The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My Rating: 4/5 Stars!
Cover Rating: 9/10 Stars! I love this cover! I love the nods to Cthulhu in the tentacles. I love the contrast of the art piece. It’s just Tom holding his guitar looking like he’s about to go do something intense. The only word to describe this cover properly is badass.
Publish Date: February 16th, 2016
Number of Pages: 149
Received: Through the Tor monthly sci-fi/fantasy book club
“People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?”
Opening Sentence: “People who move to New York always make the same mistake.”
The Ballad of Black Tom is a wonderful nod to one of the greatest horror writers of all time H.P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read much of Lovecraft’s work, only The Call of Cthulhu, but I really enjoyed reading that story. It’s a good one. Lovecraft had a talent and passion for horror like no other. Even so, I could recognize the nods to Lovecraft’s style in the way the story was approached. Something not quite fantasy or sci-fi, but could only be explained as otherworldly. Even as it is very much set within the world we live in.
What I Loved:
The writing. Victor created atmosphere with the way he choose his details. He brought you into New York of the time period and it felt like you could smell the smoke. You could imagine the stares. The many white folk growing uncomfortable in the presence of a black man.
The places. I could imagine each place things occurred in my head. It wasn’t too much description, but just enough. When places were revisited more then once you could imagine that place again and it felt like the same place. The description was very well handled.
The story took after Lovecraft in a great way. This story was all it’s own, however it felt like a Lovecraft story. The way the horror was woven in. The way things go from kinda off to very wrong. It felt very much within the brand of Lovecraft and I really enjoyed that.
It kept me in the halloween mood. Even if this story didn’t creep me out. It did feel very horror-esque. It reminded me of what I love most about the season. What horror does. Tom is a man fighting to stay a good man. Just trying to survive, but when someone gets pushed too far you have to wonder what they’ll do when they just don’t care anymore.
Grey morality. I love books where morality isn’t black and white. In life morality isn’t black and white. Humans are the most terrifying of creatures. That is something I will always keep in mind. It isn’t just the actions Tom takes. It’s the actions of others that lead him to make the choices he did. We all like to think we are completely independent, but how you are treated in life is often majorly impactful on how you choose to act. Even that thought can be terrifying.
The guitar case. For some reason the simplicity of Tom carrying this guitar, the mystery of it made me more and more intrigued by the story. It’s not anything grand and yet the connection between it, Tom, his father, and magic is undeniable. I really loved that about this book.
The Ballad of Black Tom is well worth the read. It’s perfect to put you in the mood for this dark holiday season. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, and horror all rolled into one. I think Lovecraft is smiling in his grave with the thought of inspiring such a atmospheric horror novel written in his honor.
About the Author:
Victor LaValle is the author of the short story collection Slapboxing with Jesus, four novels, The Ecstatic, Big Machine, The Devil in Silver, and The Changeling and two novellas, Lucretia and the Kroons and The Ballad of Black Tom. He is also the creator and writer of a comic book Victor LaValle’s DESTROYER.
He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Whiting Writers’ Award, a United States Artists Ford Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Shirley Jackson Award, an American Book Award, and the key to Southeast Queens.
He was raised in Queens, New York. He now lives in Washington Heights with his wife and kids. He teaches at Columbia University.
He can be kind of hard to reach, but he still loves you.
Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts down in the comments. Let me know any horror recommendations you may have for me. I’d love to put together a list.
-Till next time!