P. Djèlí Clark is a masterful novella writer, channeling stories that would be epics in the hands of more long winded writers into short tales whose punch are far greater than their page count. In his latest novella, Ring Shout, we follow a group of warrior Black women whose penchant for seeing beyond bs means they can see the literal monsters behind the masks of KKK members who have been transformed into parasitical creatures.
Maryse Boudreaux is a Black woman in her 20s in 1922 who has lived in the South for her whole life. By the start of Ring Shout, she has found herself a magical sword wielding member of small, but mighty resistance against white supremacy — a resistance that includes: two ride-or-die team members, Chef and Sadie; a surgical crew consisting of Indigenous women; and a Gullah conjure woman. This determined team has been fending off Ku Klux monsters for a long time when the story begins, only to hear that a major recruitment effort is underway within a weeks time to indoctrinate even more racists into the KKK during a major showing of the film Birth of a Nation on Stone Mountain. Knowing that this will overwhelm their already dwindling resources and coalition, Maryse and her team work to prevent this surge in white supremacy.
In this story, P. Djèlí Clark does a terrific job of representing spiritual connections to other realms and how human interactions with these worlds can leave people just as vulnerable to the machinations of beings on the other side as humans may hope to use them. We see this best in Maryse’s interactions with a butcher possessed by a spirit from another realm who uses his segregated butcher shop to literally feed off of the hate of his white patrons, with no regard at all to their well beings. After the butcher has invaded Maryse’s dreams, she learns from further interactions that even the spirit who gave her the legendary sword she uses has ulterior motives. Ones are directly connected to the trauma she underwent in witnessing the murders of her immediate family. When breaking down the goals of the butcher and his Ku Klux monsters, readers are treated with his frank analysis of what white hate actually is and it is a WORD:
“You see, the hate they give is senseless. They already got power. Yet they hate those over who they got control, who don’t really pose a threat to them. Their fears aren’t real – just insecurities and inadequacies. Deep down they know that. Makes their hate like… watered-down whiskey.”
If you’re a fan of stories like Lovecraft Country where a racist society is just as much a burden on the security of Black people who fight actual monsters, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.