The Black God’s Drums

by P. Djèlí Clark

4.5 stars actually, but the .5 star is deducted for overall shortness (it’s a novella).

The Black God’s Drums is an alternate-New Orleans (one where it enjoys a precarious peace as its own nation-state due to French, Haitian, and Free Isles navy help against the Confederates) where a young orphan living on the streets wakes one morning to an ominous vision of a skull hanging over her beloved city…and the voices of Confederates spies plotting nearby.

The orphan, Creeper, goes in search of someone to sell this information to, and finds a Free Isles airship captain who may have her own connection to the vision.

This is an adventure tale that is light on plot, but terrifically rich and heavy on the fantastical joy of exploring this alternate New Orleans, characters each of whom deserve their own books including the captain herself, two nuns with access to deadly chemical weapons, the masked villain, and a certain pretty boy East Indian associate of the captain.

Just as things get revved up and our heroines must enter a deadly, sunken part of the city….the story ends. (because its a novella) And it was super frustrating. I wanted much, much more time with the characters as I had only begun to understand their motivations and get to know the richness of their characters.

This is the same problem I had with Clark’s other novella I read (Haunting of Tram 015) where he took us to another rich alternate city (Cairo), made me fall in love with the characters, and then ended the story. The Black God’s Drums features dialogue with entirely different rhythms and flow and Creeper is distinctly different from Inspector Hamed, but the two book share the delightful descent into the personality of a city I often associate with Mieville. But don’t get me wrong, this is adventure and fans of Tobias Buckell and alt-history steampunk fans of Beth Cato will definitely dig this story. I just wish there was more.