So real talk: I wasn't sure I'd be given an ARC of this book after committing the cardinal sin of giving CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE a one-star review, especially after said review caused a ton of people to low-key imply that I'm a racist for not liking a book written by a black woman. The blow-back was such that I wondered if maybe I'd been put on a blacklist entitled, "Warning: racist blogger, do not give any ARCs written by PoCs." Luckily, if there is such a list, I don't appear to be on it yet, because I received my ARC of THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS and I really enjoyed the novella, because it was basically exactly what I'd expected from CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, but didn't get. So joke's on you, haters. Maybe I really did just think CoBaB was shitty, after all!
THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS is also about the Orisha, a pantheon of African gods, just like CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE. Unlike CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, this doesn't take place in a made-up country inspired by Nigeria, but a steampunk New Orleans in the Civil War-era of the U.S. timeline, where the Confederacy and the Union are at a weary detente, but racial tensions continue to flourish and grow. (I made a mistake in this status update, when I compared the two and said they were both African-American-fronted; CHILDREN OF BLOOD is African-fronted, since it takes place in Africa. Only THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS is AA-fronted. I apologize for the mistake.) The main character is an African American girl nicknamed "Creeper" who is blessed by the Orisha, Oya, the goddess of storms. After she receives a vision that appears to foretell destruction of the city by the hand of a man in a skull mask, she ends up on a quest that leads her right into a hot mess of deadly weapons, nun-scientists, gods, voodoo, racism, and, of course, heroism.
This novella is super short (my copy was under 100 pages), but packs a mean punch. It's told in first person, with a Southern patois, so there were some words where I actually had to read them aloud in order to understand what the heroine was saying, but once I got used to the narrative voice, I thought it added a really authentic and interesting flavor to the heroine's story-telling that made the setting feel much more "real," if that makes sense. I also liked how involved the mythology was in this story, whereas CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE glossed over the Orisha, focusing more on a typical stock fantasy setting with an insta-love romance. Readers, you will be pleased to hear that there is no romance in this book, only butt-kicking girls kicking butt with the help of the gods.
Also, major props to this dude, the author, a male writer who wrote a book about mostly female characters who felt real and multi-dimensional, who came from all walks of life, without sexualizing these female characters or subjecting them to the male gaze. This is literally one of the few books I've read written by a dude where the female characters actually read like authentic female characters, and I feel weird praising this book for doing something that everyone should be doing, but it's the exception rather than the rule, so hats off to P. Djèlí Clark for being one of the few male writers to actually write women as multi-dimensional beings with agency that exists separate from sexuality.
It took me a while to get into the story, but I really liked how much it reminded me of the Wonder Woman movie, as well as the setting, and even though it was really short, I think it worked in a way that a longer book wouldn't, because there was so much information to digest in THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS that a longer book might have been way too intimidating. I'm hoping that this is the first book in the series, because I think Steampunk New Orleans is a setting that begs to be explored.
If you, like me, were disappointed by CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, pick up THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS instead. It's an #OwnVoices fantasy novel with a kick-ass heroine and a rich mythology, which is pretty much exactly what most of us have been asking for.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
3 out of 5 stars
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