Sci-Fi Novellas Science Fiction Reviews

The Black God’s Drums (Book Review)

The Black God’s Drums is a masterwork of world-building and alternate history, giving us a vivid portrayal of a New Orleans that stands free amidst warring nations. The story is filled with the magic of gods and goddesses, and industrial-age contraptions that lend an air of wonder to the city. I loved every minute of this book and hope we’ll get to see more of Creeper and Captain Ann-Marie.

THE BLACK GOD’S DRUMS

P. Djèlí Clark
Tor.com, August 2018

QUICK SUMMARY

A young girl receives a vision she doesn’t quite understand. She sets out across New Orleans to find answers and, along the way, discovers a plot that could be the city’s undoing. Aided by an airship captain and her crew, they use the resources at their disposal to fight against these evil forces.

Spoiler

WHY I LOVED IT

THE CAPTAIN

Captain Ann-Marie is a brilliant character, riding in on her airship and taking the spotlight from the main character. She’s a true badass, both worldly-wise and a skilled fighter. I admire her acceptance of the young girl, Creeper, and her actions at the end to give her a better future. It’s always great to see such a well-done character.

WELL DEVELOPED ALTERNATE HISTORY

I’m floored by the development that went into this alternate history. It’s a complex weave of reversed battle victories during the Civil War, involving new weapons and allies. We see an empowered Haiti that harnesses the power of their gods and goddesses to overcome the intruders who, in our world, enslaved the nation and destroyed their island. We see a divided America with Confederate and Union areas and regions controlled by other countries including Russia. The horrors of slavery are made worse by a mysterious gas that suppresses the urge to fight back. New Orleans is a Switzerland and is thus a melting pot of these warring regions and nations. I issued a ‘hells yes’ at the mention of General Tubman. This is some of the best world building I’ve seen and I’m infinitely impressed.

GODS & GODESSES AMONG US

The fantasy element of The Black God’s Drums highlighted the incarnation of Haitian and African gods and goddesses, controlling people as they weave in and out of the conflicts of the region. The ultimate weapon lies in unleashing their power upon unsuspecting enemies, a description both terrifying and mesmerizing. Their existence within the minds of the two main characters isn’t questioned or thought to be strange, it just is. It’s a detail in the vein of American Gods, where the deities walk among us and use their powers for good and evil.

A VIVID NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans shines bright, taking its position as the free beacon of the South seriously. The descriptions are so vivid, showing us a city similar in layout and design, but vastly different in terms of cultures coming together to stand side-by-side. Everyone is welcome in New Orleans, and the fighting stops at the borders. Bravo to the author on portraying the rich culture of this beloved city.

INDUSTRIAL-AGE TECH

As a late 20th century person, the idea of blimps and dirigibles as transportation holds a certain kind of wonder. Reading about their widespread use seems like something straight out of science fiction but in reality, it was a common mode of transportation. Nonetheless, it adds to the otherworldliness of the setting. There are also a few steampunk/industrial age technologies that have cameos throughout the plot, adding to the atmosphere of this different time.

CONCEPTS

Alternate History, War, Industrial Age, Magic, Haiti, Gods & Goddesses, New Orleans

Interested in more books like The Black God’s Drums? Check out our book reviews here.

Photo by Westley Ferguson on Unsplash

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