Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 13th October 2020
I’ve pretty much had Clark on my “must-read” list since I picked up The Black God’s Drums, but I was less sure about reading this one. I wasn’t sure about the idea of the Ku Klux Klan being literal monsters: it seemed a bit unsubtle? And I don’t know much about the Ku Klux Klan beyond the very basics, and I just don’t have that deeply American background where they’re a part of my story. That said, I’m gathering that a lot of (white) Americans don’t either, and I don’t normally let a lack of context stop me! Just I’m not always sure what’s really clever and what actually happened, when books blend reality and fantasy like this, and I was worried it’d matter particularly with a book like this, grounded in the pain of Black people and the real horror of history.
I’ll admit, I’m still not entirely sure the literal monsters worked for me. I stayed a bit too conscious of how apropos it is, almost to being a cliché… But laying that aside, it was a quick read, albeit a challenging one: trying to parse the Gullah dialogue kept me busy, especially since I’m not actually good at sounding out what I read, and the dialogue sometimes gave me pause at first. I think it’s probably a good thing I read it in one go, because it gave me a chance to get into the swing of the dialect!
The horror is genuinely horrifying, and I quickly got fond of Maryse and (mostly) Chef. I can’t say any of the twists of the story really surprised me, but they unfolded in such a way that they felt like the only natural way for things to go — not that they felt forced, but that it all flowed from one decision to another. I loved the quoted bits about ring shouts, which illuminated the story and gave me the background I needed… while teaching me a bit of history that I didn’t know about at all.
I can’t say I liked it as much as The Black God’s Drums, but it might stick with me more in terms of the story and images (there’s some really gory bits). I’m not quite sure how to rate it, being honest: my first instinct is three stars, but other aspects (including a worry that I just don’t “get it”) make me want to bump it up… and reading other people’s reviews and what they pick out (particularly the use of folklore, including the shouts) I think that’s more than fair. I’m just a wuss and still cringing at some of those descriptions!