In P. Djèlí Clark’s short story, The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, we were given glimpses into a panoply of other worlds and alternate visions of America. The Black God’s Drums offers a longer vision of another world: a steampunk New Orleans. Here America is a fractured land, divided by decades of Union v. Confederate conflict. New Orleans is a free, independent city liberated by slave revolts many years ago. The city remains a major port, where airship from the economically and technologically powerful nations of Haiti and the Caribbean bring goods to North America.
Creeper is a thief and pickpocket with a secret: she can commune with the orisha known as Oya, a goddess of storms. Plagued by ominous visions of death, Creeper stumbles upon a Confederate plot with apocalyptic consequences.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of swift world-building to be done in a small word count to get this story off the ground. Potted histories of the USA, New Orleans and Haiti’s independence struggle from France all get an airing to establish the various strategic powers at play in this alternate New Orleans. The story itself is a conventional adventure about kidnapped scientists, doomsday weapons and daring rescues but it is told with charm and interesting characters. Even so, I’m going to repeat my moan about some of the other novellas: this could have been better longer. However, it’s overall more succesfull than some of the other novellas I’ve whined about being too cramped.
An enjoyable steampunk adventure with some novel world-building.