The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark

Publisher - Tor

Published - Out Now

Price - £2.22 kindle eBook

In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air--in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.

Alternative worlds are a key part of our fiction. We love the idea of asking what if… and a world unlike our own gets us to also see aspects of our world we tend to hide from. In this novella P. Djeli Clark gives us a US Civil War that is more paused than completed and sitting in the heart of it a New Orleans where all parties visit and a Haiti that stands defiantly against the powers of empires.

Our main character and narrator is Creeper a street kid looking for things to steal or sell while also planning her escape but hears a plot to get technology (The Black God’s Drums) from a Haitian scientist.  In this world Haiti has made a huge mysterious scientific breakthrough that allowed it to repel its imperial invaders and hold off threats from all continents.  She realises that this is likely to be of interest to the Haitians so decides to trade with he impressive air-ship captain Anne-Marie St Augustine. They discover an unusual connection both appear to be linked to the gods of the world. The Captain and Creeper then race across New Orleans to retrieve the scientist and his technology before it falls into the wrong hands. 

Two main things stood out in the novella.  Firstly, Clark brings great energy to the tale.  Everything feels constantly in motion and changing pulling you across a night and day chase for the scientist and his buyers. I would usually think merging steampunk, alternative US cities and people linked to gods is trying to do too much but this novel keeps the idea whirling through. A lot of this is helped by Creeper explaining the tale at a pace that never feels too much like a huge infodump. Slowly you get enough information to put the pieces together of how all this world works and that makes it a very successful thriller. 

The other main attraction was the characters. Both Creeper and the captain are intriguing female leads working together and ultimately for the good of the city. But we get some lovely side characters who add life to the tale – two squabbling nuns with a side-line in revolution plus an extremely sinister protagonist who seems happy to destroy anyone and anything in his way.  All of which is adds to Clark’s version of New Orleans which is pulsing with life – a meeting point of all the empires, spies, trades and crimes. Not everyone is who they seem and can be trusted but at the same time the city appears so delicious you just want to explore more. 

I really enjoyed this novella it felt like the opening of a much larger world but at the same time this adventure and the cast stands on its own two feet.  I would definitely recommend it if you enjoy the idea of some steampunk adventure and there are a few surprises lurking in this book too.  I will look out for more from Clark this year.