We know that the people who join the Ku Klux Klan are monsters. Average people who act in monstrous, horrible ways. But what if some of the Klan members were actual monsters? Giant, hulking, dog-like beasts that want to consume and destroy Black people? Such is the premise of Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark.
Maryse, a Black woman, hunts these monsters in Prohibition America with the help of her magical sword infused with the anger, pain, and despair of Black men and women of slavery and the African royalty who sold their people into slavery. She is also joined by the young, exuberant, and loud Sadie as well as Chef, a lesbian who got her name not from her ability to cook up a mean meal but rather to cook up a mean explosive. Also there to lead the Ku Klux hunting is a Gullah woman named Mama Jean who works magic through ring shouts and who speaks in Gullah through the entire book.
This novella is dense. Not a single page, paragraph, or character is wasted. Clark packs so much characterization and plot-development into every line. In such a short amount of time, I fell in love with each of the main characters and felt like I knew them. It was truly stunning to behold.
Ring Shout is also dense theme-wise. Clark plunges us into exploring anger versus hatred and what hatred really means and what it does to a person. The novella never feels preachy or heavy-handed. Maryse grapples with this struggle right along with the reader. Maryse must also confront fears and their effects on her connection to her friends, her community, but also her self.
This will be a book that I come back to again and again and again. Both to explore the themes deeper and to marvel at Clark’s skill at packing in so much, so seamlessly, in such a short amount of space.
PS: Stone Mountain is racist. The Birth of a Nation is racist. There is no space for discussion.