Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.
But Creeper keeps another secret close to heart–Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities concerning Creeper and Ann-Marie…
I’ve never been so thankful for my resolve to work through my NetGalley list of review books. I requested this book AGES ago, and – tragically – never got to reading it. That changed today, when I devoured the entire story in a single sitting.
The Black God’s Drums is set in a steampunk, alternate history New Orleans, with the Civil War having been paused with a tentative Armistice (after the Third Antietam). The year is 1884, and Jacqueline – though she prefers Creeper – is just thirteen years old. She’s grown up on the streets, quick and smart, and with connections and people who care for her. And she’s also got an African Orisha, Oya – goddess of storms, life, death, and rebirth.
“The goddess is just … with me.”
“Like you possessed?”
It’s my turn to frown up at the woman. “You know that’s now how it works.”
She huffs, muttering: “Yes, yes. Have to let them in. Don’t understand how all of them can with we, and with they priests and all over the blasted place at the same time.”
“They’re gods,” is all I answer.
Creeper is in her spot, prime location for picking pockets of unwary travelers, when she comes across something much more valuable and dangerous. The knowledge that she takes across the city ends up being the catalyst of this fast-paced story.
I loved this novella, from beginning to end. The voice of Creeper was infinitely easy to fall into. I saw New Orleans through her eyes, heard the voices and noise of the city, traveled with the goddess Oya.
World-building is an intricate thing, it takes time and effort to get it right. Some authors can’t do it well in a full novel, few authors can do it well in a novella. P. Djèlí Clark is an author that can, and does. I could feel the emotions of this world, clearly imagine every bit of it. Every sentence had meaning, building the character, the world, the plot.
And the characters moved through this world like real people, people with histories, stories, tragedies, and adventures that I just didn’t know yet. Even if we didn’t know the character’s name, they were fully realized characters ready to jump off the page. Creeper we get to know best as we’re in her head (with Oya); but I also adored the captain and her crew. Especially the captain. Her wry humor was right up my alley.
“And you going to stop stealing. It’s damn immoral!”
“You’re a smuggler!” I point out, extending my arms to take in the airship.
“But not a thief!” she retorts evenly.
“The name of your ship is Midnight Robber!”
She pauses at this. Shrugs. Then says evenly: “It’s satire.”
The other absolutely beautiful thing in this small novella was the amount of diversity and representation! I just – it really puts paid to the idea that it’s hard to include it in books. Creeper is Black, born in America, Captain Anne-Marie hails from Trinidad (and is BI-SEXUAL!!!!!), her crew contains an Indian, a Haitian, and Mongolian. And all are just themselves. This is a novella, so we don’t get a ton of time with each of them, but the simple fact that they’re there; they’re identified, and it’s completely NORMAL. I was in love.
Let’s go back to the bi-sexual captain of the Midnight Robber. There are so few positive representations of bi-sexuality anywhere. This is definitely one of them. The Captain is confident, capable, and not dithering about what she enjoys. She knows she likes both women and men, and that’s just normal. Can I tell you how utterly refreshing that was?
This is easily one of my favorite reads this year. I’m definitely going to be finding more of P. Djèlí Clark’s work to enjoy.