Hugo 2019 Novellas: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

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.

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9 thoughts on “Hugo 2019 Novellas: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

  1. This is my pick for the award (My Review here: https://garik16.blogspot.com/2018/09/scififantasy-novella-review-black-gods.html), and while I agree that I could’ve easily read a novel in this world, I don’t really think this novella needs it – the story has a complete beginning, middle, and end, plots are wrapped up, and the main duo of characters are really well done. And the quirks of this world and the dialogue are often wonderful (I reread this recently for my awards discussion and quoted the dialogue where the Captain and the Creeper argue about thievery on twitter and then realized I’d already quoted that same dialogue months before the first time I read it lol) and gripping.

    Would not be surprised if Clark winds up with two Hugos this year between this and Best Short Story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’d also like to see PDC do the double but I’m not sure this has hit enough spots for enough people to win. I see more Murder it or Tea Master as likely frontrunners.
      I’d like to see it do well enough, for me it was fun, colourful, and imaginative.

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  2. I thought that this novella was competently done, but it didn’t “wow” me. It has a complete story and ending and some nice worldbuilding, which works in its favor, but it seems rather simplistic in comparison to the scope and ambition of Lucky Peach. Those two are duking it out for 3rd and 4th on my ballot.

    It’s above Binti — I think that whole series is a bit of a mess — and above Sugar Sky, which is a fine story but seems like a whole lot of “second verse, same as the first” to me.

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  3. I like this one a lot and it’s currently duking it out for the top spot on my ballot with Murderbot and The Tea Master and the Detective. But then, I have a weakness for stories set in New Orleans.

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  4. I didn’t care for Clark’s writing style (so many synonyms for “says”; several instances of show-not-tell when telling would actually have been the better choice), the plot was fine but nothing exceptional, and the ~twist regarding the jewel the scientist wanted was just incredibly dumb. The worldbuilding and the characters were quite good, though. Very middle of the pack overall, for me.

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