Ring Shout: The horrors of racism and hatred made tangible

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsRing Shout by P. Djèlí Clark science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsRing Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

In Ring Shout (2020), P. Djèlí Clark melds two types of horror, Lovecraftian monsters and the bloody rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 Georgia, as a group of black resistance fighters take on an enemy with frightening supernatural powers.

As Ku Klux Klan members march down the streets of Macon, Georgia on the Fourth of July, Maryse Boudreaux, who narrates the story, watches from a rooftop with her two companions, sharpshooter Sadie and former soldier Cordelia “Chef” Lawrence, a bomb expert. They’ve baited a trap for the “Ku Kluxes,” who are hellish demons that hide in disguise among the Klan humans, taking over the bodies of the worst of them. The trap works, but the silver pellets and iron slags contained in the bomb aren’t enough to kill the three monsters that rise out of the wreckage and their human outer veneers. It takes more to kill a Ku Klux.

Since The Birth of a Nation had come out seven years earlier, in 1915, susceptible white folk surrendered to the spell of hatred woven by the groundbreaking silent film with its message of white supremacy and KKK heroism, lending manpower to the KKK and spiritual power to evil demons. Now The Birth of a Nation is getting a grand rerelease at Stone Mountain, a Georgia park honoring the Confederacy, in a few days. The spirits that frequently commune with Maryse let her know that this will cause a massive rise of evil and hatred, a rift that the demonic powers can use to fully inhabit and take over our world.

P. Djèlí Clark

P. Djèlí Clark

Ring Shout is little hard to wade through at times, with lots of idiomatic speech. Otherwise, though, this is powerful stuff. H.P. Lovecraft’s eldritch monsters and, more, his infamous racism lend themselves well to a plot centered on the infiltration of the KKK — and from there, our world — by unearthly, destructive powers that use our weaknesses against us. Opposing them are lively, earthy blacks and their sympathizers, many of whom have their own supernatural connections, primarily arising out of African traditions and folklore. Among these are Maryse’s magical sword and the Ring Shout, a ritual gathering involving song and dance. It’s “about surviving slavery times, praying for freedom, and calling on God to end that wickedness.”

Clark’s novella also points out the seductive power of hatred and rage, and how they can twist good to bad. “A righteous anger and a cry for justice,” Maryse realizes, aren’t the same thing at all as hate.

These monsters want to pervert that. Turn it to their own ends. Because that’s what they do. Twist you all up so that you forget yourself. Make you into something like them.

In Ring Shout, Clark deftly uses a historical and fantastical setting, characters and motifs to create a novella that’s both timeless and timely, with a powerful message for all.

Published in October 2020. Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror. IN AMERICA, DEMONS WEAR WHITE HOODS. In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan’s ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die. Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter. Armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, they hunt their hunters and send the Klan’s demons straight to Hell. But something awful’s brewing in Macon, and the war on Hell is about to heat up. Can Maryse stop the Klan before it ends the world?

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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  1. Isn’t this on quite a few Must Read lists this fall?

  2. I hadn’t seen, but that doesn’t surprise me at all!

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