Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Black God's Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark

★★★★★ Rich World, Great Characters, Lots of Action

(Steampunk ) The Civil War left the US in pieces, and New Orleans is a free city. A teenage cutpurse overhears a plot by Confederate officers to steal a powerful magic weapon, and she sets out to stop them. (24,861 words; Time: 1h:22m)

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"," by (edited by Diana Pho), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.475 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Jaqueline grows up a lot in this story. She starts by wanting to leave New Orleans, even though at 13 she’s much too young, and her relationship with the goddess Oya is beset with childish annoyance. By the end, she had a much better understanding of what Oya really is and what it means to be connected to her, and she’s reconciled herself to staying and studying. In the process, she earns Anne-Marie’s respect.

Anne-Marie manages to capture/rescue Doctor Duval, and in the process comes to terms with her own relationship with Oshun. She leaves this adventure stronger too.

The setting will be a big draw for lots of people. A very different power balance with all sorts of possibilities for conflicts. The high-tech Free Islands are a cute touch, although the contrast with the fate of Haiti in the real world is very sad.

The story is action-packed, with plenty of tension and surprises. And when the time finally comes for the two goddesses to take the stage, they do not disappoint.

From the information in the story, I figure it takes place from Friday, February 13, 1885 to Tuesday, February 17, 1885. Jacqueline was born in the summer of 1871 (during storm season, which we learned does apply to the tempêtes noires, and she’s 13 years old at the time of the story, which happens during Mardi Gras.

Con: My biggest complaint with the story is the inconsistent use of dialect. Although there's certainly such a thing as code-switching, that doesn't appear to be what's happening here. Characters switch between their own dialects and 21st-Century American English seemingly at random. This even happens in narration.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I really liked this and agree with the 5-star rating. Some of the story is written in the local New Orleans English dialect but it is very accessible to the reader. I agree with the Pro part of the review.

    Most stories only use dialect when a character is speaking, while narration and the character's thoughts are done in standard English, which is how this story read.

    Also, in real-life when a region has strong local dialects but with many outsiders coming and going, such as a port city, some locals do make an effort to speak more properly to the visitors.

    I'd have to re-read this to spot any inconsistencies in language / dialect usage when the characters are speaking because it is a really good story. I didn't notice any myself, and I do record having to slow down a bit to read the speaking parts (but it was accessible).

    1. Thanks. This is a point I thought might be controversial, so I went to a bit of trouble to convince myself that I wasn't just imagining things.

      First, I consulted with a black author on the topic of code switching. Then I read a couple of stories (by other black authors) that are considered notable for how they depict code switching. Finally I went back to the passages I'd outlined in "The Back God's Drums" as problematic. Based on all that, I'm pretty sure these are not intended as depictions of code switching but are simply errors that might have gotten fixed in another editing pass.

      I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, since it's such an excellent story overall.