Black God's Drums
This is P. Dj̀eli Clark’s debut novella, after having his writings appear in Daily Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and Lightspeed and other publications. Born in New York primarily raised in Houston, he spent much of his formative years in Trinidad and Tobago. Clark brings a fresh look at New Orleans in this alternative history story.
The story takes place in 1884 in alternative United States unlike the one the reader is familiar with, the civil war between the North and South continues with an armistice in place. The story is of Creeper a female teenage pickpocket who has higher aspirations and a secret. Creeper has the Nigerian deity Oya, a goddess of wind and storms, speaking in her head. Oya, and is very protective of Creepier.
New Orleans belongs to neither the North nor the South and is neutral party between the two factions. Clark weaves a beautiful steampunk tale of different cultural groups and gadgetry and eccentric scientist. To add to the excitement, the story takes place during Madi Gras.
Creeper teams with an airship captain Ann-Marie, a Trinidadian smugger who can easily hold her own and is an inspiration to Creeper. The two team together to stop the destructive weapon, Black God’s Drum, a weapon which could turn the tide for either side of the war or worse. To help them on their quest are two nuns who know of inch of the city and the swamp outside, and people they must fight to stop the destruction. I might add the nuns carry a nice arsenal of their own weapons.
This novella is fast paced and entertaining. The vivid description Clark gives to this steampunk world is delicious and makes the reader part of the fantasy. Strong female characters make the story even more compelling. Clark glosses over the deities which I hope he goes into more detail in future novellas. I would recommend this book even though the language might be tough to read at times since Clark uses the native dialect of the region.