Unlike most of his work until now, P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout isn’t in an elaborate alternate history, so much as it’s a fantastic take on actual American history. In the novella, as in reality, The Birth of a Nation has revitalized the Klan; but here, it’s done so by working to empower demons and monsters of the more literal variety. And so we follow a group of women who hunt Ku Kluxes, and follow them as they get embroiled in one of those “something worse is coming” storylines.
There’s a lot to like about this book. The characters are great, the concept behind it is interesting, it does a good job evoking the setting. But it didn’t work for me because it used a plot trope that I often find unbelievable; I can’t talk about this without spoilers, so if you want to avoid those and read this story (which I would still recommend), quit reading this and go do that.
Okay, still here? So the trope that I couldn’t buy is the one where a character’s choice will be the linchpin that determines who wins the day… but the character is obviously a hero and the choice isn’t ambiguous enough for the outcome to be in any doubt. Like, you never really thought Luke Skywalker was going to turn to the Dark Side, right? Similarly it was hard to imagine that the protagonist of this story was ever going to team up with the forces behind the Klan, no matter what twists and revelations might come out along the way. Clark tries to make it plausible, and maybe for other people it works, but I just couldn’t buy it as anything other than a foregone conclusion as soon as it was mentioned.
So the plot bounced off my suspension of disbelief in the end, and I don’t think this is quite as successful as Clark’s other novellas (which I’ve loved). Still, there’s a lot here worth reading, and it is a novella, so it’s not like it’s long. Lightly recommended.