I don’t think I’ve yet met a premise of P. Djèlí Clark’s that I haven’t loved!
Ring Shout posits the idea that the Ku Klux Klan are made up of both your regular hate-filled Klansmen and demonic Ku Klux entities from another realm masquerading as human. Not everyone can see these Ku Klux in their demonic form, especially since most of them start out as your average Klansman before being turned. Maryse Boudreaux, however, can, and has turned her talent to hunting and destroying as many of these demons as possible, with the help of munitions expert Chef and sharpshooter Sadie. All three live under the protection of Nana Jean, an infamous Gullah bootlegger who works her own formidable magic in Macon, Georgia.
No one’s exactly sure how the Ku Klux infiltrated humanity, but Maryse and her crew think it has something to do with the ultra-racist movie Birth Of A Nation. When a special screening is announced atop nearby Stone Mountain, and a new butcher comes to town offering free meat to upstanding white people, Maryse knows that some new horror is afoot. What she’s less sure of, tho, is the ability of Nana Jean’s gang to handle this emerging threat, even with the help of Maryse’s enchanted blade. Will Maryse’s desire to protect her people lead her to making alliances she may soon regret?
Horror-wise, this is one of the creepiest novellas I’ve read in a long time. I still get the shivers thinking about some of the perfectly grotesque scenes, many to do with the terrifying Butcher Clyde. I also loved how effortlessly Mr Clark wove real history and established mythos with his own brand new take on demon hunting, with an impressive time travel fillip that fit perfectly into the narrative.
Alas then, that I felt that Ring Shout suffers from the same issues I had with much of his earlier work, barring the terrific The Haunting Of Tram Car 015. I thought it was pretty obvious what the bad guys were going to offer Maryse, but since she’s not meant to be a detective like the heroines of A Master Of Djinn, I could let it slide. Mystery-wise, I felt that all the plot twists were used up in the first descriptions of the Ku Klux, but I have been told that my background in crime raises my standards for such outside of the genre perhaps too highly. And there was certainly far more plot than in The Black God’s Drums, tho RS did feel, at times, like it could use more fleshing out.
I love Mr Clark’s work, but I feel like he hasn’t yet claimed his true potential. One day, I’m sure, he’s going to write something that blows us all away. In the meantime, I’m happy to support his work because the flashes of quality that they do exhibit are so worthwhile. I’m just waiting for a whole novel of excellence: I’m confident in his talents, so it’s just a matter of time.
Doug liked this more than I did. I’d say it’s about middle of the pack in my slate for this year’s Hugo for Best Novella.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark was published October 13th 2020 by tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including