Book Review: Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark is a fantastic writer. I have greatly loved his other novellas, but this one I struggled with despite the promising premise and important subject. This is a book about Maryse Boudreaux, who hunts demons (those who had possessed Ku Klux Klan members) with her friends Sadie, a sharpshooter, and bomb expert “Chef” Cordelia Lawrence. The book is set in 1922 Georgia to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. 

The story struggles at times with pacing between action and dialogue and making a point. But I didn’t mind that. What vexed me was that curses and magic were used to explain away the original people’s racism; for me, that downplays the basic mechanism in our minds that let us do horrendous things to others in the name of some ideology or fear. I just couldn’t get past that one line, and I know it is silly, but it was in the core of how the world Clark created works. So this left me confused about what to think about the book. Partly I loved the use of Lovecraftian horrors as the vehicle for hatred and evil in the world. There was this poetic element when you consider H.P. Lovecraft’s personal history. Clark brought them back to his root fears and used them where they were meant. Also, I loved the characters and Maryse’s inner dialogue with hatred and rage, and violence. Her question what justifies her own violent actions. At times, she went blindly in, willing to hurt the innocent because of her own cause. Such efforts made it easy to lose respect for the main character, yet, I cheered how Clark dared to make such bold moves to prove that anger is a necessary emotion for a change. We need anger, and Clark is right.

But… I can’t get past the core idea of magic as a vehicle for hatred because if we are aware of how our minds work and how they can produce snap judgments, stereotypical thinking, be spectators and do nothing, violate and hurt other people, be blinded by ideology and kill because it, then we have a fighting chance to form a world where your skin color or your origin doesn’t exclude people from being part of the society and being respected. And it is not like P. Djèlí Clark doesn’t know this. In the novella, he uses a symbolic way to represent this functionality, so we are back to my confusion about what to think. One thing is true, this novella was worth my time, and I recommend reading it. And maybe one of you can clarify my confusion and say I can’t get past a minor detail in a paragraph.

Thank you for reading and have a splendid day! Pat a paw and be kind.

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