Published by Tor.com on August 21, 2018
Rising SFF star P. Djèlí Clark brings an alternate New Orleans of orisha, airships, and adventure to life in his immersive debut novella The Black God's Drums
In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air – in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.
But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.
Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.
“Asinewy mosaic of Haitian sky pirates, wily street urchins, and orisha magic.Beguiling and bombastic!” —Scott Westerfeld, New York Times bestselling author
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
I was pretty excited to find out this book was coming out, and even more excited when I got approved for an advanced copy from NetGalley. P. Djèlí Clark wrote one of my favorite short stories “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”, so I wanted to see what he would do with a novella-length work.
Sadly, The Black God’s Drums didn’t work for me as well as Djinn did. It’s hard to say why, but I think it has a lot to do with the narrators in each one. The former story had an awesome female detective, whereas the latter features a young teenage thief. Now my teenage self would have loved “Creeper”, the narrator of The Black God’s Drums, and maybe my current self could have grown to love her in a longer story, but she just failed to grab me over the course of the novella.
Clark definitely excels at world building. This story takes place in an alternate version of New Orleans. There are steampunk elements, including airships, and mystical elements, as Creeper herself serves as a vessel for the goddess Oya.
As is the case with most novellas, the plot here is rather simple. There is a dangerous magical device, called The Black God’s Drums or Shango’s Thunder. It creates killer storms. The bad guys want it, the good guys don’t want anyone to ever use it again. Think of it as a magical nuke. The bad guys are a splinter sect of Confederate soldiers. Would you want the Confederates to have a magical nuke? I hope not.
Our “good guys” are a rag-tag bunch. Creeper is an orphaned thief. She seeks out the help of a dashing female airship captain. There are a couple of mysterious nuns. Members of the captain’s diverse crew help out, though their actions mainly happen behind the scenes.
I feel like a broken record saying this about novellas, but I wish this had been longer. I would have preferred a more complex plot, a chance for Creeper to really grow as a character, more of the airship crew, more of the city. When there’s a great setting and an interesting cast of characters, it feels like such a let-down to only be with them for a couple hundred pages. I mean, this is such a short novella it doesn’t even have chapter breaks (unless they added those in after sending out the advanced review copies).
I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more by this author. Even though this book didn’t work for me, I still like the author’s ideas. He clearly has a great imagination and a knack for world building. I’d love to see what he’d do with a full-length novel or trilogy, whether set in this world, the world of “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” or some other world together.
The Black God’s Drums will be published on August 21st. If you would like a physical copy I highly recommend pre-ordering it from your favorite local independent bookstore.
Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan/Tor-Forge for providing me with a review copy of this book!