Ring Shout by P. Djéli Clark
Tor.com (October 13, 2020)
176 pages; $15.99 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
I read a brief tagline for Ring Shout that was along the lines of, “a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror” and I was sold. I love everything the tagline promises: Dark Fantasy. Historical Fiction. Novella. Supernatural. Give me all of those things.
Ring Shout not only delivered on these promises, but it also flew past all of my expectations making this book a solid contender for my favorite book of 2020.
The most important aspect of my reading experience with Ring Shout is that I read it on my Kindle and I could highlight a specific mention in the book so that a definition or Wikipedia entry would get pulled up; I was able to, at the touch of the screen, educate myself on the references while I was reading. This interactive part of my experience was an integral part of why this book was such a success for me. I highly recommend reading it on a device so that you could do the same. When I’m reading a physical copy, I always have intentions of looking things up while I’m reading, but honestly, I never do.
It’s my understanding that P. Djèlí Clark is a nom de plume for science-fiction writer Dexter Gabriel. Gabriel is also a historian which explains why this novella is jam-packed with rich, historical elements. I felt like I was getting a solid education on Black history while also enjoying a dark fantasy tale with magical realism and seriously scary horror.
This is also a character-driven story. Clark’s female protagonists are larger-than-life and immediately worthy of emotional investment. I might have fallen in love with a character named Sadie—for obvious reasons, but mostly because she was brave and sassy. The main character, Maryse Boudreaux, is equally loveable.
Maryse is a “chosen one” hero. At some point in her life, she was singled out as a protector and given a magic sword. The sword embodies the war cries and testimonies of martyrs and fighters who have gone before her as they have embarked on similar quests for justice against oppression. Maryse’s specific mission is to rid the world of “Klu Kluxes,” monsters disguised as everyday members of the KKK. Things get tricky for Maryse when a new leader shows up on the scene, amplifying an even darker message of hate.
The stakes are so high in this story and the evil is overwhelmingly powerful and scary. Clark moves this tale along at a breakneck pace with edge-of-your-seat suspense. Every chapter ends with a fresh urgency to continue. I want more for this universe. I hope P. Djèlí Clark has more Maryse Boudreaux stories to tell because, even though Ring Shout felt like a complete book and I was not found wanting, I could see the potential for Maryse’s journey to either continue into more quests/adventures or for the author to write some of the backstories to some of the unusual/unique characters.
Even if we only get Ring Shout out of this universe, it truly is enough. I am enraptured by this book and can’t sing its praises loud enough or long enough. I’ll forever be recommending it as an all-time favorite.