title: the black god’s drums
author: p. djèlí clark
genre: science fiction, afrofuturism, historical
content warnings: violence, blood, guns, racism, heavy mentions of slavery
my rating: highly recommended

the black god’s drums is one of the few books over the last year or so that i’ve bought without knowing anything about it prior to seeing it on the shelf of a book store. i bought it a few months back, after i read (and loved) binti by nnedi okorafor and realised that novellas are incredible. what really drew me to it is the cover – i think it’s incredibly beautiful. then i read the back of it and found out it’s about a teenage girl, and has smuggler air ships and african goddesses. i couldn’t walk out of the store without it.

the black god’s drums is set in an alternative 1880’s new orleans, where new orleans is a sort of neutral territory in a post-civil war america. we follow homeless 13 year old creeper, a girl who accidentally overhears some very valuable information and decides to trade that information for a place in the crew of a smuggler air ship. it is a kind of science fiction-afrofuturistic-fantasy-historical story that’s hard to pin down but extremely captivating.

this novella is just over 100 pages, and clark really made those pages count. there is not a slow or dragging moment. i will always admire how good novella writers manage to get so much information into so few pages without making it feel like and info dump. there is consistent world building, some of the most interesting characters i’ve ever read, and constant action.

i loved how the black god’s drums is written. clark writes each character’s accent on page, giving everyone their unique voice. there is a big variety of characters from different places, so almost everyone talks different. i can see how this might make the novella not as accessible to everyone, though, as i know a lot of readers have a hard time reading “guid eenin” instead of “good evening” for various reasons. i really liked it, though. i’m not very good with accents and wouldn’t have really known what a character sounded like if the text just said that someone had a certain accent. all of our main characters are people of colour, with most of them being black.

creeper, our protagonist, has the african orisha oya in her. oya is described as the dark goddess of wind and destruction. they have been one for as long as creeper can remember, and their relationship was one of the highlights for me. while they often disagree and argue, as much as one could argue with a divine entity who lives in your mind, they share a strong bond and are very protective of each other. if creeper is in danger or in a bad situation oya will know and take charge to protect creeper, but she can also be indifferent and inconsiderate of creepers limitations as a human girl if she really wants something. creeper switches between talking about herself and oya as two different people, and talking about them like they’re the same. i really enjoyed the parts where it’s like they are one and the same, with throwaway comments like this:

“oya scowls as deep as i do. we don’t like being fidgeted with.”

if creeper and oya are two of our main characters, the air ship captain anna-marie is the last to make up a trio. she is the one creeper wants to trade information with in exchange to get to join her crew. i loved anna-marie so much. she smart and cunning and ruthless, and so so cool. and while the word isn’t actually used – she’s also bisexual, and one of her legs is a mechanical, giving her a limp. this means one of the main characters, the one portrayed as the most experienced and the one our protagonist looks up to and admires a lot even though she won’t admit it, is a black, bisexual amputee. i love her to bits, and honestly i’d thank her if she stepped on me.

so yes, i absolutely adored this novella. it’s a really quick read, so i’d highly recommend you pick it up inbetween books. just be careful and take care of yourself. while we don’t actively see any slavery it is a big part of creeper’s world and something that always looms over her. there are descriptions of slavery that happened in the past, and of it happening in present time in the book, just not in new orleans.

i read the black god’s drums for #mythothon, for the prompt aphrodite – read a book with a beautiful cover. it is the fifth and final book i’m reading for this readathon, and i read it all yesterday, november 30th, which was the final day of #mythothon. i’m going to write a wrap-up post this weekend or in the beginning of next week, so look out for that!

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3 reaktioner till “novella review: the black god’s drums by p. djèlí clark

  1. i have been loving novellas these last few years. I can get through them in one day, and they are usually what feels like a giant story, but told in about 100 pages. And this one sounds amazing!!
    The accents on the page – is it easier if you read those parts out loud? I had run into something similar a number of years back, where much of dialog was phonetic to show the character’s accents, and I found that if I didn’t read it out loud, i had trouble understanding everything people were saying.



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