The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Science Fiction | Steampunk | Alternate History | Novella
Published by Tor.com
Released August 21st, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
I can’t remember the last time I read a really great steampunk story, so I’m thrilled that I finally picked up P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums. At just 112 pages, it’s a short and quick story, but one that is packed with an interesting world, intriguing characters, and a solid plot.
The Black God’s Drums is a steampunk-fantasy story set during an alternate history where the Civil War agreed to an armistice and New Orleans became a free city. Creeper, our main character, is a teenage girl who lives on the streets and pickpockets newcomers to the city in order to survive. One day, after hearing a group of men plotting over a Haitian scientist coming to town, Creeper tries to sell the information, instead getting tangled up in a race to keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of the wrong people.
I read the whole thing in a single sitting and wanted more as soon as I finished it. It’s a world that would warrant a full-length novel. I want to know more about The Free Isles, which, in the story, became free after the Haitian Slave Rebellion in 1794 and comprises Haiti and the Caribbean. Using the mysterious weapon known as The Black God’s Drums, won their freedom against the French naval fleet that was on their shores.
I want to know more about the gods and goddesses who live inside of people and can unleash their power through them. I need to know more about Ann-Marie, captain of the airship Midnight Robber.
Clark did an amazing job of weaving history with fantasy and creating a “what if” scenario, and made it even better by adding airships. There’s so much happening in the story, but it never feels overwhelming. I’ve read some novellas where the authors tried to stuff the pages with way too much information that it becomes confusing, and P. Djeli Clark certainly didn’t do that.
One of the things I most appreciated about the novella is that the author didn’t make the female characters (which, by the way, they’re almost all female characters) sexualized or have them fall in love. They simply were awesome and kicked all the ass. I wish more authors would just let their female characters be themselves without forcing awkward romances on them.
The only gripe I have about The Black God’s Drums is that the politics of the world, and of New Orleans specifically, felt a little jumbled. There’s limited space for explanation in a novella, so I get it, but I needed more information on that front.
This was the first piece of literature by P. Djeli Clark that I’ve ever read, and it certainly won’t be the last. I want to read everything by him now because of how impressed I was by The Black God’s Drums.