"The Black God's Drums" is one of those rare books where all I really want to say it: "READ THIS: IT'S WONDERFUL" and then add as a postscript:
"The Black God's Drums" is a novella of only 112 pages yet in terms of world-building, character-building and plot twists, it stands up against novel two or three times its length.
Djèli Clark pulls off a first-person narrative that delivers a clear view of a complex alternative history and sustains a level of tension and excitement. The dialogue is perfect, especially the use of dialect, which brightens the storytelling and deepens the characters.
This a sparkling little novella is set in an original and uplifting alternative history in which, in the late nineteenth century, New Orleans and Haiti are independent nation-states and the Civil War has a different ending.
The story involves a wicked plot that could bring great destruction, a swashbuckling Haitian airship captain who is strong on technology but refuses to give ground to the old African Gods who call to her, innovative steampunk-ish science that has a dash of magic in it, two black nuns who seem closer to voodoo than Christianity, fanatical soldiers with a scary leader and, at the centre of it all, an engaging, fourteen-years-old goddess-possessed black street child who calls herself Creeper.
Creeper made the book for me. We see the world through her eyes and she is full of fire. At one point, Creeper manages to rescue a key character in the plot. They have never met before and the person being rescued expresses surprise it's just Creeper affecting the rescue.
“Wi. It is just . . . you?”
Creeper's response tells you a lot about he:
I scowl up at her. I happen to think I’m plenty.
One of the things that I liked about this story was that all the good guys are women or girls, all but one of them is black and all of them kickass in their own ways.