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 black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops.
But when he delivers an occult page 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?
©2016 Victor LaValle (P)2016 Macmillan Audio
Fan of urban fantasy & Victorian gothic especially set in London. Oh, and Georgette Heyer.
An interesting short story that provides a corrective to the vile racism of Lovecraft's Horror at Red Hook. It's atmospheric and well-written but possibly best enjoyed if you are already a fan of Lovecraftian weird fiction.
Well narrated by Kevin R. Free
Enjoyed reading something I had to think about especially the underlying story which was very sad but believable.
"Absorbing, sad, and uncanny Lovecraftian tale of an outsider from Harlem"
This story does a lot in a short space but never loses its cool focus. The author played with all the tropes just right to dig into the atmosphere, the character, and the unknowable, untameable, supernatural forces at play. Having blues music (its lyrics, its power, its emotion, its loss, its use as plot lure for the protagonist as musician) merge with a well-paced Lovecraftian tale of temptations and mistakes was a treat, and that state of segregation and blatant racism from whites with blacks and chinese and whoever else deemed foreign and as low as a beast in society of that time is emphasized by, and helps to emphasize, the sense of dangerous boundaries, of being an outsider and of having outside forces lurking in the corner of our lives. But besides these societal and Lovecraftian forces at play, we also have the protagonist's personal relationships and self-awareness bringing in a sad, touching thread of humanity struggling to survive its fall. I also enjoyed having the story flip to another character's view in the middle to give us another layer to the horror. Highly recommended listen. The narrator was spot on, and gave justice to different character accents. Get it.
"One of the best books I've heard all year."
Utilizing some of the established Lovecraftian mythos almost as an afterthought, Victor LaValle spins his tale in a manner so engrossing that you lose yourself in the New York of yesteryear.
By the end of the tale, you're unsure exactly who to root for- Black Tom or the world he would destroy- and the story's monsters are so vile and detestable that you'll find yourself wishing they were supernatural.
My highest possible recommendation- both for story and for Kevin R. Free's nuanced storytelling.
Five of Five stars- in all categories.
"The glory of outsider things....."
On the subject of Lovecraft's racism and Lovecraft's racist fandom of the past Nick Mamatas wrote that those who write and read Lovecraftian literature of today side with "the glory of the outsider things." We do not see ourselves in the xenophobic protagonists because many of us who read Lovecraftian lit are people if color and non racist people of European descent.
This book is the perfect example of the new Lovecraftian revival that doesn't seek to ignore, excuse and bury Lovecraft's racism, we will subvert it. We will codeswitch it and turn it inside out, the pro Trump, all lives matter crowd doesn't like it at all.
The story is engrossing with its perspective view of the other side of the Horror at Red Hook and I enjoyed it. I wish it had gone into the transformation of Black Tom and his experience before switching to Malone's perspective, which to me was not that interesting.
The reading was relatively good, especially the Black Tom chapters but the performance of Malone was annoying as he made him sound rather whiney. Perhaps a full cast version or dual cast would improve it. If you liked this read Nadia Bullion's Red goat black goat and pick up some Nick Mamatas and Matt Ruff. Long live the new Lovecraftian Revolution!
"Cosmic horror for the modern reader."
The story builds pace rather quickly and grips the reader. Very unlike the slow burn lovecraftian horror I was expecting. However, it slows down towards the mid point but picks up again a little later.
The prose is fantastically written, Victor Lavalle's prose is like poetry but never feels over done.
The only gripe I have with this book, is that it kind of fizzles out and never does end properly. But then again, it's horror on a cosmic scale, us puny humans wouldn't get it anyway.
I liked the idea and the writing was good. The narrative and the voice seemed at odds in some passages. Those looking for Lovecraftian horror should pass on this one. it is a supernatural detective story with some light 'old gods' backstory.
"The Real Horror at Red Hook"
The legacy of H.P. Lovecraft is such a difficult thing to unpack. The atmosphere he was able to evoke with his prose and style was horrific in the best sense of the word. His influence reaches out to some of our most celebrated contemporary horror writers. And yet, you also can't argue that he was horrifyingly racist. This racism infused several of his stories -- one of the most despicable being "The Horror at Red Hook," a story about a police officer who dabbles in writing and sees people with dark skin as horrific.
First and foremost, The Ballad of Black Tom is a response to "The Horror at Red Hook." It flips the narrative on its head, and tells us the real horror at red hook -- mainly that of a young black musician trying to make his way in Harlem. He's confronted with racism, murder, police corruption and brutality, and a great cosmic evil. It's a solid horror story on its own, but tied to Lovecraft's controversial story, it becomes something even sharper.
But you don't really need to be familiar with The Horror at Red Hook" to enjoy The Ballad of Black Tom -- to be honest, I was only familiar with its reputation prior to reading this, but about halfway through listening, I started to realize how Victor LaValle was meticulously retelling one of Lovecraft's most controversial stories from an African-American perspective, and decided to learn more about it. Yes, there are cosmic horrors. But also very human ones -- horrors of prejudice we're still dealing with to this very day.
At times I felt like some of Kevin R. Free's voices were a little too forced, but he does a particularly solid job as Charles Tester, one of the two main characters. At times the voices were distracting, but in the end, LaValle's story was so strong I went with it.
The Ballad of Black Tom is a short, sharp, horror novella that left me pondering cosmic horrors masquerading under the guise of every day prejudices we're still trying to overcome. Suffice to say, I'm very excited for what LaValle does next.
A story that uses all of the compelling qualities Lovecraftian fiction, while avoiding the things that made Lovecraft a mixed bag as an author. I had to turn off the audiobook several times as I was overwhelmed with emotion. Short and sweet.
Fantastic novella, I couldn't stop listening to this. I have always been a fan of mythos horror and I have to say this story is one of the best I have ever experienced!
"Lovecraftian horror from Harlem"
Victor LaValle's offering to the Lovecraft Mythos embraces the pulp era's weirdness all while shedding a bright light on the racist elements of Lovecraft's works. LaValle paints a vivid and varied image of early 1900s New York that resonates. This is Mythos at its finest, and I'm glad to see it tackled from a diverse perspective. It was all the more enjoyable for it.
Loved it, from start to finish I was enthralled. Compelling story and great execution by the narrator.
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