Ring Shout- Book Review
Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark (2020)
Reading this novella, I was inclined to educate myself on the historical facts of the period. The emergence of the second Ku Klux Klan, inspired by a controversial 1915 film that was the first to be shown inside the White House, proved how deep-seated racial intolerance was at the time. If not anything else, Ring Shout was an education.
Set against a backdrop of racism and division in the American South of 1922, a band of resistance fighters bear arms against the supernatural terror of the Ku Klux Klan.
Driven by a traumatic past event at the hands of the Klan, protagonist Maryse Bordeaux leads a team of hunters as they battle against demonic creatures feeding on racial hatred. As Maryse and her comrades pit sword and gun against the white hooded demons that metamorphose from hate-inflicted Klan members, the showing of “The Birth of a Nation” at Stone Mountain threatens to herald further evil into an already precarious social landscape.
‘When I call the sword I get visions from them angry slaves, their songs pulling at the restless chiefs and kings bound to the blade, making them cry out until sleeping gods stir in answer. That’s the sword’s power – a thing of vengeance and repentance.’
From Frenchy’s bustling juke joint in Macon to Maryse’s magical sword that resonates with the voices of the dead, there is vibrancy about the prose that knits together 1920’s Georgia with supernatural fantasy, creating a captivating and imaginative fable. The Ku Klux creatures that serve as a metaphor for the destructive nature of racial hatred present a terrifying foe, but perhaps more haunting is the inability of most to recognise the true nature of the shifting monsters beneath the hoods and the repugnant forces that guide them.
Clark mingles the disturbing historical accuracies of American white supremacy with elements of horror and fantasy to tell a tale that is both enthralling and harrowing to read. His pacing and storytelling prowess craft a book that invests your emotions in the characters and their narrative. Laced through the solemn plot are moments of comic relief, often provided by Maryse’s sidekicks; Sadie, a comedic, often outspoken sharpshooter and Chef, a Chesterfield smoking army veteran with a talent for blowing things up. At times, those glimpses of dark humour pierce through the horror and echo back with startling poignancy. It is a tale of hatred and the forces which govern it, but also a tale of kinship and hope. I am not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear on at least two occasions whilst reading Ring Shout. That is how powerful this book is.
Clark’s story is one that echoes with true horror. A story of African American struggles. A tale of strength, endurance and the will to fight against the hate that cowers behind a white hood. Perhaps that is what makes his tale so compelling to read. In a world that has yet to move on from those dark days, perhaps that is what also makes this story so terrifying.
Ring Shout is a must read. At 181 pages long, P. Djèlí Clark’s bold brand of historical fiction meets sword-wielding fantasy leaves you wanting more.
Born in New York and raised mostly in Houston, P. Djèlí Clark spent the formative years of his life in the homeland of his parents, Trinidad and Tobago. Purchase Ring Shout here
Reviewed by Jimmy Nicol for Hellhound