The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This little book packs quite a lot into 100 pages. African orisha magic, airships, a pair of nuns who dabble in chemical warfare, a white girl named Feral who was raised in the swamps around Lake Pontchartrain, and a supernatural weapon that freed the slaves in Haiti all take part in this alternate history where the Civil War was fought to a standstill and New Orleans is free and neutral territory. (This is also an alternate history where "General" Harriet Tubman is running a guerrilla war, smuggling slaves out of the Confederacy. That would be a fascinating tale. Hint hint.)
New Orleans is, in fact, the actual star of this story, even more than the nominal protagonist, Creeper (short for "little creeping vine"). The writing is lush and atmospheric, the setting expertly drawn. Creeper is a thirteen-year-old orphan, a scrappy street urchin who survives by her wits and carries around the African goddess Oya inside her. Having stumbled upon information concerning the stolen superweapon, the Black God's Drums, Creeper teams up with the aforementioned nuns, Feral the swamp girl, and Ann-Marie St. Augustine, captain of the airship Midnight Robber, to rescue the weapon and save New Orleans.
This is a fast-paced adventure story that works in an impressive amount of worldbuilding and characterization in its small space. It could easily be expanded into a full novel, and I hope the author will do so. Maybe not with this particular story, but I would love to read the further adventures of Creeper and the Midnight Robber (and General Tubman!). There are many possibilities here, and I hope we get to see them.
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