Quick Review: RING SHOUT by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com)

ClarkPD-RingShoutA dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror

IN AMERICA, DEMONS WEAR WHITE HOODS.

In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan’s ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die.

Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter. Armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, they hunt their hunters and send the Klan’s demons straight to Hell. But something awful’s brewing in Macon, and the war on Hell is about to heat up.

Can Maryse stop the Klan before it ends the world?

The KKK are monsters. But what if, in addition to the human kind of monsters, they were also actual otherworldly demons? P. Djèlí Clark examines just such a situation, in this engaging and twisted novella. I really enjoyed this.

This is the third novella by Clark that I’ve read, and each one has been excellent. In Ring Shout, the author takes a look at an alternative, supernatural-horror-inflected history of the United States. Our main protagonist is Maryse Boudreaux, a resistance fighter with some otherworldly abilities and someone who has drawn the attention of the Ku Kluxes and also their supernatural opponents. Through Boudreaux’s eyes, we learn more about the ongoing struggle between these supernatural forces, as well as peripheral creatures who are not directly involved in the fight (but could be convinced to take part, given the right… inducements).

The KKK seem to be evolving, adapting, becoming a more evolved and dangerous beast. The first time we meet one in the story, Clark describes their transformation process in lurid detail. Something is changing among the Ku Klux ranks, however, and the group of heroes are starting to learn about an upcoming event that could spell doom on a huge scale.

“I’m saying that the organism—the Ku Klux—is evolving.”

“Evolving?” Sadie looks up, fiddling with the knobs of a microscope. “Like that monkey man’s book?”

“Darwin,” Molly answers, pulling the microscope away. “He the one. But you say that take a long time.”

Molly looks impressed Sadie remembers. “It’s supposed to. But I’ve recorded these changes over months. They’re happening, and fast.”

Very well-situated in the time (see the Darwin comment, above — and he’s mentioned elsewhere in the novella, too), Clark does a fantastic job of bringing the setting to life on the page. Whether in the quieter moments as Boudreaux et al unwind after a hunt, or when she’s recruiting otherworldly allies, or the final climactic denouement, the author’s prose is always engaging and evocative. His characters are great, fully-realized, and readers will quickly become invested in their fates. Clark spends little time explaining the supernatural “rules” of his creation, and instead we learn more as events unfold. There’s no info-dumping, and the story moves along at an excellent, steady clip as a result.

To say much more would be to ruin the story. To sum up, this is another excellent novella, and one I highly recommend. I can’t wait to read more by Clark.

The struggles is eternal, there are no easy fixes — continue the fight, or lose.

*

P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on October 13th, 2020.

Also on CR: Interview with P. Djèlí Clark (2018); Review of The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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