleans is not the city you know at the beginning of the story. He trusts the reader to pick up what he’s putting down, and I like being treated as a smart reader.
Creeper and Ann-Marie are the best sort of mirrored characters—each carries a god, but they deal with it in opposite ways. Both are forced to reckon with these strange inhabitations in the climax of the story, which Clark wastes no time getting to. Some novellas feel like incomplete novels, but this one is exactly the right length—for the story, anyway. I would happily spend a lot more time in this version of the world. (Can we please have more stories with the nuns? They completely steal the one scene they’re in, and from that one scene, we can extrapolate half a dozen elevator pitches for other stories set in this world.) The power team of Ann-Marie and Creeper can come, too.