The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Publisher: Tor.com (Tor Publishing)
Release Date: August 21, 2018
Available Through The Book Depository: The Black God’s Drums
Cover Illustration: Chris McGrath
Summary: Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.
But Creeper keeps another secret close to heart–Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities concerning Creeper and Ann-Marie…
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: The Black God’s Drums is a fantastic novella that fuses steampunk and history, set in 1884 New Orleans! Creeper, an orphan, sees the potential for something much greater when she learns of a scientist and his weapon that could bring chaos across the city. There’s descriptive world building, mystery, African mythology, and much more in this masterfully crafted historical fantasy novella set during the post Civil War era!
I hope I’m not alone in this when I say that P. Djèlí Clark packs so much into this 111 page novella, that it deserves to have its own full-length novels! It felt like there was still so much lore and history yet to be discovered in Clark’s steampunk/science fiction fantasy New Orleans once I reached the end! I’d been really looking forward to reading this for years because as always Tor continuously releases such brilliant stories, especially when it comes to their novellas! I remember learning about it through the cover reveal a couple years ago and after reading the summary I knew I had to check out this steampunk SFF novella!
Creeper is a 13-year-old orphan surviving on the streets of New Orleans and she is graced by the goddess Oya, the African orisha of wind and storms, who speaks to her through her mind. Her connection with the goddess allows her to see a premonition of something dangerous on the horizon.
She quickly learns of Dr. Duval, a Haitian scientist, whose meeting with confederate state soldiers to exchange information about a powerful weapon known as the Black God’s Drums, keeping that information close, she finds her way to a bordello (where her mother used to work) to exchange information of her own with the captain, Ann-Marie!
With this exchange, she hopes it’ll offer her an opportunity for a new life, perhaps even one filled with adventure!
This leads to the Creeper (whose real name is Jacqueline) and Ann-Marie working together to learn where the scientist’s trail leads and what it could mean for the city if the weapon falls into the wrong hands (such as confederate soldiers). They follow their sources that offer more insight into the scientist’s work and what it could be used for.
Told through a 1st person POV, there’s so much heart and such a vibrant energy/voice to Creeper that brings the world to life. The history and fusion of the world building alongside the steampunk elements are developed so well because we’re in her head. Clark layers the history of the civil war, Haitian revolution, atmosphere of 1800’s America, alongside masterfully weaving in mythology and steampunk technology! With the way Clark executes this tale, it feels like this version of New Orleans could have truly existed back then! (*Side note: this novella gave me such fiction podcast vibes, its definitely inspired me to work on a list of recommendations based on SFF books! Hoping to get it posted sometime in the future *･ﾟ:✧ ✧ﾟ *!!)
New Orleans acts as a neutral port city that is the central hub for such a diverse Black diaspora where many cultures are represented, from Haiti, Trinidad, and the Caribbean.
Clark cleverly delivers this neutral city as a “bridge” between the US alongside Caribbean, while still increasing the political tension and expanding on the layered history during the time. As mentioned in this Nerd Daily Q&A, he brilliantly weaves together cultural history and that of slavery alongside mythology and balances these so perfectly:
“I knew I wanted it to be steampunk, and I knew I wanted it to both centralise and subvert the histories of slavery and emancipation. New Orleans turned out to be the perfect place that could bridge these various worlds: a geographic space connected to the North American mainland yet also a port city with ties to the Caribbean.”
Clark includes the modern technology of the time such as telegraphs, railway stations, and much more! However it’s also through the description of the weather, atmosphere, factory smoke, upcoming Maddi grá festivities, and colorful town houses that add that element of realism alongside the steampunk elements from airships to the Black God’s Drums and the dangerous Drapeto gas. Alongside that, there’s also a focus on African folklore and myth as we learn more about the goddesses Oshun & Oya, even Shango!
You can tell Clark put so much thought into the way the history would be presented in this world and it never once felt underdeveloped or rushed. For someone like me who has really minimal knowledge of Black history during this time, I felt I learned so much that definitely inspired me to do my own research after reading this book!
Language itself also plays such a big part in this novel, adding another layer to the world itself as characters had different dialects and ,as mentioned above, also featured characters from different backgrounds.
One of my favorite dynamics in this novella was between Creeper and captain Ann-Marie. They really are like to sides of a coin and I loved seeing their friendship grow. They learn so much about their abilities and seeing them work together made this such a fun adventure! Not only is Creeper connected to Oya, but Ann-Marie is also connected to an orisha named Oshun, whose tied to the water.
At its heart, this is a story about 2 Black women embracing their inner power and it’s such a beautifully explored layer of the story that really comes together by the end!
The cast of characters were all great and it’s so clear that Clark has woven so much history into each of their distinct stories, but throughout this novella he cleverly leaves a lot to readers imaginations (like the nuns, Feral, Madame Diouf, even Ann-Marie’s ship mates Francois, Nogai & Ravi). Also mentioned in the article above, I got this sense that there was a lot more to Ann-Marie and her Midnight Robber crew and as it turns out, Clark originally had the novella in her perspective!
Though I absolutely adored this book, I personally felt like the story was getting a bit rushed near the end (though of course it has to do with the structure of being a novella), hence the 4 stars. It wraps up really nicely and Clark hints at a future for Creeper in Orleans alongside Ann-Marie!
I’ll also add that with the fast-paced nature of the story and specific/direct world-building, I’d recommend this novella if you enjoyed Six Of Crows or if your looking for a good historical mystery with a great ensemble cast, I also recommend this if you love The Diviners! Alongside reading The Black God’s Drums in book form, I listened to the audiobook as well and I suggest checking it out too!
Again, if there are ever ANY future novellas in this series, I will definitely be reading them…and if there’s ever a possibility for full-length novels? Even better!
The Black God’s Drums is wonderful SFF novella with descriptive world building, action, adventure, mystery and brilliantly weaves together steampunk alongside 1800’s history! In my opinion, this is a clever historical fantasy tale that deserves more hype!
I’m also getting back into reading some of the more quiet books on my TBR for my year-long readathon called: #QuietReadathon! So, reading this novella completed the challenge of ‘Backlist Boost,’ & ‘Read a book with under 5k ratings on Goodreads.’ If your looking for a fun, stress-free readathon to enjoy, I hope you’ll check it out! 😍💖