The night in New Orleans always got something on, ma maman used to say—like this city don’t know how to sleep.
I think it’s safe to say that Tor is my favorite publisher at this point. They continue to push out cool, inventive stories told by a diverse array of authors. This novella is no exception: it’s got a silk-smooth and fast-paced plot, a well-realized steampunk vibe suffusing an alt-history New Orleans, great witty dialogue, and a likable protagonist with a great narrative voice.
As the novella opens, you slide right into the setting: a New Orleans that’s a bustling port in the neutral territory between the Union and the confederate states of the south. See, this is the late 1800s, but with a twist: the United States is now broken. The Civil War ended completely differently, with a slave uprising that grew and grew, and fighting that didn’t stop—at least until a truce was signed in New Orleans, making it a free state but also nonaligned to the (former) United States.
The characters here are great. The protagonist is a scrappy young teen who calls herself Creeper, and whose life is entwined with that of Oya, an African orisha. Their symbiotic relationship was really cool and nuanced. (Oya herself was a rad as hell deity.) The side characters are all vivid and distinct. Creeper meets an awesome, stubborn bisexual airship captain named Ann-Marie; there’s also some info-dealing nuns who happen to dabble in chemical weapons research. The novella is short, but each character felt like one I’d enjoy reading more about if given the chance.
There’s some steampunk tech twists as well, such as airships and giant ironclad walls surrounding the city. Those elements are awesome, but the real stars of this story are the people of the city and their living gods who want to have their say in things. Clark’s New Orleans is a freaking fantastic and fully-fleshed out setting. It’s great, and one of the best examples of a cool-ass setting working in tandem with a good plot and cast of characters to create a novella that you immediately want to reread. And then wish for a possible continuation of it.
If you like inventive alt-history fantasy, speculative fiction with non-Eurocentric worldbuilding, or novellas with great pacing and characters, I’d definitely recommend giving The Black God’s Drums a read.
ARC provided by Tor via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.