One of NPR's Best Books of 2016, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, the British Fantasy Award, the This is Horror Award for Novella of the Year, and a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards
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?
"LaValle's novella of sorcery and skullduggery in Jazz Age New York is a magnificent example of what weird fiction can and should do."
— Laird Barron, author of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All
"[LaValle] reinvents outmoded literary conventions, particularly the ghettos of genre and ethnicity that long divided serious literature from popular fiction."
— Praise for The Devil in Silver from Elizabeth Hand, author of Radiant Days
“LaValle cleverly subverts Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos by imbuing a black man with the power to summon the Old Ones, and creates genuine chills with his evocation of the monstrous Sleeping King, an echo of Lovecraft’s Dagon… [The Ballad of Black Tom] has a satisfying slingshot ending.” – Elizabeth Hand for Fantasy & ScienceFiction
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APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The real-life horror of racism meets the terrible power of ancient gods in Victor LaValle’s genre mashup masterpiece, set amid the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Tommy Tester is a young Black man supporting his disabled father as a street hustler, procuring powerful occult books for anyone who’ll pay. But when a job goes sideways, Tommy ends up drawing the attention of both a supernatural evil and the bigoted police. Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s openly racist short story “The Horror at Red Hook,” this unsettling read is deeply scary whether you know the source material or not. The novella’s unexpected changes in point of view only add to the feelings of confusion and dread. If you read or watched Lovecraft Country, do not miss The Ballad of Black Tom.
Shirley Jackson Award winner LaValle (The Devil in Silver) cleverly retcons H.P. Lovecraft's infamous story "The Horror at Red Hook," retelling it with a new protagonist (the titular Charles Thomas Tester, a splendidly Lovecraftian name) and a literary veneer that recalls Chester Himes. Tester, a con artist in 1924 Harlem with a minor awareness of the occult, occasionally masquerades as a street musician, playing the guitar (poorly) while pulling his hustles. When he's approached by the eccentric Robert Suydam to play at a party, he knows something's awry, but the money's too good to pass up. Before his gig, he encounters a pair of detectives; one is Lovecraft's original protagonist, Malone, and they both seem to know more about Suydam and Tester than would be expected. Once Tester goes to his gig, Malone takes over as the lead character, and LaValle ably conveys both the horrors he encounters and a reconciliation with the original text. The story adeptly addresses social and racial issues that were central to urban life at the dawn of the 20th century, with obvious resonances and parallels in the present. Those familiar with Lovecraft's (weaker) story might get a little more from this novella, but it stands well on its own.
A Very Different Cthulhu Mythos Novella
"The Ballad of Black Tom" is a very surprising story. It is first a retelling of the events of H. P. Lovecraft's story "The Horror at Red Hook." It is also a story about race and racism set in 1920's New York. It is also the story of the descent of a young African American man, Charles Thomas Tester, from a hustler who deals in forbidden books, to becoming the right hand man of a delver in ancient lore. He eventually becomes the titular Black Tom, who learns to walk Outside, and seeks to bring back the Great Old Ones, because what they offer seems like a better deal than what he has known all his life.
This story turns the unfortunate racism present in H. P. Lovecraft's original story completely around. It offers a decidedly different perspective on the Mythos, and unexpected insights into our conflicted protagonist. It is very refreshing take on Lovecraftian lore!
i truly wish i could put into words how much this story has impacted me, reading it for the first time for a fantasy and science fiction course.
i read Lovecraft’s version of this story first and came out of it not only angered by the blatant racism, but also annoyed from how awfully descriptive the writing was (and not in a good way). LaVelle’s version tells the story in a much more understandable way; it’s still descriptive and unsettling, but it provides real detail in comparison to over-explaining; and whilst Lovecraft merely gives us the POV of Malone and his racist perspective of Red Hook, LaVelle provides more insight into both sides of the story and almost leaves you to decide who the true ‘villain’ of the story was. you truly don’t expect what happens at the end until you’ve read it for yourself.
despite not liking Lovecraft’s version, i do believe people should read both to link details from each story and to compare the stories in themselves. but Lavelle’s version is, by far, the better one of the two.
All over the place and not in a good way
This book starts off with an interesting plot and then goes off the rails quite fast.