I recently finished Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark and as the title of this post suggests, I want to share my thoughts on it with you!
Synopsis via Goodreads
D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.
Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.
How This Book Came to be Read By Me
I first came across this book on Twitter, then it started infiltrating my YouTube feed, then it started popping up in articles I was glancing at, library holds I was placing for patrons, and books that were recommended for me to read and it’s still popping up on me to this very day! Usually, I avoid hyped-up books until the hype has died down and I’ve forgotten about it, but I came across this book so many times I just had to request it from the library for myself.
I was prepared to enjoy this book based on the hype and I’m so glad that I really did. I was amazed at how much character development, world-building, and history was covered in just 192 pages! Maryse, Sadie (the foul-mouther sharpshooter), and Chef (the Harlem Hellfighter) are an absolutely amazing trio of bad-ass Black women. While Maryse may be the one with the magic sword, it’s definitely the other two who make her magic possible. The ways in which these three women support, help, and criticize each other are beautiful and powerful in a multitudes of way that you would really have to dive into the book to see for yourself.
The monsters, “Ku Kluxes”, are also fantastically done. Clark’s idea of having the “real” monster hiding amongst, infecting, and eventually destroying (on a certain level), the human monsters was intense. The fact that this book uses the KKK as a base for the monster is one of the reasons why initially I was hesitant about reading it. It gets exhausting and mentally draining reading about lynchings, burnings, rapings, and just the general terror that the Klan has wrought, and continues to cause, among the Black community. It’s hard to think of something that tops the KKK in terms of monstrosities (especially as a Black woman in American) so for Clark to write a story featuring the Klan as the monster and then making them even more monstrous seems to be an impossible feat but Clark carries it off with finesse. I just can’t get over how unsettling the realization that the thing under the hood isn’t even a person anymore, but a monster filled with hate and anger beyond anything any human should ever feel would be. Which brings me to the next thing that I loved about this novella.
How Clark highlighted the importance of emotions, specifically anger and hatred, was brilliant. What makes the Ku Kluxes so horrifying is that they thrive off hatred. They are even able to spread, grow, and harvest hatred for their own nefarious purposes. I’ve always believed that the longer emotions, such as anger and hatred are held in, the more damaging they are to a person’s mental and physical well-being. “Ring Shout” does a fantastic job at highlighting the danger of letting one’s self fall victim to their hatred and how self-sabotaging it can be, no matter how righteous one believes their hatred is.
Lastly, I loved the history and culture that this novella highlighted. The folktales, songs, shouts, and vernacular were so elegantly weaved throughout the story I was amazed. I loved that Nana Jean’s, a Gulluh woman, narrative was written in the vernacular.
“Dem buckrah debbil gii hunnuh trouble?” she asks.P. Djèlí Clark “Ring Shout” pg 39
Nana Jean was raised up Gullah though she had been in Macon most her life. Say her people bound to them Carolina islands, and being away so long faded her a bit. Through her Gullah talk don’t sound faded none.
I loved the inclusion that often older woman in the Black community who aren’t exactly family but are family are referred to as Aunties. Essentially, I loved how tastefully the introduction and explanation of the why these elements are culturally important to African-Americans was done. If you want to learn a lil something-something about African-American culture without the heaviness of academia this book does it so smoothly that you won’t even notice that you learned something new until you’re done.
I ended up rating this book 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re unfamiliar with my rating system, 4 out of 5 means that I deeply enjoyed it, loved it, and look at my experience reading it as a friendship that has peacefully run its course. It’s not a book I would purchase for my own collection, but it is one that I would recommend to everyone who ever encountered me regardless of their reading tastes.
I Would Recommend This Book To…
But more specifically, I would recommend this book to fans of horror, people who are trying to read more works by Black authors, Black folk looking to get into the horror genre, and of course folk in general looking to get into the horror genre, and to woman who are looking to read horror with a strong female lead.
Other Books You May Like If You Liked This
Bibliocommons (the library catalog provider my library system uses) has this super cool feature that recommends other books you may like if you’re interested in a particular book. It’s one of my favorite little hidden library resource gems. If your library uses Bibliocommons for their online catalog check to see if you have this feature as well!
Anywho, the three of the books I would recommend based off my reading experience with this book, and from the “You may also like” feature are;
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Have you read Ring Shout? If you have, what did you think about?
If you haven’t read it, let me know what some of your favorite horror authors are!