The Black God’s Drums – P. Djèlí Clark

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This short story was a good read, particularly interesting for its setting, an uchronic New Orleans. This aspect I loved, it was cleverly done, beautifully evocative and food for thoughts.

In fact it was maybe too much for such a short story, which is a little unbalanced for that, sometimes penalised with some pieces of info-dump, when some character or an another begins to lecture about some History point.

An other weak point in my point of view was the rather uninspired characters. They evolve and interact well, but it’s the usual trope: the clever and ressourful urchin, the beautiful and wise brothel’s owner, the beautiful, independant bisexual Capitaine, the multiracial clique, the wise and mysteriously powerful old women. The only interesting character was Féral, but I wasn’t very pleased with the implicit idea (white people leaving in the wild who evolve as caverns’ humans in a few generations, really?).

An other point bothered me. The author have his heart set on showing strong women, leading their lives as they like, which is absolutely fine and commendable. Some of the women of the story are working in a brothel, as a choice it seems, without being oppressed. I’m completely in favour of official prostitution, it should be a normal job, chosen and regulated, and not used to enslaved people. But in the story the brothel is a classical one, where the women are described as nearly in the nude, with a lot of make-up, always smiling, sitting on clients’s laps – an attitude expected of them, not respectful, demeaning even, which I’m sure wasn’t the author’s intentions. Some editing would have been nice here.

My recriminations are over! The story is very good, an easy flow, with good characters, some mysteries and a very strong and personal atmosphere. Note that if you’re not francophone nor living in Louisiana, you may be lost with the French and Cajun’s expressions which pepper the novella (all understandable phonetically for me, but I’m French!). They give a lot of authenticity to the story and I loved them, but it’s a shame that editors don’t seem to believe in footnotes anymore…

(I thank Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)

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