Title: The Black God’s Drums
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Author: P. Djèlí Clark
Price: $11.99 / $3.99
It is a world that might have been. The War Between the States has been raging on and off for decades. The Caribbean is the home of the Free Isles, where former slaves rose up and drove out their oppressors. Airships ply the skies, carrying passengers and cargo between distant ports. And the orisha of Africa have followed their children west, whispering in the minds of their beloved …. Creeper is a child of the streets. When her dear mother died, Creeper (or Jacqueline) chose to live freely, picking pockets as needed and having adventures across the rooftops and down the dark alleys of New Orleans. When she stumbles across a strange plot involving Confederate soldiers and a Haitian scientist, she seeks the help of her hero: Captain Ann-Marie of the Midnight Robber. But even the daring airship captain and her crew may not be enough to stop a plot bent on destroying all of New Orleans ….
The Black God’s Drums was on my wish list for a long time before I finally got around to reading it. I’m not sure why I kept putting it off, because I absolutely loved it. Clark has created a rich, immersive world, the kind of place I want to visit over and over again.
Creeper and her supporting cast are fantastic characters. Creeper may not have much in the way of formal education, but she is whip smart, clever, and quick thinking. She also has a strong ethical code; she may pick pockets to feed herself, but she only steals from wealthy tourists who won’t miss the coin. She has zero love for the Confederacy, and can only feel pity and revulsion at the thought of those people who are still enslaved in the South, their minds lost to drapeto vapor. She counts among her closest friends both prostitutes and nuns.
She is also a favorite of Oya, the orisha of wind and storms. It is Oya who initially warns Creeper about the plot against New Orleans, though the orisha’s motives for doing so are as complex as Oya herself.
This inclusion of African spirituality is part of what sets The Black God’s Drums apart from other steampunk tales. Airships and brave captains and such are a common trope of the genre. Dark-skinned protagonists, lilting Caribbean speech patterns, New Orleans vernacular and Cajun English, and African Diasporic Traditions are not the norm — and this is a welcome change. Give me more steampunk/alternate history stories set outside of Great Britain and mainland Europe, focused on other-than-Caucasian characters, with non-Christian spiritualities at their heart.
Highly recommended to fans of steampunk and Clark’s other work, as well as Sword and Sonnet edited by Aiden Doyle, Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard, The Tensorate series by Neon Yang, New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl, and Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]