by P. Djčlí Clark
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted September 11, 2020
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I received an advance ebook of this title from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. P. Djčlí Clark's Ring Shout will be published next month, October 13. It is another in a group of anti-racist stories of the past few years, including Clark's own The Black God's Drums, Tochi Onyebuchi's Riot Baby, and the HBO adaptations of Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, among several others. It's set in 1922, in and around Macon, Georgia, with a trip to Stone Mountain for the climax. That's a distance of at least 100 miles, not much by today's standards, but for that time, on those roads and in the vehicles they had, maybe he should have set most of the action in a town closer to the mountain. Something else that was off, either an error on the author's part, or I mis-read it, but the Tulsa Black Wall Street Massacre is mentioned as having occurred in 1920, not '21. Then again, this is an alternate reality, since there are supernatural elements not present in our world.
The narrator is a Black woman named Maryse. She is a monster hunter. She has the sight. She can see the evil spirits, the haints, that dwell inside what others consider just another human. She and her fellow hunters call the monsters Ku Kluxes, which have taken over members of the newly established Klan. It is believed this generation of Klansmen were recruited through code embedded in D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation in 1915, and subsequent re-releases. Another showing of the film is upcoming, to be presented outdoors at Stone Mountain at a Klan rally. Not all Klan members are Ku Kluxes, although it is possible the intent is to eventually transform all of them, the invading spirits having been conjured from another realm. In addition to her supernatural sight, Maryse also has a weapon, a mystical sword that transforms from smoke to solid steel as needed. Whenever she wields it she is connected to others who have used the sword in the past. The sword was granted to her by three sisters, whom she knows as the Aunties Margaret, Ondine, and Jadine. They appear to her, or rather she is brought into their midst, in a timeless void, whenever they have knowledge they wish to impart.
It's a good story, but I have a few complaints. Some of the dialog, particularly that of Nana Jean, a Gullah herbalist and conjurer, was related phonetically, and most of the time I could not figure out what she was saying, no matter how many times I read it out loud. Also, the hatred that resides within a Klansman's heart seems evil enough without having to attribute it to an otherworldly cause. Then again, maybe it was their hate that attracted the Ku Kluxes in the first place. If you believe in Hell and the Devil, it would be easy to think that is the source of the evil, but if so, what of the Aunties. They are sometimes cryptic in their instructions, deceptive even, so not angels. Perhaps there are multiple dimensions from which evil and good (or at least less evil) can make its way into our world. The Ku Kluxes may be just one manifestation, with others lying in wait for their turn, and other hate-filled humans ripe for infestation. Such as a writer who resides in Providence, Rhode Island, whose horror stories are becoming more and more popular. Maryse is not sure she wants to travel that far, perhaps another will be called to wield the sword for that future fight. Oh, and the Ring Shouts…those are ritualistic songs that date from slavery days, ones used to either distract the slave masters from some activity, or as prayers and supplications, or celebrations for simply surviving. Maryse and her friends are singing the last type.
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