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Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Book Name: Ring Shout
Author: P. Djèlí Clark
Formatt: Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy / Horror
Release Date: October 13, 2020

Inspiration and influence comes from anything from an ephemeral moment to a persistent belief; from one line in a song to a passage in a story to a scene from a movie. The Birth of a Nation remains as one of the most infamous films ever made. Praised for its cinematography and belittled for its racist portrayals of minorities, the film was responsible for the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, one of the most notorious hate groups in the United States of America. More than 100 years after the movie’s release, P. Djèlí Clark writes his perspective of the KKK in his novella, Ring Shout.

Maryse Boudreaux is the protagonist, and she is a twenty-five-year-old monster hunter. After surviving a traumatic experience, Maryse discovered she has “The Sight,” which means she has the ability to “see” any and all creatures and beings from all of the fairy tales and folktales you’ve read and heard of as a child. In Maryse’s case, she can distinguish the Klan—the humans—from the Ku Kluxes—the supernatural monsters who wear the bodies of humans. Due to her Sight, Maryse is able to fight and to slay one group of monsters before they can corrupt humanity. However, after the latest hunt, Maryse and her crew uncover a plot, which consists of conjuring more Ku Kluxes during a re-release of the film, The Birth of a Nation, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. How far is Maryse willing to go in order to stop these events?

Maryse’s companions include: Sadie, the best shooter in the group; Chef, a war veteran with a talent for explosives; Molly, the group’s scientist and physician (who doesn’t have the Sight); Nana Jean, a Gullah woman who practices her talents and her abilities in order to protect their community from all hostile forces; and, Aunties Jadine, Ondine, and Margaret, “spirits” who guide Maryse on her quest to eradicate the Ku Kluxes from Earth, including providing Maryse with the sword she uses on all of her missions. Then, there is Butcher Clyde, a new store owner in Macon, Georgia who has an unusual interest in Maryse. Yet, is he a Klansman or a Ku Klux? All of these characters bring out the best and the worst in Maryse as they all clash over segregation and hostile supernatural forces.

This novella stands out in that it takes the concept of “monsters” and reiterates them in a way so that a group of individuals can distinguish one idea of monsters from another idea of monsters. In addition, the concept of hatred and how hatred can beget more hatred is presented in a manner that will have readers consulting folklorists and their elder relatives about any and all tales they might have heard as children. Not to mention, the dialogue—and the dialect—will bring a feeling of realism to the story, as well as all of the historical context to American society from the last century.

Besides the dialogue, another thing I enjoyed about P. Djèlí Clark’s style in this story is how he brought Georgia to his readers. Although none of us were alive in 1922, the description of the various towns throughout Georgia, and other places, has the audience believing they are in Georgia. Plus, the way the author incorporates American, Caribbean, and African cultures as being akin to one another is validation that some of the traditions survived and continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

The story I believe P. Djèlí Clark is presenting is just how significant American society during the 1920s was in retrospect. Yes, more emphasis is usually placed on the Jazz Age, the effect the Great War (now called World War I) had on the world, and the economic boost that will lead to Black Friday 1929. However, the author mentions the “darker” occurrences during that same era: the rebirth of the KKK which led to an influx of lynchings including the massacres in East St. Louis, in Tulsa, in Rosewood, etc.; Prohibition; the Panama Canal; Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League (including the “back to Africa” proclamation); Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s journalism, etc. All of these inclusions in the story to historical moments provides the story’s mood, which matches the tone of the story the author is presenting to the readers.

Ring Shout continues the subgenre that is alternative historical fantasy which continues the Black American Experience alongside The Deep by Rivers Solomon and Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi. Similar to those previous releases, Ring Shout is part horror, part fantasy, part history and part folklore fused into a story in which many individuals cannot distinguish one sort of monsters from the other. The dialect and the jargon will bring readers back to the 1920s, and have them recalling all of their family stories.

Ring Shout combines the fears of the known and the unknown into a story about dark magic, sorcery, racism, and folktales. P. Djèlí Clark wrote a story that will appeal to fans of both fantasy and horror. This war between sorcerers is one that will leave you asking yourself how much of a story is based on truth.


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