Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark

5.0Overall Score

Ring Shout

Ring Shout was written with anger, not hate. The propulsive plot, fiery action, and themes that are layered at such light-speed that its quick but potent inclusions is almost invisible, could ...

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Worldbuilding
  • Blackness Present
Ring Shout
Title: Ring Shout
Published: 10/13/2020
Page Count: 176
ISBN13: 978-1250767028
IN AMERICA, DEMONS WEAR WHITE HOODS. In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan's ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die. Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter.…

Ring Shout was written with anger, not hate. The propulsive plot, fiery action, and themes that are layered at such light-speed that its quick but potent inclusions is almost invisible, could only be done with writing fueled by anger. That’s because hate is too slow—it festers like mold until its subject is a monster without the logical capacity to form a cogent thought. Somehow, with the word count of a novella, Ring Shout manages to demarcate anger and hate, showing the necessity for the former and the malevolence of the latter. It shows that it’s the anger of Black bodies rising up and fighting against the unjust in just ways that is the strongest way to dismantle the cruel illogicality of hate.

The story takes place in a world where D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation has recently jolted racism with a ferocity in which the KKK has made a resurgence. Through sorcery, Griffith has harnessed the hate inflamed by Birth of a Nation to bolster the KKK to upsetting heights. The KKK is separated by two types of beings: the Klan, who look like normal people clouded by ignorance and baseless fear against those different from them, and the Ku Klux: creepy, Lovecraftian monsters who prowl, scavenge, and inflict pain to Black people. The premise is that the Ku Klux are incapable of rehabilitation, a sort of lost cause bred and deformed by festering hate, while the Klan are vile humans who still have room to stop their hate and brutality.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t follow them, but instead focuses on Maryse: A Black woman with plentiful bravery, loyalty, and a powerful drive to destroy the KKK. Joining her in that endeavour is the maverick Sadie-the proficient Chef–and the wise, humorous Nana Jean. With great control, the story moves these characters through an array of dynamic romances, grief, witty banter, and impeccably readable spectacles with skillful originality that sets a new standard for novellas.

In the book, only people described as coming from Black ancestry can see the Ku Klux for the eldritch horrors that they are, while everyone else simply sees them as human. Whether race is entirely tied to the ability to see the monsters for who they really are is nebulous, but if it is, this is not too dissimilar from how aggressions – both macro and micro – perpetrated on Black people aren’t seen or acknowledged by some. Black people see the horrors for what they are–they sometimes agonize over them. But to many others, the aggressions are just seen as trifling, as they refuse to accept (or to see) reality.

Clark also posits a hard-hitting truth about systemic racism. In Ring Shout, those in power who have perpetuated systemic racism are conniving and heartless, but they’re not racist. They have used the hate fueled by racism as a tool to bulk up their power. Conflicts open opportunity for profit and power—the thing those in power want even more of. It’s twisted but understandable that those who want to rob the world of values for their own gain don’t have values themselves

And the book takes jabs at that outlook—it’s a rallying cry for values. Whether it’s the value to commit to those close to you, to fight for what you think is right even when the cards are stacked against you, or to not let trauma permanently hamstring you, the book is ultimately heartwarming despite the creepily described monsters and abundance of violence.

The pacing is something that needs to be commended. The novella is a skillful feat of establishing distinctive characters, fleshed-out relationships, multiple set pieces, and exploration of racism and hate in the world, without feeling rushed or underdeveloped. That’s a magic trick that makes the KKK’s sorcery pale in comparison.

How can a novella juggle so many balls and make a character death heartbreaking? Or make the stakes feel achingly meaningful? Or conclude in a way in which you’re sad it’s over but want nothing more, completely satisfied? I think it’s because Clark has shown compassion when approaching his heroes, and incisive critiques against the villains. The heroes show a multiplicity of emotions, including anger, while the KKK show nothing but unsympathetic hate.

In our world, the angry move swiftly, always moving forward, always fighting for progress and justice. The hateful are encumbered by their wickedness, moving like ponderous beasts. Ring Shout, along with being a perfectly constructed novel, is a plea to relinquish hate—to not be a cog in the machine, spinning uncontrollably until you’re purposeless. There will always be monsters in the world. There is no panacea. But the best course is to have a clear heart, purposeful steps, and an ability to see the monsters around you as you march forward and leave them behind.

Sean Dowie is freshly graduated from university, with a Screenwriting degree, currently living in Toronto, Canada. He comes from a family of mixed race (part black, part white) and mixed religion (Jewish/Christian). The perks of this when he was a child is that he got to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, getting double the presents. While FIYAH is his first venue to publish professional reviews, he has been writing reviews for films, books, and TV shows for school and as a hobby for many years. He’s a huge fan of stories that are achingly raw and push the envelope of what a narrative is capable of. Some of his favourite authors are Ian Muneshwar, Tade Thompson, Kathleen Kayembe, and Cadwell Turnbull. When he’s not voraciously reading anything he can get his surprisingly dainty hands on, he can be found performing stand-up comedy, developing TV and film projects that he can’t talk about yet, and writing poetry that he’s debating submitting to literary magazines.

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