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  • Mandy McHugh

Ring Shout--WOW--P. Djeli Clark: A Review

From the stellar premise to the striking cover, I was thrilled to receive Ring Shout and couldn't wait to get started.

In Prohibition Georgia, Maryse, Sadie, and Chef hunt monsters. The Klan's on the rise, and Ku Kluxes are hiding in their ranks, using The Birth of a Nation to recruit and feeding off hatred. With Sadie's sharpshooting, Chef's bomb-making, and Maryse's magic sword, they prepare for the ultimate battle against a malevolent force that would see the world succumb to hatred. I don't even know where to begin with this one. WOW? That seems like a good start. WOW. I've read a few titles that I'd categorize as historical horror lately (Alma Katsu's The Hunger and The Deep), which are deeply rooted in historical events but offer alternative interpretations, allegorical analyses, or symbolic breakdowns of previously-established pedagogy. Ring Shout does the same. Maryse's character is deeply affected by her ancestry, not all of which manifests in her sword--a magical weapon she summons at will that connects her to the pain of the past. With it, she sees suffering, their songs of mourning, loss, and agony, and draws power from this grief. The function of the songs, the call-and-response system that are used throughout the text, is a running tie between timelines, and without giving too much away, the aspect I loved most about Ring Shout was this connection, the importance of the past and the hope for the future while the present is in turmoil. Beautiful. I also loved the narrative voices. Maryse, Sadie, and Chef do things that are traditionally assigned to men: fighting evil, bootlegging, dancing and drinking and cursing and shooting--almost every masculine trope you'd imagine, done by strong black women (Maryse wielding a giant sword is probably my favorite symbolic image, but it's hard to pick just one). This felt especially important in this moment, as BLM moves forward and we are reminded that black women deserve justice, to be heard and believed. Questions of race, gender, morality--Clark addresses these with rational discourse and, dare I say, hope that not all is lost as long as we can understand that hate and sorrow are not the same thing, that choosing one over the other dictates what kind of power you have, and that while evil will go to any extent to distort your perception, accepting the past opens the path for a champion of goodness. Additionally, there is no shortage of gore here. Ring Shout is bloody, visceral, violent, and horrifying in the best possible way. Clark's imagery is cinematic and electric, and his command of dialogue is nothing short of mastery. There are some truly terrifying creatures here. This story isn't for the squeamish, but perhaps that's exactly what we need right now. Overall, Ring Shout is a visceral, powerful, striking read with relevant themes and important issues. With elements of horror, sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy, there is something for everyone here. I'd recommend to anyone looking for a truly fantastic story. I'll definitely be re-reading this one. Big thanks to Tor.com and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

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