I need P Djeli Clark to write me some meaty 300+ page books! He’s definitely doing great things with shorter works: 2019’s The Haunting Of Tram Car 015 felt fully realized despite its brevity, and I can only imagine that this year’s Ring Shout will only showcase his increasing command of the novella form. Unfortunately, while The Black God’s Drums — like A Dead Djinn In Cairo, its predecessor in Mr Clarks’ novella oeuvre — felt rich in world-building and tone, it fell quite flat, for me, in plot.
Creeper is a street kid living in Free New Orleans after a slave uprising liberated the city from the Confederacy during the American Civil War. In this alternate universe, the islands of the Caribbean are also self-ruled by the formerly enslaved, and technology is very much steampunk, with gods and goddesses an essential part of the rich tapestry of everyday life. In fact, the goddess Oya, orisha of winds and storms, has a deep connection with Creeper, aiding our urchin time and time again as she picks pockets and evades all attempts to send her off to school.
When Creeper accidentally overhears a plot to pay off a Haitian scientist in exchange for deadly technology, she knows she has to bring this important information to the right people. Her informants tell her that the best person to trust is Captain Ann-Marie of the airship Midnight Robber, so off she goes to try to barter this information for the thing she craves most. Little does she realize that embarking on this adventure will put her in the crosshairs of a man even Oya shrinks from. But what price is too high to pay to keep the secret of the Black God’s Drums?
There’s so much wonderful world-building here in these scant 100-odd pages, with a diverse cast and a bounty of action and adventure, that you can almost forgive the plot itself for being bog standard. I’ve recently discovered that perhaps most sff readers don’t read as many mystery novels as I do, but even so, the only surprises in this narrative were in the ornamental details and not in the actual turns of the story. That said, I loved those ornamental details, even if I wish there had been much more meat to the story itself.
Doug found this far more enchanting than I did. You can check out his review here.