Genre : Horror, Alternate history
Publisher : Tor.com
Length : 176 pages
Format : eARC
Rating : 4 stars
Publication Date : October 13th 2020
D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.
Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.
Set in 1922, Georgia during the rise of the KKK, Ring Shout follows Maryse Bourdeaux and her two friends Sadie and Chief as they hunt and kill monsters. Indeed, as if the regular KKK members weren’t horrible enough, some of them are turning into actual monsters that hunt, kill and eat Black Americans.
Maryse has a magic sword and she isn’t afraid to use it against the monsters, the ones she calls Ku Kluxes. Their ranks are growing alarmingly quickly and the coming screening of The Birth of a Nation, a movie produced the famous sorcerer D. W. Griffith, only hints that something bigger is brewing. Something that could end the world.
It’s alarming that a story set in the 1920’s manages to show how systemic racism is still rooted in our current society. I know Ring Shout was written before the events of this year but it deeply resonates with them and I think most people would benefit from reading this book.
Ring Shout is a story of Black rage, it’s unnerving, angry, and scary yet it’s also an ode to the richness and beauty of Black culture. It’s also a page-turner, I was at the edge of my seat the entire time and I read it in one sitting.
One of the reasons I love reading is that it allows me to learn a lot of things I didn’t know about. And I learned a lot while reading this novella. While a lot of elements of the story are fantastic, the heart of Ring Shout is rooted in history. For example, the title Ring Shout refers to a religious ritual practiced by African slaves. I didn’t know about it before reading but I highly recommend watching this video on the subject (even if you don’t end up reading the book). I was also unaware of the movie The Birth of a Nation, an incredibly racist and hurtful movie released in 1915 which romanticized the Ku Klux Klan. I also learned about the Night Doctors, pictured as another type of monstrous creatures in the story, Night Doctors stories were used by southern slave owner to prevent Black American from fleeing to the North.
I also really appreciated that, while the Ku Kluxes are depicted as monstrous creatures, the author explains that the monsters are only able to contaminate people that are fueled by hate. The monsters don’t turn innocent people into blood-hungry and racist monsters, it’s their own hateful feelings towards black people that turn them into monsters.
Finally, while the themes and ideas explored in Ring Shout are fascinating in their own rights, it’s also a great story with an amazing and diverse cast of characters. From Maryse to her crew of badass women, her friends, and her family, all the characters shine and add to the story. It is also the perfect spooky read for the season: the monsters, the scary spirits with hidden intentions, the secret rituals… Ring Shout has it all!
The only thing preventing me from rating this book higher is that it has a lot of similarities to one of the author’s previous novella The Black God’s Drums, both in terms of narrative structures and main characters. Thankfully, the plots are quite different, but the similarities were striking enough to pull me out of the story during the first half of the book. I probably would have enjoyed Ring Shout more if it had been my first encounter with P. Djèli Clark’s works. However, take my opinion with a grain of salt, I haven’t read any other reviews mentioning it and I would still highly recommend Ring Shout to everyone! 😊